Once you stop trying to entertain this imaginary audience and start living for yourself things should get a bit better.

Once you stop trying to entertain this imaginary audience and start living for yourself things should get a bit better.

– scarletrougelipstick


 

I am afraid.

Of nothing conventional like lizards, snakes, ghosts, or eerie silence of a dark night.

Nothing unconventional, with fantastic long names like that for number 13 and it’s associates.

Or nothing to do with death, or vertigo, or a cold slab of a body dead of excess water in lungs.

No. I mean, yes, I do fear some of these things. But that’s not the great reason of why I feel what I do.

I am afraid, because I feel I am a performer before an audience that I can’t see, conceive, feel. I perform on a stage so bright, as though all the lights of the world are on my face and I am too blinded to see straight. Where all the cameras and spotlight and attention – so much attention! – is on me.

Paper Towns
Image: Paper Towns

I am afraid for what will my unseen, unheard, un – audience think of me provided in the hypothetical event of failure, disaster, break in character, forgotten step, slipped feet, collapse and subsequent train wreck of a performance – a performance borne out of no practiced routine, a performance with no structure and preconception.

A performance – of?

I am afraid because I wonder, what will I find when I look inside myself, while the un-audience watches and stares and gapes and judges?

I am afraid for I don’t have the courage to either turn away my audience nor pull the curtains shut on my performance.

I am afraid for while I ask why do I even perform, I don’t know how not to.


Yet.

I spiral down the staircase, tumbling and bumping my head on the hard white marble – but if that be the case…

…why not slide down the banister?
If can’t turn off the lights.

If I can’t get off the stage.

If I can’t not stop the performance.

If not, then why not turn the lights, cameras, the gaze and the stare, at the audience?

Who are they?

I push the blaring brilliance onto the seats and what do I see: none, no one, nobody, no body, nothing, no thing.

That day, I gave my best performance. It was titled, “I am free”. And that day, I didn’t perform.
Not any more.


Finally, the solution to many of life’s deepest troubles is simple, human courage. The courage to look inward, to take those first bold steps, to find the thing you fear most and march valiantly toward it.

–  Beau Taplin  S i m p l e  H u m a n  C o u r a g e

 

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Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply.

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me…to throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…

— Aldous Huxley,  Island 

I find myself in a temple today. Not those gawdy ones; those with lots and lots of fancy color, or lots and lots of artificial light, or well, lots of lots of lots.

This one was a relic. Ancient. Solitary. And that which has seen much. Borne much more. But still standing in spite everything, which in the race of time, is nothing.

How do I know this?
The refined elegance; the lightness of its being, even if it has emerged and is still emerging, from the depths of time.

*
It’s dusk.
Funny, how I catch myself in the zone at dusk.

I have come to a village. Don’t have a romanticized picture which that word conjures up. Village life is a simple life, but for someone from the city, it’s also a surreal life.

Monsoon has hit the place with abundant grace, you see, so the air is fresh and the sky is dainty and the excess green is gay and glorious. The soil is a happy mix of earth and dung and, cows and pigs and humans roam serenely, at ease with the aftermath wetness.

Of course, there, in the city, rainwater lingers on concrete roads or tar. In a village, this one at least, it merges with the earth, taking along with it the dirt of the walking world. This happens slowly, and hence, slush. Mud, sand, dirt, shit, soil and water. Slush slush slush. The splosh of wheels and sandals and shoes on this blessed mixture, and the pretty smell of rain-hit earth and this natural concoction, is an olfactory cacophony.

You see why I found it surreal? I am not used to this. Not used to such dirt and smells and sights. Not used to the sudden descent of quiet. Not used to the sudden dark. Not used to the narrow streets and the even narrower gaze that follows me: clad in leggings and over sized tees, and shoes, I must be quite a sight, just like the string of tractors and the crowds of cows and pigs and the rural ambiance is for me.

*

Eyes careful on the road, while simultaneously striving to take in the wooden houses, with their never painted, darkened wood – as if the passage of time were reflected on their countenance; the old men, the old women, sitting outside, on their haunches, watching a passing world with their time passed eyes; the sights and sounds of daily households, as I peer in, eyes-dropping, on their life – the five year old boy kissing his toddler brother; the family circling around an ancient TV, the adolescents riding their bike seated in threes, laughing and blissful in their youth; the worker returning after a day’s labor on his Honda; the girls in their salwars, all smiles, the rain being a happy intercourse; the mothers and their nagging children; a confluence of life no different from where I come from.

Still, the solitary simplicity made me feel less like me, and more like someone else. As if I was an anomaly that didn’t fit. Not that I felt lonely, or particularly homesick. Just out of this body. Like a stranger had occupied it, and this entity called I was somehow okay with it.

*

We – father, grandfather, and I – continued walking. Each turn of the street led to the streets getting quieter, and more diffident. As though the streets had long let out their once bated breath, and knew that life was not going to change. Better or worse, only time would tell.

We walk, the men reminiscing, the girl slipping downwards and downwards in her mental spiral – dirt, germs, where am I?, what’s this?, what am I feeling?

We walk, and then stop.  A temple, mostly overshadowed by a peepal tree, is before us.

*

Only when we enter, do I realize how old it is. A passageway, and a walk around the temple, and my eyes are in awe. The intricate carvings on granite, the grayish brown walls – like an elephant – constructed out of time and the human defiance of it.

We enter, and the cool smoothness of the black temple floor leaves me calmer – less agitated, more subdued. We had taken the entrance nearest to the deity, imprisoned behind a wooden gate, an array of prayer instruments before it, still lit, and still.

However, God was not on our minds. Not on mine.
The absence of humanity and its noise, amplified by the quiet in the temple, had me unnerved. The silence is…thick. A paste, but well mixed. No lumps. Smooth.

The noiselessness is not suffocating. You could say, it is. Just, is. As though it belonged there, in those walls, a welcome patron, agreeable and temperate.

Silence tread lightly, even if my mind never strove to. It could have smothered the temple under it, and none would know of the edifice. Yet, here we are: serenading to silence, and aware of every breathe, every carve, every labor of the human hand.

*
Dusk changes its palette; night and further stillness. Bats fly to someplace,  a pretty picture.

The external descent of the dark has moved, raised even, something inside. It’s odd, what silence and relics does to a mind.

The men speak of the architecture, the engineering, the skill of the people of then. I simply hear.

*

We leave, and I see the goliath of a peepal tree at close quarters.

I think of ghosts. That ghosts may not be nothing but the wisps of the things that were – and not necessarily something to be scared of. They haunt, for like all things, they dare to fight oblivion.

But then again, the wind, and the burning wood, and the resting humanity, and the rural seasons, seem to say : tread lightly, tread gently, tread like a ghost at peace, tread like a temple, like a tree: still and at ease, breathing time, exhaling reflections.

*

I see my reflected silhouette in the dirt puddles. Still at loss with myself but better.
I am okay now.
I am okay.
I am in the now.
I am now.
I feel light.
And I walk on light air, breathing light air, being light, in air, floating, soaring, far far far away from me and the crowd in me.

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Lightly, in spite reeling under the depth of feeling. Image: @kikkujo (Instagram)

A Kickass Letter to Me from Me on Why I Need to Calm the F*** Down Before the Entrance Exam

Hey Me,

In the matter of a few hours, you will find yourself in an exam hall to write your way to a seat in a prestigious institute. It’s strange that we – you and I – are feeling so scared about it. Anxious too. We went on Facebook, surfed through people’s lives, tried to suck motivation out of Goalcast, or those artsy pages with philosophical quotes. But today, of all days, we found nothing. Just shit. As usual.

We spent time on YouTube watching cookery videos of food we’ll never cook. Okay, not never, but atleast not in the immediate vicinity to time.

We scrolled through Tumblr. But found only fan art.

We waited for friends to call up and say something. A couple of them remembered. But not those from whom you wanted to hear. And right now, you feel like shit. Along with the hyperventilating anxiety of what if we fail – what if we don’t get in, what if this choice of college was a bad one, what if we are not meant to be here, what if, what if, what if – oh it’s a spiral and with each “what if” it tightens its coil around our throats and our hearts and our minds, till we are crippled and soon dead – we are a total mess.

Pause.

Take a deep breath, and hear me out. Consider this as words you expected to hear from someone else or from somewhere else. Consider this as a letter from the non-panicking me to the panicking you. Consider this as the sign you needed to receive to relax, for we shape our destiny and this is us in action.

Here goes:
Hey me,
We are stressed. And we are anxious. We are so used to thinking worst case scenarios that the possibility of a positive outcome doesn’t seem reasonable. But guess what? Good. Good you haven’t thought of anything good. But also, stop thinking about the outcome. Fuck the outcome. Fuck it. Say it with me right now, out loud: Fuck. The. Outcome.

We don’t need to use our mind for that. Look at us: we are so smart! So intelligent! Think of the books we’ve read, think of the things we’ve done in our life, think of the number of times we beat the odds, and our self doubt and emerged like a goddamned hero out of the jaws of defeat! Think of all the times we made us proud. Think of the times when in spite the loss, we won. Think of the times we bounced back! Think of this, think of us, for just think: we are heroes and we have done better than what we thought we could. Yes?

I can see your shoulders relax, but I know what you are thinking now – of course I do! I am you, remember? – you are thinking: what if I don’t get in? Then? What will they think of me? What will I think of me? I didn’t even prep properly. What if my back plans suck? – You are thinking all this. As usual.

Let’s take this step by step. Question by question.
What if we don’t get in?
So? What if we don’t? Then? Is it that big a deal? What happens if we don’t? You’ll fall from grace? Our parents will disown you? The world will end? Really? *eye roll*

What will people think?
That “oh look at her! She was the topper once, but a loser now! Hence, people should not take gap years and lose a year of study!” Is that what they’ll think? Let them! Not your concern. What people think was, is and and will never be your concern. You not getting in a college is not a reflection of your intelligence. We had topped cause we had worked hard and we had loved what we did.

What will I think of me?
We love our subject. Remember? We. Love. Our. Subject. And this entrance is on this. This is an entrance on your love. Even if you don’t crack the test, so what? Love is eternal and that college is not the only one catering to our love.

Understand one thing: you are intelligent and you never give up. No matter the trials and the struggles, you have always, always, ALWAYS, come back. Even if you don’t clear it, we WILL find a way around. Come on man! We always have. This is no exception.

Hence, wallow in defeat – if in case we don’t clear it – but I know we will make something out of it. This is no reflection on you, understand? No reflection on us. Take it as the Fate guiding us towards another destination, where our love for the subject and our curiosity for learning will flourish better.

Back up plans? Prep?
That’s for later. Later. Hence, fuck it, chuck it, and don’t think of that now.

Now listen up closely.
Take a deep breathe.
Think of nothing.
Imagine this is one our runs. There are always people at the beginning and the end, but in the in-between there’s hardly anyone. And the middle is the hardest part. That’s where we are at our most vulnerable, and our loneliest, for it gets exhausting, so exhausting. But do we stop? Sometimes yes, to catch a breathe maybe. But do we stop entirely? No! We have always finished the race.

This is a race, superwoman! This is a damn race and you better finish it, for each time we run, after a point, when the body gives up, and the feet scream, we run on the fuel called will, and when running on will, we don’t think. We don’t think at all. Just the motion of our feet – left, right, left, right, left – and the sound of our breaths – in, out, in, out, in, out. We don’t look at the people ahead or behind or beside us. We don’t care about the people cheering or not, or who amongst out loved ones is present. We think nothing, we see nothing, but all that we do is achieve something.

And every race is a sum of all the races run in the past. So, even if we haven’t run every single day of our life, we have still been able to run for 5 km without our lungs dying.

So is the case here. Even if we haven’t studied everyday for this test, we have studied sometime in the past, we have worked our ass off, and all that knowledge is there somewhere inside of us, waiting to be channelized by a calm head.

Are you understanding?
I see you are calm now. Good.
My point is: only a calm head can conquer the chaos. Our old mantra, written on our exam board. Remember?

Know that I am here with you, just like always. Cheering, writing, supporting, remembering. We are together, in this, till the last.
Okay? Okay!
Go get dressed, hero. We’ve got a battle to fight.

Rocking till the last,
Me.

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Rains: Drenched. Soaked. Horny. Just not that way.

I am listening to “Why Can’t I Touch It”. By the Buzzycocks. But, I am being touched. By the rain, and the wind, and my soaked clothes, all the layers, casually sticking to my body. My curves are being contoured by the lashing rain. I love it.

*

6 pm and I have come out for a run against all predictions for a rain. The sky is something out of a sepia filter, or those old pictures where no one bothers to smile.

It’s windy. So much that within half a song of my arrival at the park, the wind blew up a dust storm, looking more like a petulant child throwing a fit than anything else

People hardly look up, and the music is too good to stop. Still, I change parks, to another one, a greener one, a quieter one.

*

I have barely run for a kilometre when the leaves start to drip. One by one, tree by tree, branch by branch, leaf by still leaf, all start waving excitedly and the summer bored path is splattered. Rain is here. Monsoon has come.

I stop and I am out of the park.

*

People and vehicles are ducking and flashing their lights. I can see white flashes of drops on black tar and it’s beautiful. Wind, cool oxygen, water. It’s beautiful.

*

I am walking slowly. And I am listening to “Why Can’t I Touch It”, while slowly, seductively, groped by the rain. The guitar riffs are awesome and I feel cool. I haven’t felt that in a while. I see a couple huddled on a bike, and another hiding under a tree. Rain is romantic. Naturally, I wish for a lover, who’d touch me, hold me, warm me. Why can’t I be touched?

*

Guitar and the unrecognizable words of the song. It’s a good feeling. Too good that I shake dry fantasies of my wet head and I keep walking, getting wetter and wetter, just not down there.

*

The feeling is too good. I don’t mind sharing it with myself. Nor would I want to waste it living in my head with someone else. It’s a good feeling and I haven’t felt good. Not like this. I keep walking, my clothes soaked, highlighting my body and I feel sexy. Haven’t felt that either. I look at my face in dripping car windows. And I look beautiful. I haven’t felt beautiful, not like this. My socks are soaked, my bra is soaked, my camisole is soaked, my shirt is soaked, my underwear is soaked, my tracks are soaked, my socks are soaked. And I love it.

*

“Why Can’t I Touch It” ends and I am drenched. I am happy.

It’s a good feeling.

 

Watching “Black Panther” with Mom

BP 4

The theater quiets, as an animated sequence and a non-English accented voice over explains the story of the fantastical Wakanda.
The theater erupts in a boisterous whoop, as the Marvel logo plays out.
The theater cheers when Stan Lee makes his iconic appearance –  one does not not miss Stan.
The theater laughs at the humorous one liners – “What are those???” exclaims  16 year old princess, tech savvy, brilliant inventor Shuri at King, brother T’Challa’s slippers, and a totally done M’Baku.
The theater hushes at the effort, effect and evident political message. “What can a country of farmers offer to the world?” asks a diplomat at the UN. The crowd murmurs, the wise smile.
The theater applauds at the brilliant cinematic experience as the graphic credits start to roll out, the experienced seated till the end to catch the pre, mid, and post credit scenes.

…while my mother, sits in awe, the white light of the screen lighting up her marvel struck – no pun intended – face.

*
A lot has been said about the latest addition to MCU. The all black cast. The detail and attention to African tribes – their culture, costume and customs. Accent and speech included. Themes of equality: male – female equation; female warriors, guards and guides, whites – blacks. Africa projected as place with real people – being more advanced than the whole messy globe – and not Hollywood stereotypes of slavery and starvation. The blurred line between antagonist and protagonist’s actions. The not-so-subtle shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement. The clarion call to world place.

A commendable achievement – the visuals, graphics, action, plot and background score, all coming together like the cinematic Wakanda – near perfect.

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This woman. *fangirl sequence* Source: Tumblr

In all the excitement, and flush of emotion – consider this:
Okoye stands in protection before the former contender to the throne, and current ally, M’Baku, as her love and head of the Border Tribe, W’Kabi, disillusioned at the seeming ineptitude of his best friend and king, T’Challa, comes rushing on his trained rhino, geared and armoured in vibranium. The rhino recognizes her, stops and licks her face, as the warriors and lovers lock their eyes in silent dialogue. Sword drawn, he asks her, “What do you choose: me or the kingdom?”. Coolly, she draws her spear at his throat and declares, “Wakanda.”

A meaningful silence. W’Kabi bows to her, ending the civil war. While my body erupted in goosebumps and unshed tears.

What power in one gesture, one word, one look.

But I digress.

BP 2
Fuck this shit. *flying wig* Source: Tumblr

In all the excitement, and flush of emotion, I turned towards my mother. What I saw was priceless.

When I turned to her to ask how she was dealing with it, I was met with a child, and not a counselor, mother of two. The excitement and awe on her face, flushed with a child like wonder of what she was witnessing before her, was far more superior than the magic unfurling onscreen.
Kiti mast aahe na?” she exclaims in Marathi (How awesome it is, yes?)
Kai imagination, kai kapde!”(What imagination, what clothes)
Maala ase English bagaila avdat nahi, par maaja aa gaya!” (Usually I don’t like watching English movies – switching over to Hindi – but I enjoyed it)

The raw joy on her face was unparalleled to anything that I had witnessed until now. For here’s  the thing: Marvel and – most/some – parents don’t really gel well. Mom was one such parent; not too interested, but for the heck of it choose to be saddled with me.

But as we were seated in the theater, watching the end credits roll and Marvel dropping it’s usual package of an additional scene for the dedicated last-to-leave fans, she turned to me and said, “Thank you for bringing me here today. It was really fun. Thank you baccha.

As we walked back home gushing over the movie, discussing the cast, plot and what-not, I couldn’t help but secretly thank Ryan Coogler for coming up with a remarkable film such as this one. For not only did it carve a milestone in Hollywood but closer home, it made a wonder-struck woman out of my marvelous mother.

BP 3

As I type this, close to hitting publish, I look over to my mother, my first reader for this post, when she chirps in her sweet voice, a one line review to the film, “Kharas! Maala kharo khari hain picture avadla.”(Truly! I really liked the picture.)

🙂

Valentine’s Day is not for the romantics only

Recently, I watched the Sofia Coppola film, Lost in Translation. Winner of the Best Original Screenplay. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director. It is also regarded as one of the best films of the 2000s.

20 something, young graduate and wife, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and an aging actor in his 50s, Bob (Bill Murray) find themselves in the overwhelming throng of Tokyo, as they struggle to communicate literally and metaphorically. In the grand Park Hyatt, amidst luxury and great comfort, both find themselves misplaced in their lives. Charlotte’s husband leaves her lonely. Bob’s wife, in spite the 25 yrs of marriage, still doesn’t read through him.  Stuck in their careers, Charlotte takes no pride in her writings or photography, while Bob finds himself shooting $2 million whiskey commercials. Yet, in the in between space, a hotel, both of them bond as only strangers would, developing a friendship, as they rush through the streets of Tokyo, or wallow in comfortable silences and shared drinks.

And the best part? It happens over the span of their stay in the hotel, the ending is ambiguous – maybe they’ll stay in touch, may be not,  and the friendship is only a friendship. No flirtation, no casual sex, no romance. Just a bond as is usually the case.

Why this prelude? For Google, Cadbury, Ola, Uber, Swiggy, clothes and jewelry chains, malls, all seek to stomp the internet with heart stamps. The influx of red, of cheesy offers for couples seeking a good time together, dilute, as it happens every year around this time, the essence of Valentine’s Day. Especially love.

I believe, love is investing without the expectation of returns. For to invest without expectations takes courage and a total acceptance of the other person’s flaws and quirks. Love may be many things: Hollywood defined, Bollywood defined, John Green defined, Stephanie Meyer defined, Taylor Swift defined, Adele defined, Zayn defined. Each person has their own definition, yet it all boils down to acceptance.

Sounds easy on paper. Acceptance is the toughest shit out there. For when you accept something, be it a person, a circumstance, yourself, you are not only freeing yourself from the agony of expectations, you are letting go of holding on. Letting go of the need to be right, of the need to accepted, of the need to be wanted, of the need to be needed. You are freed. That’s what acceptance brings.

And that’s what Sofia Coppola showed in the film. Neither judges the other, even when Bob has a one night stand with another woman. Even when Charlotte chain smokes much to the chagrin of her husband, which Bob makes no fuss over. Of course, acceptance of unfamiliar strangers is easier than for familiar strangers.

But this sort of acceptance, where have you seen it? Only in your lover, partner, potential husband? What about your Mom, Dad, Grandparents? Your best friend(s)? What about  your teachers? Your annoying twat of a sister or brother? What about you? Have you accepted yourself?

My point is Valentine’s Day need not be what the media tells you, what popular culture has you to believe. It need not be a day for couples to throng public places and be a nuisance to the prudes or the freshly single. It need not be a day where hearts, pinks and romantic songs blare in every public space, or have your social media inundated with nauseatingly cheery Valentine’s Day cum Good Morning messages.

No. No. No.

If the West has popularized this day, in the honor of a certain St Valentine, let it be remembered why. It became a day associated with love for that’s what the saint had tried to do: spread love and peace in a land marred by war by marrying of soldiers the Christian way which earned the ire of the Romans. He was of course beaten, stoned and decapitated. That’s the fate he met and definitely not to see the definition of love reduced to something so  narrow and material. If the West has popularized this day, let it be a start, in the middle of the month, to remember with gratitude and love all those platonic relationships which fill our lives with meaning and strength.

Make it a point to call up that best friend whom you have not spoken to in long, or drop a kindly word or deed for someone you know or don’t. Make it a point to give yourself lots of love. Make it a point to go out on dates with yourself, as Kalki Koechin’s character did in the critically acclaimed Margarita with a Straw. Make it a point to stare at the stars or catch a sunset.

For love is not just between two people, or a once in a year grandiose celebration. It the smallest of gestures or the most mundane of acts.

The magic drumming everyday between your lungs.

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Maybe I should steal Cupid’s arrow and shoot myself – Dally London Image credits : @dallylondon

 

 

“Kiss me, my girl, before I fall sick” – Phantom Thread, a review

Phantom Thread

  1. London.

Narrow, winding staircase, painted white. Well dressed fashionistas, ascending through the claustrophobia with a smile. The halt at the site of the immaculate staff, who lead to another room, wide, with natural light, to be met with the stately Reynolds Woodcock, of the House of Woodcock.

The rustling of garments, the snip of lace and velvet and canvas, of peering over needle and thread, eyes down on the threads and design of high end fashion, the only sounds in the fashion house. A subdued silence descends as perfection is the only God the colourless designers lay their craft on.

Grey, overcast sky. Pale skin. Dark colours. The weather is serious, heavy with all the unshed rain, that even the occasional sunlight, wading through the glass windows in the elite House of Woodcock, does not contribute to any gaiety. Bedrooms are dark panelled with the ubiquitous English wallpaper. Not much thought there, for the House of Woodcock thrives and seeks its nourishment from the design and praise from the high end fashionistas: countesses, queens, uber rich and the cultured. Formal pecks, mirthless smiles, and the painstaking attention to detail, so much that it makes you feel suffocated. Like the claustrophobic house.

Run by the conscientious designer Reynolds Woodcock, his fashion is the toast of the town. The camera spends a good ten minutes on the elaborate care Woodcock spends on his appearance: ironed pants, crisp white shirt, the pale bow subtle in its shade but striking in their perfection, the matching coat and the greying hair neatly pushed back with two combs. Polished shoes and horn rimmed glasses. Routine followed to the dot. Breakfast for breaking the fast of the mind, the black ink of the enamel pen running strokes on the white sheets, ideas flowing like the impenetrable heat of the sun, pleasing all, touching none. Food preparation specific. No butter, no cream. Oil and salt. Asparagus to be this way and not that. A dark kettle only for him. Total silence, not even the grate of knife to toasted bread.

“I’m certain I was never meant to marry. I’m a confirmed bachelor. I’m incurable.” – Reynolds Woodcock

In this controlled world of Woodcock and the fawning rich, comes Alma, a simple, country lass. A waitress, clumsy, under confident. In his visit to the countryside hotel, Woodcock, smiling , gives a specific barrage of instructions: poached egg not too runny atop the Welsh rabbit, jam but not strawberry, “some” scones with less cream. Taking the paper from her, he asks, “Will you remember?” She smiles and serves to perfection.

Thus begins the stirring of a strange relationship. The dominating older rich man, the quiet, stubborn country girl.

In her first visit to his country house, Alma hears of his deceased mother, whose wedding dress for her second marriage he had designed, obsessively and carefully. From this moment on, the characters and the plot start to unravel.

“I never liked my shoulders. I felt they were too wide, my throat too bird like. And I don’t have any breasts.” – Alma

As Alma, his muse, assistant and paramour struggles to gain acceptance in the slick formality of the uber rich, she comes face to face with the phantoms others choose to hide behind. Their real selves lay buried under the garb of finery and affected couture. Some choose makeup, some choose alcohol and some choose an obstinate adherence to routine.

However the hard exterior of Woodcock finds a worthy opponent in the sturdy rootedness of Alma. They wage a war under the banner of love. Seeking respect and acceptance. Seeking companionship. Seeking order. Seeking chaos. Seeking to be revealed as they are, without the fear, transcending the phantom threads of the past and the seemingly irrevocable distance from the true core to the layers they hide under.

The play of colors and natural light, contrasting the sobriety of the dark grandeur with her alien personality and simple dressing, juxtaposes her subdued resilience to his control. Daring to stand up to the taciturn French princess, the overbearing sister Cyril Woodcock, Alma lavishes in the quiet darkness of the other side of love. The pull of strings over each other’s differences is accentuated by the orchestratic soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood. So much that the symphony of nerve racking, gut wrenching music, can be considered as the third protagonist.

 

The phantasmagorical dream of his dead mother in her son’s designer wedding gown accentuates the psychology at play and further drives home Alma’s strategies to win control. She in her green dress and auburn hair, akin to Poison Ivy, the music rising in urgency, the revelation of her actions to the surprising declaration of “Kiss me, girl before I fall sick,” reveal the strength of love before the controls of ego.

“I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open with only me to help. And then I want you strong again. You’re not going to die. You might wish you’re going to die, but you’re not going to. You need to settle down a little.” –  Alma

With the fine performances of Daniel Day-Lewis in his final onscreen appearance, and Vicky Krieps, director Paul Thomas Anderson weaves a haunting tale of love, ripping apart and crumbling to dust the armour to let in the colours of love.

“I think…our assumptions and expectations of others…causes the most heartache.” – Woodcock.

This six time Oscar nominee at the 90th Academy Awards will tug at all your delusions of love, for love is not control.

To love, is to let go.