Last Saturday I was away from Mysuru in Kodagu on some errand for a night. As I was pouring soda into a crystal glass in the company of an old friend in his old bungalow, I get a telephone call. It was from another old friend and colleague from my Bombay days. ‘Hey, your son Vikram Muthanna’s column has you as one of the protagonists in his Saturday Night Fever article titled “The Lone Movie Wolf…”
Returning to Mysuru on Sunday, the first thing I did was to grab the Star of Mysore and like a hungry dog zestfully digging its muzzle into the food-bowl, I pored over the article that mentioned of his experience of seeing one english film of Charlie Chaplin ‘The Great Dictator’ with me in his school days and another Hindi film ‘Khamoshi’ as an adult.
In the first I was laughing away to my own glory and to the annoyance of those watching movie sitting around me and, of course, as I now understand, to the annoyance of my son too. Who would not laugh when the great dictator, Charlie Chaplin playing the German Fuhrer Hitler, plays with a bloated Globe even bumping it in the air by pushing it up with his big bum! Wah! It was rib-tickling and what started as a smile, turned into a sudden burst of laughter as Hitler continued with his trivialising, mocking play with that big ball of a world. I almost got choked while my nervous wife and son began massaging my body and belly to stop me from laughing like I had sniffed at the laughing gas!
By the time the scene changed, I was totally exhausted and was breathing like a snorting pig! That was indeed the power and glory of Charlie Chaplin, a performer par excellence. I remember him during the Vietnam war in the sixties when he used to visit American soldiers in the war zone to entertain them with his rib-tickling gags in rapid succession. A genius indeed.
On screen, he would cry alone but when he laughed the whole theatre laughed! I remember the philosophical phrase, “when you laugh the world laughs with you, but when you cry, you cry alone.”
The same was proved when I saw the film ‘Khamoshi’ with my son about which he had written. Yes, I was feeling sheepish and shy to cry even in the darkness of the theatre but unlike the time I laughed watching ‘The Great Dictator’ where the whole theatre laughed together, here each one seemed to cry alone, wetting handkerchiefs rather secretively!
I guess, I can connect my predicament of laughing loudly, uncontrollably inside the theatre to a similar predicament faced by two women, Cindy Amass and Jacqueline Cox, who were asked by the theatre manager in London to ‘laugh on the inside.’ When they were unable to do so and continued to laugh like I did (in my case tears gushing out of eyes), they were asked to leave. They were watching a comedy film ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and the incident was reported in newspapers on 6th July 2016.
Well, Sir, I feel nice now. After all, I am not alone when it comes to enjoying a good comedy film. Enjoying a belly laugh. After all, what for am I blessed with a pot belly? Laugh it off, man. No wonder, Charlie Chaplin rightly remarked that ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted.’ Nearer home, our own Mahatma Gandhi was a naughty old man with a great sense of humour and a consequential laughter lighting up his visage. There is no surprise in his perception of life without humour. Which is why he confessed that “but for my sense of humour, I would have committed suicide long back.”
In contrast there are snobs with stiff upper lips who will not smile heartily for a good joke or even for a loud fart! He will not even make face when the fart starts stinking!! That, according to British people, is being a gentleman with good manners in a public place (even when the place stinks like a skunk)!!!
I have discovered the importance of laughter long back on learning that it was only humans who can laugh, not animals. Even our immediate ancestors, the primates, the monkey, at best can only grin, not laugh. Smiling and laughing are among the emotions that help keep us away from the feeling of gloom and doom. Star of Mysore carries one joke everyday in its editorial page under the title ‘Laughter the best medicine’, because the world laughs when you laugh and thus you help keep the world sane. Let it be.
Here, I am reminded of my very embarrassing moment in Bombay because of my weakness for laughing sans inhibition. I had written about it in SOM and traced it with some effort so that I can share with my readers. Here it is, published in the Abracadabra column on 6th May 1978, the very first year of SOM’s publication:
It is said that when one fails in all ventures, he becomes a writer. If this is so, that was what happened to our own celebrated writer and novelist R.K. Narayan. According to what he told a group of post-graduate English students of Manasagangothri a couple of days back; he was turned down a Tutor’s job in the Maharaja’s College. Of course, what was Maharaja College’s loss was the literary world’s invaluable gain.
It is no matter of conjecture what a great loss it would have been. Thinking of loss, Narayan mentioned that by dealing with film ‘goondas’ a conscientious author like him would lose both his morals and money. He was very bitter about his experience with film people. Perhaps Dev Anand had helped him gain this unsavoury experience.
I remember myself turning hysterical, laughing like one possessed, while reading his article titled, I think, ‘Misguided Guide’ wherein he had dealt in delightful detail about circumstances, situations, people and all that happened in the selling of the film rights of his novel “The Guide” to Dev Anand and thereafter during shootings.
I can never forget till my death this particular incident. Once I was tickled into laughing, every second line I read with moistened eyes (I start getting tears in my eyes while laughing) only added to the humour which was still being enjoyed by me. I was laughing in fits and starts like a lunatic, became a nuisance to others and I was not in control of myself at all. A point came when the lady librarian came and requested me to leave the place and return after I regained my balance.
Readers may feel that I am exaggerating. No. This happened in the USIS Library, Bombay, and the article had appeared in the ‘Life’ magazine.
I have since read a few pieces by Narayan published in ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India.’ But they were all flat. Narayan will never excel that one piece which was packed with humour, sarcasm, wit and bite. Oh, Narayan, Narayan, won’t you do it again? —PUCK
PUCK was the pen name for my column Abracadabra for many years. And finally, I learn that laughter is the sweetest medicine for mind and body. It is a powerful antidote to stress, brings mind and body back into balance if there is an imbalance, connects you to others who also laugh with you and naturally keeps you warm and alert. Laughter also fights anger. But take care not to laugh alone and for no apparent reason. People may mistake you for a loony Lothario.
e-mail: [email protected]