The importance of being artless

[ Asok Pillai ]

You might call it a paradox of the times that talent these days often expresses itself most fluently in people who have absolutely no talent to begin with, and yet are possessed of such faith in their virtuosity that they see no problem with expressing themselves out loud.
Thanks to social media, we are witnessing the growth of a sub-culture of individuals who are randomly pushing the edge of the envelope, and going distances we wouldn’t dare imagine. They are a rare breed who would stake their all for the cause of an arcane art, even though it is a matter of conjecture what it is, exactly, that they are offering to the unsuspecting world. They leave us agape, before we catch on in a weird way. We begin to like them because what they are offering is so bad they’re good.
The case in point is the sudden emergence and rise of nonconformist oddities like Bhim Niroula from Nepal, Taher Shah from Pakistan, Hero Alom from Bangladesh, and our very own Rajkumar Thakuria, aka Raku da, from Assam.
Their belief in the ‘art’ they practice is a thing of wonder, and the videos they produce are a labour of love. It requires no iteration that these people have become hugely popular; comically so, but popular regardless.
The girls remain underrepresented even in this field, however, because the fairer sex only has Dhinchak Puja to call their own. Yes, you might take the name of Rakhi Sawant, but she doesn’t qualify for obvious reasons. Her antics are lewd and calculated to shock. The joker who rapped ‘Bol na aunty au kya?’ does not make the list for the exact same reasons.
Dhinchak Puja, on the other hand, is possessed of a level of naivety which makes her take herself seriously enough to believe in what she does. The same goes for Hero Alom and Raku da. Not for them the need to be big stars in the firmament of social media influencers; all they want to be are low-wattage light bulbs – but, by god, they follow their instincts and put out music videos that are actual reflections of what they are in their daydreams, and, unbeknownst to them, patently ridiculous to discerning people like us.
These people command a serious fan following, not because we think they’re great, but because the things they do make us feel good about ourselves. Rational people like us like to get a good laugh out of the inanity of the videos these people post on Facebook and YouTube. Hero Alom’s disastrous productions make us feel good about our own sorry lives because, while on one level we know that we are smarter than these people because we would not do the things they do, we realize also that it’s not about whether we would not do those things but about whether we could do those things, at all, given the way we are perceived by society.
They are free spirits, people like Dhinchak Puja, Raku da, and others. They are actually taking the road often travelled, but on a whole new level of low.
This phenomenon – of people appearing out of the woodwork and doing strange things, surprising the world at large – may have a specific provenance dating back to a certain time in history, but the one production that comes back immediately to mind, upon watching the videos of Taher Shah or Bhim Niroula, is the 2003 movie called The Room.
It was a disaster of a film, produced, directed and acted in by one Tommy Wiseau, who came up with the ludicrous film with no storyline, no context, no production value – certainly no acting – because he wanted to prove his worth as an artist to nobody in particular. He just made the movie because he believed Broadway and Hollywood needed it.
Needless to say, The Room was an unmitigated flop. According to Wikipedia, “The film was based on an unpublished 540-page novel written by Wiseau himself. The movie was immediately lambasted by critics, but ultimately became a ‘cult classic’ with late-night showings at theatres around the world.
“Audience members typically arrive wearing wigs resembling their favourite characters (in The Room), interact with the dialogue on screen, and throw plastic cutlery and footballs around the theatre in reference to on-screen events.”
Although he had made the movie in all seriousness, Wiseau, having reassessed the situation, later said it was supposed to be a comedy of sorts.
Impressed by Wiseau’s folly, Hollywood actor James Franco in 2017 directed and acted in a movie called The Disaster Artist, based on the non-fiction book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, which describes Sestero’s impression of the shooting of The Room and his relationship with the eccentric Wiseau.
The Disaster Artist was nominated for an Oscar, but it didn’t make it because of the allegations surrounding Franco in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
It’s not likely that any Indian writer would write about the lives and times of people like Hero Alom, Dhinchak Puja or Raku da, or that any producer would take a chance on making movies about them. Which is a tragedy, come to think of it, because these are the unlikely heroes of our times, shining the sporadic light of joy in an otherwise gloom-ridden place this world has become through the follies of better men and women.
Their ignorance is their asset, their artlessness their art.