Jayary Newsletter # 88
A Bollywood Romance
Now that we have decided that Agastya was in possession of wealth and in need of an heir, we are halfway through the journey from myth to history. Yes, there are many unanswered questions: what kind of family? Who were his parents? But those (important) details are for another occasion, when we convert the sketch into a painting.
The second half of the journey toward history is about his wife, Lopamudra. We can't have him create her out of celestial spare parts. At the same time, we can't have his car run into hers on a city street and have them start a shouting match. Or, be bridesmaid and groomsman at a friend's wedding who fall in love at first sight.
She was made by him; we could turn her into an android and make their story into an Indian version of "Her." Too obvious; let's think a little harder.
How else can a person make another person without literally making them? What if Agastya and Lopamudra were teacher and student? There's something creepy about a teacher shacking up with a student but it's been known to happen. There is something creepy about Agastya assembling Lopamudra and then marrying her.
So now we have the outlines of a Bollywood romance: Agastya is the son of a wealthy family who falls in love with one of his students. Who happens to be the daughter of a rival family. Having committed a social crime, they're excommunicated by their respective clans. The rebellious lovers have to fend for themselves in the big bad world.
Let's give it a little Romeo and Juliet flavour shall we? But which wealthy Indian family lets their son become a teacher? Hmmmm....
So we have decided that in our upcoming blockbuster, Agastya is Lopamudra's teacher in a Bombay college. We'll make them clash in class. Before falling in love, of course. There's a problem:
Why would a rich family let its oldest son become a teacher? You would expect a business family to make its scion join the family business. It's not as if teaching is a respected profession in moneyed circles. To make it more plausible, I am thinking we should make Agastya more of a rebel - perhaps he has crossed over to the other side and become a union person.
Perhaps I am being too reductive; even Bollywood is tiring of cliches. Business families are often strategic: they let a child blow off steam and pursue their interests before reeling them back in. Every once in awhile, that shift is precipitated by tragedy.
I remember a good friend of mine - himself the first born of a wealthy Delhi family - telling me about his cousin who was completing his Phd in physics at Caltech with Richard Feynman, only to return to Kanpur and run his family wholesale business after his father unexpectedly passed away.
Then there's Vikram Sarabhai.
In fact, you could argue that the independent minded son is the best inheritor of the throne; especially if he leaves the nest and explores the world. The explorer understands the changing currents better than the children who stay put. It's Michael, not Sonny who becomes the Godfather after the Godfather.
That's the luxury of inherited wealth - unlike the self made billionaire, the inheritor has a pot of gold waiting for him even if he meanders through life.
As you might have noticed, I was struggling with the historic Agastya until I hit upon the Bollywood principle: how to cast the story so that it's easy for the hero and heroine to dance around trees while struggling against the odds?
Seems cliched doesn't it?
Not at all. Bollywood stories are often modern versions of mythic patterns. You could argue that all of Bollywood is about historicising ancient and modern Indian myths.
No art cinema for me. Now that I am under contract from R.K Films, let's summarize what we have learned about the historic Agastya and his love, Lopamudra:
She's from a powerful family. He's from a wealthy family. The two families don't like each other.
He's brilliant but mercurial; generous when happy, vindictive when mad. She's equally brilliant. Bitter on the outside and romantic on the inside.
He's ugly but charismatic. She's beautiful and intense. Oh, I know it's sexist but I am on contract remember. The movie's got to make money.
It has to be set in Mumbai of course. She's Bengali. He's Marathi.
Remember "Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se?" I remember watching Sachin and Ranjita in the Hindi remake of Irving Segal's sappy classic. I am sure I can steal a montage or two from that blockbuster.
A final question before we're off to the races: what do we call them? Agastya can remain Agastya, but no one calls their daughter Lopamudra anymore. How about Lopa?