I’ll be honest right from the beginning: I really, really want to like Rush. I love the art form that is the TV series, at least as much as I like cinema; a little bit more, at least, because getting into the world of any work of fiction is a pain, and TV shows allow me to spend immense amounts of time in the same world. So, I find myself gobbling up TV show after TV show, and getting more and more frustrated tat they are all American, British, anime or The Kumars at No. 42; yes, many of them are good and some, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and Baccano! and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi and Girls and Doctor Who and The aforementioned Kumars at No. 42, are just bloody great, but none of them are Indian. Indian TV shows, as a rule, suck (a great one from here might just achieve the heights of a How I Met Your Mother).
So, you know, when within the space of two weeks I heard that Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games would be adapted into an American show (coming out this year) and then that Bejoy Nambiar of Shaitan fame was making a music-based show for MTV, I resolutely decided to stuff my misgivings – the white-man-helmed Sacred Games will at best be a whole TV series with the whole of Mumbai speaking English and Shaitan was too cool for its own good (more later) – down a deep cave in the vicinity of their hindquarters and hope against hope that we might get something worth watching; or at least that it would lead to something of the sort.
So, today, at seven, I dutifully turned on the TV and put on MTV. Much as I hate the headache school of criticism, I have to admit that I contracted one between seven and seven-thirty this evening. To be fair, there are often other reasons, but it’s not hard to ascribe it to the show; it’s just that sort of thing.
Today’s episode opened with a montage of lots of people doing mildly scandalous things and other people doing normal things shot as if they are doing mildly scandalous things and a voice-over that informed us how there was a college festival called – you guessed it! – “RUSH” and this show would traverse twelve stories in the same 48 hours of the festival.
Now, on to the show itself (spoilers ahead, but there’s not all that much to spoil). In today’s story (no episode name or writing or directing credits that I can find), Ahaan and his big brother Ayush’s girlfriend Zara fall in love and Ayush, as you can imagine, is pretty pissed off about the whole situation. They tell Ayush and he gets really violent and then, when they leave him alone, tries to kill himself, and then for some reason Ahaan finds himself on cliffside with a burning auto and a mad sadhu-type randomly repeating some vaguely vacuous statement ending, weirdly enough, with the Tamizhian macha. I’m not spoiling anything; this is the first five minutes.
This whole thing is approached with a sense of style that would make Darren Aronofsky cringe, Danny Boyle balk and have Sergei Eisenstein rolling in his grave. Most of the time one gets the feeling that Nambiar and his team think that they are directing a music video for some really edgy or ‘edgy’ band, but much like in Shaitan we see there is potentially real talent here when the camera stops and lingers on an emotional moment or song.
It is to the makers’ credit that this is neither able to hide the raw emotional honesty of the story nor the deeper epistemological underpinnings that obviously drive both the writing and the direction (which, I get the feeling, were done in tandem).
The episode begins with the end (a tactic which I usually hate but is handled well here), zooms out to the beginning, jumps to a later point then explains the path travelled in between and then goes into pretty much linear storytelling. What is immediately obvious is that the intent is to take a fractured view of time (like Memento, while eschewing its fake neatness) and space (like psychedelic videos) and narrative (like Joyce), and it pulls it off with considerably more finesse than the relevant parts of Dev.D while never approaching real brilliance.
The idea is that the world is a story we tell ourselves; we can think of ourselves, talk of ourselves but never see ourselves as others see us, because we are our own constructs, and therefore we may never present ourselves to others as they see us, which is why we never see Ahaan’s face. You may love your brother’s girlfriend, but is it because you love her or is it because she is loved by one who is your ‘sab kuchh?’ You may be angry at the guy who kept you from talking to her during the college fest, but who are you really angry at, and does it really matter? Why are you as you are, a mid-point between Bob Marley and some shallow sadhu, a center of the triangle formed by conservative Indian values, white-man like privilege and open defiance of traditional morality?*
This episode breaches all these heavy issues, but never really goes anywhere with them, choosing instead to descend into an annoying drug trip (and I can’t even figure out what drug it is) and some loud theatrics involving an aforementioned auto. But these are forgivable, compared to a much larger sin: the series may be an anthology, but every episodes is set in the same world, and this world just isn’t established in any meaningful way – all we get is drugs, a skateboard ramp thing, a huge anonymous crowd, lots of people playing (rather nice) music, and typical college-age douchebaggery.
Basically, I fear that the sort of series suggested by those broad strokes is exactly where the makers plan to go. Well, at least it’s competently made.
*This is quite wrong, and I need to watch the episode again to write the paragraph in a more meaningful way, so take it more as a set of preliminary ideas about the thing than a statement on what’s going on.