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Strength Of Character

 Ever wondered why movie stars and television actors receive so much adulation? Apart from the fact that they’re seen by people the world over and people want to get to know them, they are basically remembered for the characters they play. It might touch a chord somewhere deep down; you can perhaps  draw parallels between your life and the character’s or you’re just generally appreciative of the trajectory of the character’s development. Sometimes you wish the characters you read about would jump out from the pages and come to life! (God knows I’d like that to happen to Mr. Darcy!). I’ve decided to pay a tribute to all those well-fleshed representations of the varied and expansive human nature that have ingrained themselves into the collective consciousness.
Character maketh a man but characters often saveth the plot! It’s often seen that though the plot has gaping loopholes or is generally insipid, you tend to overlook that if the character is memorable. Really, do you think Dabangg would’ve been such a huge hit if it wasn’t for Chulbul Pandey’s eccentric personality? Often, they’re the focal point around which the plot builds itself. Take Harry Potter or Eragon for example. Notice that I do not include The Lord of the Rings here because I believe that Tolkien, genius of a man, doesn’t play favourites. Read The Two Towers if you want proof. Although the trilogy essentially follows the trials and tribulations of Frodo, it also digresses and intrudes into the lives of other characters as well. Because Frodo is just, although significant, a small patch in the vast milieu of the history of Middle Earth. 
An epiphany here: does life imitate art or does art imitate life? How many times do you say, “Pshaw! Stuff like that just happens in the movies. It’s not for real. It’s just entertainment!” But when something does happen, you say, “Woah!!!! It’s just like in the movies!!!!” My point here is, do you fall in love with the annoying guy who trails you while backpacking through Europe just because it happened to Raj and Simran in DDLJ? Or did Raj and Simran fall in love because that is something that can totally happen in real life? You’re dead-drunk, you’re Devdas. You’re drawn towards your family’s sworn enemy’s ward, you’re Romeo/Juliet. And don’t lie, how many times have you tried out the Christ Redeemer-esque scene from Titanic? Sometimes the line between real and reel blurs, or you just probably wish it did and that’s why we’re drawn towards such things.

I believe that a character can be permutations and combinations of any trait - even opposing ones - because hey, it’s human nature! It’s a choose-as-you-please from the entire gene pool. Now, have you ever wondered what would happen if you were to transpose the traits of two characters and see where it would lead them? Take cocksure, fiery, and impulsive Othello and confused, doubting, under-confident Hamlet, for instance. If Othello was more cautious and carefully weighed all his options before taking a step, like Hamlet, he wouldn’t have fallen prey to Iago’s tricks and Desdemona would’ve lived. On the other hand, if Hamlet trusted his instincts more and didn’t waste any time vacillating, he could’ve killed Claudius instantly and avoided the deaths of Ophelia, Polonius and Laertes. What a masterstroke, Shakespeare!

Nobody likes villains in real life but we absolutely worship them on celluloid. Legions of fans will swear by Dracula, Darth Vader or Voldemort. There’s just so much evil in them and they’re ‘fly’ because in the end, they get exactly what they deserve, but they go out in style while doing so. The importance of characters is not determined by the time they’re given in the story, but the impact they have on it. We’re barely just introduced to Tom Bombadil but had he entered the playing field, he would’ve sent Sauron running home to his mommy! And then there are the auxiliary characters, content with playing second fiddle or providing us with amusing digressions. Sherlock would’ve never been so brilliant, if Watson hadn’t been slow. For something to stand out, you need to place it against a foil. Sometimes they hold more interest than the main characters themselves! I, for one, would love a little more of CP3O and R2D2 instead of Luke Skywalker.

Now if you talk about character development, you can’t have them living in La-la land. They have to undergo some suffering so that they can come out against all odds. That’s what makes a Charles Dickens novel or one of those ‘Vijay’ Amitabh Bachchan movies. But sometimes writers lose track and in a bid to stretch their characters out, they end up making them a lumpy mess of putty. Don’t you wish that they speed up the story or sometimes just end the dailies they play on your TV? Viewers don’t know just how many more seasons of Gossip Girl they’ll have to watch before Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass finally get together. But if you can do it right, then perhaps they wouldn’t mind ploughing through more seasons before Ted Mosby finally tells his kids how he met their mother.

Now no one’s perfect. Not even fictiously! It’s a cardinal rule that character’s need to have some fatal flaw that’ll make for interesting plot points. Seemingly perfect characters are alright if you are doing a satire and the author is well aware of it. But if the author himself is in denial over it, then ladies and gentlemen, we have what we call a Mary Sue. Bella Swan (yes, you were waiting for the Twilight bashing, weren’t you?) is a perfect example. She’s morose, brooding, generally disinterested with life, yet everybody at school is inexplicably attracted to her, including a vampire. Her only fault is that she trips even on flat surfaces. She says she loves Edward  to death and can sacrifice for him to any extent and the normal rules of love don’t apply to them as they’re on a higher plane but she doesn’t want to get married because she’s just not “one of those girls who gets out of high school and gets hitched”! I know I said a character can be anything but sometimes poetic license is taken to staggering levels of absurdity!

Sometimes, if you conceive a character that is well ahead of its time, it may or may not be well received. There have been books and movies that were ridiculed during their time but later went on to be heralded as classics. An estimated 50% of people who’ve read Catch 22 hate Yossarian, because they don’t get him. The other half simply loves him! I’m sure Ayn Rand must’ve caused a stir when she came out with The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I sorely wish Howard Roark, Hank Rearden, John Galt and Francisco d’Anconia were actual flesh and blood! Then you have Jane Austen. At a time when women were to be dainty, well mannered and submissive, she gave us Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse. And if appreciation comes from Sir Walter Scott himself, that’s saying something!

Now what does this do for the actors? I said they were immortalized through the characters they play and sometimes people don’t want to remove them from that. Daniel Radcliffe shall always remain The Boy Who Lived. Elizabeth Taylor will always be remembered for Cleopatra, if not her numerous husbands. Vivien Leigh essentially is Scarlett O’Hara. When you say Audrey Hepburn, it’ll always conjure images of My Fair Lady or Roman Holiday. Brad Pitt may be excused but Tyler Durden has firmly stuck to Edward Norton. If you’re lucky, you’ll have several avatars to your credit. Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Mad Hatter are just a few milestones on the road of Johnny Depp’s success. And Shahrukh’s various lover boy roles. Naam toh suna hoga?

Sometimes their different incarnations compete for more fame. The following sentence is a personal opinion I wish to express. What I’m about to say may be seem blasphemous to some but maybe you’d understand why I have such a hard time accepting Marlon Brando as The Godfather if you just see A Streetcar Named Desire. But it’s not all good always. Poor Robert Pattinson, no matter how hard he tries, will never escape being Edward Cullen. Infact, people don’t even remember him as Cedric Diggory from Harry Potter! (ah well, can’t say I didn’t warn you!)

But in the end, characters really are oblivious to the dissection we subject them to because they don’t exist and they hold their own in their own universe. It’s only when we bring them out of it and into ours that they change into dynamic entities. That’s why spoofs are so popular! Making a character do what it would otherwise never do, never fails to tickle the funny bone! Imagine Voldemort asking Snape to grow a moustache because he thinks it’s cool or Batman driving a tin-pot car instead of the Bat-mobile, overwhelmed by recession. So you can fantasize having a Heathcliff pine away from you or a know-it-all butler like Jeeves solving all your problems and save you from being flummoxed. You can hate or love a character, do as you please for “Frankly my dear, they don’t give a damn!”

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Sayonee Ghosh Roy
I humbly profess to be spoilt, pampered brat with old-school upbringing. You could let me loose in a book-store and I'd never come out, except if you lure me out with coffee and Italian food.


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