Sunday, September 18, 2011

Never-ending Story

I read a facebook post from someone who confesses to her incurable addiction to German soap operas. I can so relate: I, too, confess to this addiction and have blogged about it previously; however, besides the opulent sets, familiar cadences, and use of folklore that I've addressed in earlier blog entries, there is the matter of the story, the plot itself that beggars justice.

I am truly amazed and humbled at these contemporary epics. The plots of these serials make mazes seem tame. There are numerous subplots, an inevitability, really, considering that the typical saga begins with a rather large joint family. These plots are very wise: they know that no story is meaningful if the characters don't mean enough. So of course, there are several episodes devoted to character establishment.

The story uses an intricate embroidery of colors, costume accessories, phrases, melody strains, and amazingly, a background chorus for effective characterization. For example, if a villainous, scheming vamp archetype is being introduced to the newly married bride (our protagonist), the background music associated with the vamp would include a phrase, like her first name whispered ominously, repeatedly; or if the neighbor's good-hearted son (our clown) is about to tell a lie, the background music is woven around a phrase like "Jhoot bola!" (Jhoot= lie; bola=he spoke). And then the story begins; the central conflict is introduced, and variations on the same theme form subplots for characters that are only slightly ancillary.

The plots are convoluted, unlikely series of events that rely on their very improbability for verisimilitude! They seem to rest on the truism that truth is stranger than fiction: after all, the individuals who make the audience examine their own lives and circumstances, and think back to an earlier decade when all that has come to pass since, would have boggled their imagination then. And reality itself is such a shifty thing! One cannot rely one's senses to verify it, and human understanding is so fraught with pre-conceptions, mis-interpretations, mis-calculations and a myriad of patinas, that it seems useless to commit to a limited version.

Moreover, the characters and situations are ever so easily recognizable, so easy to relate to, that the improbability of the opulent settings and costumes becomes just an acccesory to the permutations and combinations of events, and helps in construction of archetypes.

Fiction imitates reality, like a stick figure imitates a human being: this is the first lesson to all who choose to Read Literature. The soaps, like all fiction, then, channel this truth, the truth that transcends facts; the truth of humanity made recognizable in a stick figure has an appeal that is more universal than an individual's face reflected in a mirror.

So it is with these stories. Characters die and come back to life in a different place, with a different name, among new characters, often with different faces, but they become palimpsests of their previous stories which continue with their absence at the center. These parallel plots build up to a climax when the past and present are made to co-exist, acknowledge, and recognize each other, often in presence of the future, so the story can go on once one climax  has been resolved.

I heard of a knife a family has; it's been in the family for many, many generations. Of course, sometimes, the handle has had be changed, and sometimes, the blade has had to be replaced, but the knife is still the same. This post is dedicated to unending stories that continually re-invent, re-tell, re-configure, adapt, to refract the variegated colors of the kaleidoscope that is reality.

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