Sep 15, 2009

Notes On Goodbye Solo

'goodbye solo' is a much darker and disturbing film than its predecessors. i don't know that i can say i enjoyed it. rather, like 'million dollar baby' it has stayed with me well over the night and the days preceding my watching it. here, bahrani abandons NY & takes us to winston-salem, NC - his hometown. without preamble the film throws us in the midst of a dialogue between senegalese taxi driver solo and his white passenger william. in solo u can detect the clean lines, expressive eyes and statuesque physique of his african ancestors who probably ploughed the field in summer and sang communal songs of joy during harvest season. there is a lyricism to the african speech that is unmatched by any other. it is as if god intended these folks to sing and rap their way through life rather than lecture or speak. solo's favourite greeting 'yo dawg' with which he embraces everybody reveals a boisterousness, a joie de vivre, simplicity and a hard-to-defeat optimism that sometimes borders on grating. his irreprissible brand of bonhomie would be fine if you were in town for a nite out but completely out of place if, say, u were mourning the passing away of a dear one or had recently lost your job.

the blurb on the film's jacket says how, when william hires solo to drive him to a spot called blowing rock from where he does not plan to return, a strange relationship develops between the 2 men & that's what the film examines. solo quickly understands that william is contemplating suicide and in the days that follow, he tries his best to understand william's reasons for thus ending his life and to persuade him to change his mind. what is wonderful and something our indian directors must learn is that there are 2 areas that bahrani leaves untouched - willaim's personal history which surely holds the key to his current decision and solo's strange fixation with the white bloke who abuses him, insults him, and once, during a heated encounter even gives him a black eye. what is it that drives us and men like solo to care for another human being so deeply that social standards of privacy, esteem, space and respect cease to have any meaning? does solo's concern for william stem simply from his early observation that in his native senegal the old were cared for by the young, if required fed & carried, that families lived together and didn't abandon each other like in the white man's world? i don't think so. sure, solo feels obligated to william for some of that, but a larger part of his actions are motivated by some unnamed, inexplicable impulse that is both our cross as well as our blessing to carry. it is this impulse which makes us truly human. as simple as that.

however, it is to bahrani's credit that none of the unexplained bits jarr or play false. we accept solo's near obsessive concern for william as easily as we accept that something must have happened that has led william to conclude that he'd be better off dead. what i found a lot more difficult to accept, and bahrani keeps the suspense alive till the end, that here is a man who does everything in his power to change william's mind and does not succeed; that a human will is a strange unbendable thing - when set on a course, little anyone else does, is enough to dissuade it from following that course. such futility, such waste as is exhibited here, is hard to acknowledge and accept.

i don't know if this was my imagination but i think that part of the reason for solo's attachment towards william can be explained with a simple parental reference. in a scene towards the end, when solo sits reading the latter's diary and finds that he & alex have been mentioned, that he did have some worth or impact on william's life, there is a strange expression that lights his face. the closest i can come is an indian word 'abhimaan' or is it a small twinge of gratification that he mattered, that he counted. i can't really put my finger on it, but it is a haunting scene and the solo we meet in the last few scenes is completely different from the buoyant young man we had witnessed earlier. is it that he has become aware of his own limitations and in turn his mortality? perhaps the hard to dent optimism has given way to a more grounded awareness that sometimes, despite our best efforts, there are exams in life that one is not meant to 'ace'. and nothing about this realisation is defeatist in nature and therein lies bahrani's triumph. just like ali in 'chop shop' knows there are dreams that he must chase even if he never realises them, solo gradually comes to a wiser perception that some of our triumphs lie in our efforts, not the results they yield. gita-esque definitely but that's about all this film leaves u with.


Shoumitro said...

This review makes me long to watch it. Who says sadness, or being 'disturbed' (as one surely is, with the Million Dollar Baby), is not endearing?

I have always wondered what will be the exact term for the bengali expression 'Abhimaan' -- upset, getting emotional, annoyed, or plain angry -- all seem grossly inadeqaute. Always wanted to ask you for a proper translation. Even the Hindi Abhimaan-- I am not sure if it connotes the same feeling as in Bengali. Is it that the Hindi term is more akin to Swabhimaan (pride, self-respect)? I think 'ruthna' in Hindi/Urdu is the correct word for the bengali abhimaan. What say?

drift wood said...

i dunno if u remb but in a mail exchange long ago we had discussed the particular word. like u i have also struggled inadequately to fnd a proper translation of the bengali 'obhimaan'.

Ramanuj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shoumitro said...

yeah, i remb that mail exchange very well... it also contained 'totem pole'... thik boli ni? :)