Tuesday, September 30, 2003

You Shouldn't Have

There is a party this week for a girlfriend of mine who just got married. I cannot attend due to a previous engagement, so I brought her gift to the office for someone to take in my place. And I realized, as I waited for the elevator to arrive, that I really hoped that I wouldn't see this friend before I could unload the gift. Because I knew what she would say: "Oh, you shouldn't have!" And you know what? That phrase sickens me. 

Think about it - you've gone to the trouble of picking out a gift; you've taken the time and money to put something together, only to hear the recipient say "you shouldn't have?!" What that really is, is someone protesting that you have made a MISTAKE in getting them a gift, and that on some subconscious level they don't want to be burdened by it; either because:
1) they feel like they don't deserve the loving gesture of a gift
2) they feel guilty that they didn't get anything for you, and resent feeling guilty
3) they feel like they have to pretend they didn't want anything from you for fear of appearing greedy
4) they really don't care for what you've chosen

Passing years have brought clarity to a great many things in my life, and I finally realized why I always hated to hear someone say I shouldn't have gotten them a gift. It takes a great deal of my enjoyment out of giving the gift in the first place, because it implies that I have made a mistake, and I hate making mistakes. Oh, they always say it in a cheerful tone, or with a rueful smile, but as one of my acting teachers observed over and over, "Many a truth is spoken in jest." 

I wonder how many other people get that sinking feeling when they hear this phrase. Now that I've finally recognized how this makes me feel, I'm inclined to start saying in response, "well then, I'll take it back!" I used to LIVE for the chance to see people open presents I'd given them, but the response is often so disappointing. To their credit, I think most people feel like "you shouldn't have" is a self-deprecating expression. But all it does for me is make me feel somewhat rejected. 

So I have some suggestions for a more appropriate response to gifts:
1) If you find yourself saying "You shouldn't have…," immediately follow it up with "…but I'm so glad you did!" That will soften the blow.
2) Come right out with a full-blown "Oh my gosh, you are so sweet/amazing/ thoughtful/inventive/wonderful" instead. Because they are, and your immediate happy response is better than any thank-you note (which you STILL have to send, people!)
3) Be honest. Say "I LOVE presents!" because, really, who doesn't love presents? (excepting one of my friends who feels she doesn't deserve them, and whom I have to trick into accepting them...)
4) If you absolutely hate a gift or don't need it, and know immediately that you want to exchange it, try this: "Oh my gosh, this is perfect! WHEREVER DID YOU FIND THIS?" The information will be happily and enthusiastically given.

Honesty is always the best policy, but take the next step and think about the feelings of the gift-giver and the time, love and money they have expended on your behalf.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Bollywood Ballyhoo

I have found my quality programming. It's called Bollywood Cinema - films made in India. Well, actually, I don't know that I would call all of it "quality", but it is highly addictive. Its complete lack of reality soothes me as nothing else can at present. I wish I could distill it down to a simple description. Some of the more obvious tendencies:
1) they're LONG - averaging 3+ hours each.
2) no matter what the genre, they seem to all contain song and dance
3) no kissing, but lots of hugs and nuzzling each others' faces in the romantic bits
4) vibrant color - especially the women's saris. I want to go to India just to buy fabric...
5) lots of tear-filled eyes, men and women alike. The men cry as easily and unashamedly as women.
6) the rich are SUPER rich, and the middle-class are rich, and the poor have enough to get by in moderate comfort. I have yet to see any slums

7) locations in various European countries, rarely related to the plot. I think the more unbelievable remote locations must indicate a dream state (I doubt the hero and heroine would fly for an afternoon to trapise about Mykonos in a dizzying array of outfits...)
8) lots of melodrama; lovers torn apart by parental disapproval, mostly.
There are laughable elements - one film has a SUPER rich family living in a French Chateau that I KNOW I've seen in pictures from the French countryside... but they pretend it is in India. Mothers and fathers love their children so much they weep frequently over their joys and sorrows. Sons and daughters may resist arranged marriages, but usually go through with them out of love and respect. If a couple starts dating on their own, they might have to deal with some seriously furious parents. Did I mention no on-the-lips kissing? That's a serious line that I have yet to see crossed - that of respect to one's elders and lack of romantic contact.
My description insults, though, by making so many generalities. I wish I could describe how moving these films can be, even to a Western viewer unaccustomed to such Victorian conventions... so Victorian that Louisa May Alcott would be writing screenplays for the Indian cinema had film existed 125 years ago. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get absorbed, but once you've accepted the conventions of the genre as well as its limitations (humor tends toward the slapstick, plot towards soap opera) it can be wholly absorbing.
I think I've finally figured out why these films fascinate me. Firstly, because of the sheer novelty. There's so much visual beauty in these movies; in locations, the actors, the clothing... you rarely get that in contemporary film, except for Baz Luhrman's work. Secondly, the unashamed emotion. Joy and sorrow are so strong in these movies, and perhaps it's not terribly subtle, but it really affects you.

Thirdly, and most importantly, these films move me because they're like my childhood daydreams. I was a serious daydreamer as a child, usually because I was miserable and disappointed and felt rejected. I had my own mental music videos even before MTV came along, and the similarities to Bollywood's song and dance are strong. Life is so often colorless, ugly, and disappointing, and we get so used to dull routine with so few things that really DELIGHT us... Bollywood actually addresses the human longing for adventure, beauty, love and heartfelt emotion: the key elements of fairy tales.
Plus there's some really cute guys in them who dance really well and don't act remotely gay. Although they need to stop featuring Hrithik Roshan's biceps in an array of sleeveless tops...