Reports say that, over the Diwali weekend, apartment complexes all over Bangalore and Hyderabad were invaded by gangs of costumed children demanding candy. Halloween, it seems, had arrived in South India. “I was forced to hand over 2 kg of Diwali laddoo”, said one agitated woman, “And they didn’t even sing carols!”. It was a very confusing time.
I managed to escape the hullabaloo and decided, in the interests of research, to spend a day watching Tamil serials. Most of the serials had storylines such as below:
Manjuri is a jaali young woman whose life takes u-turn. Manjuri sees that her stepmother Meena’s stylish purse is open and has a photo of a cow. She shows the photo to her father Chandran, who promptly faints and is admitted in nursing home. There, man with beard in nurse-uniform gives Chandran halwa that has fungus. Chandran loses speech and can now communicate only by whistling. This irritates his second wife Meena. She starts wearing chiffon sarees and snake-shaped bindis and therefore becomes evil. Chandran is able to safeguard Manjuri from Meena, but in the process Manjuri also starts whistling. This lowers her marriage prospects. Luckily, she finds lou with Gopi who says her whistling reminds him of his mother’s Prestige pressure-cooker. Meantime, the bearded nurse is trying to lure Gopi into a honeytrap. Will Gopi-Manjuri overcome all obstacles and get married? Is the mysterious cow Meena’s long-lost sister? If not, then why is the nurse wearing a beard? Keep watching to find out!
At the end of that day, I emerged a changed woman. Why, you ask? Well, I realised that even something as simple as a TV serial could teach me valuable life-lessons. For example, here is what I have learnt so far:
1. You have not arrived in life until your meals are served in casserole dishes. In all Tamil serials, successful people sit down to eat at big dining tables, on which there are a minimum of three Milton-type casserole dishes, contents undisclosed.
2. No house in South India has front doors. This is so that villains, police officers, scheming relatives and cows can freely walk in and advance the storyline without wasting time.
3. You can tell the character of a woman by her clothes and her hair. Women in cotton sarees that are pinned are saints. Further down are women in synthetic sarees pinned up, then, women in synthetic sarees with the pallu left loose, followed by women in salwar-suits, and leading right down to women in jeans (sinners!). A woman’s hairstyle is also a sign. The more loose your hair, the more loose your morals.
4. Men’s clothes do not indicate their character, but a man wearing more than one gold chain is a villain. There are no exceptions to this rule.
5. There are three key emotions in the climax scene: anger, helplessness and evil. Anger is portrayed by looking up and down rapidly. Helplessness is portrayed by looking up and down and then looking to your left. Evil is portrayed by looking up and down and then looking to your right.
6. All episodes end with a semicircular arrangement of the family around the key character. This is so that the camera can pan smoothly across every person’s face, clockwise, as they emote. For example, when a baby is born, each person gets to smile in turn for exactly 3 minutes. Or, when the vamp accuses the hero of infidelity, each person gets 2 minutes to raise their eyebrows and open their mouth wide. When the camera zooms out, everyone repeats the emotion again, but this time in anti-clockwise direction.
7. The music and camera movement need to be in sync. As the camera pans or zooms faster, the tempo and volume of the music must increase in a geometric progression. Simultaneously, all dialogue should cease. This kind of sound and light show can easily account for 40% of the show-time.
I know what you’re thinking dear reader. Only seven lessons from such a deep and meaningful experience? Fear not, I plan to immerse myself more into this world and attain total enlightenment. Just be prepared for when I turn up at your (non-existent) door next year for Halloween.
Remember, I will be the zombie in the pinned-up cotton saree with a tight plait. Don’t give me halwa, OK?