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Early on in “Sherlock Holmes“, Watson tells Holmes that he knew a man in India who was able to predict not just the time and date of his death but also how many bullets would kill and where he would be shot. This was Watson’s attempt at suggesting to Holmes that magic may exist. I’m not sure whether the other people in the cinema thought the idea of a man foretelling his death in detail was mumbo-jumbo but for me, it was pretty matter of fact. Because my grandfather did predict his death. Unlike Watson’s friend, he didn’t tell us and there were no bullets. After he had died and we were clearing out his cupboards and books, we found his things very neatly arranged and a pile of diaries were kept together with a note saying they should be given to a young chap who used to spend the evenings with my grandfather. Chap in question comes over a couple of days, stammering and shuddering and holding in his hand the diary for the running year. One page said in neat lettering, “End of Anon’s Grandfather”. He had written his own name, not “Anon’s Grandfather”. As psychic as he may have been, I don’t think he had foretold that I would end up having a blog. But he did dabble in astrology. He didn’t talk about it much and actively discouraged his family from taking any kind of fortune telling seriously. About his own astrology, he said he did it because he liked the maths calculations it involved and we know he did those calculations compulsively even though he rarely voiced predictions. I think he did it because as a scientist (yep, he was a scientist), he liked the idea of life being like a toy that one could open up through horoscopes. I suspect it gives you a certain sense of power and the feeling that you can explain loose ends in life even if you can’t tie them all up.

Watson and Holmes, a domestic scene

Guy Ritchie’s Holmes seemed to be a bit like that too. He’s constantly deducing, calculating and predicting how things are going to happen. This being a movie, that’s precisely what happens. Holmes prophesies he’ll bring his boxing opponent down via moves 1, 2, 3 and 4. He goes on to do just that; bones crunch, saliva sprays, body parts dislocate, as per his predictions. Like my grandfather in his astrologer mode, Holmes also completely misses a lot of things, like Irene Adler in a crucial sequence, the fact that Watson’s fiancee Mary isn’t a fool and the fact that there’s an entire chunk of the incomplete London Bridge about to come hunkering down. But logic, curious and weird as it may be, is his magical power and it’s a delight to watch it play out in Holmes. Guy Ritchie conjures up a nineteenth century London that is made up of greys and blacks. It’s creepy but gorgeous, and rather like an underworld version of Richard Curtis‘s sunny, pretty London. There are always clouds; ravens perch on roofs; nights are gloomier and menace glints everywhere. What’s delicious about “Sherlock Holmes” is that it is simultaneously nothing like anything Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and yet it doffs its hat, Guy Ritchie style, to the writer in numerous ways. Doyle’s personal fascination with the occult (remember “Arthur & George”?)and magic is saluted in this story. Throwaway details from the stories, like Holmes’s boxing talent, are picked up. Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes may have an entirely unconvincing British accent but who cares? He’s got comic timing, charisma and great abs. Jude Law is superb as Watson. The script gives them some fantastic repartee and really, if it hadn’t been for Irene Adler (yes, she from “A Scandal in Bohemia” and thus another Doyle detail that sneaks its way into “Holmes”) and Mary, this movie could have been as much a caper as a queer romantic comedy. Actually, I’d say it still is, despite the women doing their best to leave an impression on the men. Mary as the fiancée bails Watson out and Irene leaves Holmes naked in bed, handcuffed, but neither the good girl nor the bad one really matter. These boys were meant to be. To quote the old Wills ad, they’re made for each other. Cue in steampunk orchestra playing the bridal march.

When I was saying this to someone, they said, “But who’s the bride?” Is Holmes the shrew whom Watson sort of tames? Is Watson the ideal wife who is supportive without being subservient? They were somewhat thrown when I asked why one of them had to be a woman. Because romantic relationships, it seems, must be a gender see-saw in perfect balance. As the ladyboy hairdresser at Calcutta’s Tolly Club had once told me, “Wanting a life partner isn’t about falling in love and all that. It’s more like making a jigsaw puzzle.” Your life are the pieces that you try to arrange so that it matches the picture on the box, which invariably shows a girl and a boy. That’s the pattern we’re invariably trying to fit ourselves and those we see into.

Last month, Rituparno Ghosh attended the annual film festival in Goa. It was the first time he’d been seen in public in a while and over the past few months, rumours have been flying frenetically about how Ghosh, affectionately known as Ritu, is “changing”. Years ago, Ritu used to looked unremarkable. Many made fun of him for being a little effeminate but that was it. Then he became a filmmaker. His limp wrist and the fact that he could write female characters well and tell their stories with nuance and sensitivity made everyone whisper that he must be gay. Because if you’re “homo” then you like guys, which means you’re like a woman because only women like guys, unless they’re lesbian in which case they’re masculine because only guys like women. Got it? Anyway, so Ritu was definitely gay because he told women’s stories well. Plus, he got into the habit of dubbing for actresses in his movies.

Press image from the Goa Film Festival

As if that wasn’t enough, his wardrobe started becoming rather flamboyant (by Calcutta standards). So there were long flowing kurtas and floaty shawls and dupattas, accessorised with embroidered little bags and the like. Soon enough silk turban-esque headgear was added but curiously, no one said Ritu harboured dreams of being Sikh. Then he said that he was going to act in a film and play a woman’s part. A man in drag and not hiding it — predictably this news gave much of Calcutta tinnitus. When Ritu made an appearance in Goa, a lot of the rumours that had been floating around and the supposed clarifications to scotch those rumours got settled. There’s little doubt from the picture alongside that Ritu is well on his way to becoming a woman. The good news is that no one went into a flurry of speculation about whether to call him Rituparno or Rituparna from now on. Maybe Ritu will be able to make his transition the way Larry Wachowski became Lana Wachowski without having to explain himself. Hopefully, he’ll sit back and spar with someone, like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do in “Sherlock Holmes”, and there won’t be any need of an Irene Adler to make the relationship acceptable to prevailing logic.

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4 thoughts on “Holmes Where the Heart is

  1. …he liked the idea of life being like a toy that one could open up through horoscopes. I suspect it gives you a certain sense of power and the feeling that you can explain loose ends in life even if you can’t tie them all up.

    I like the way you say that.

    Holmes prophesies he’ll bring his boxing opponent down via moves 1, 2, 3 and 4. He goes on to do just that; bones crunch, saliva sprays, body parts dislocate, as per his predictions.

    Or rather, as a stylistic device, Guy Ritchie has Holmes narrate, accompanied by step-by-step slow-motion, what he knows will happen because he’s done it before. The sequence is then followed by those same moves in “real time.” The juxtaposition between slow-motion and faster-motion produces an aesthetic quality for what would otherwise be a scene of “sanctioned” violence. “Sanctioned” in the sense that it the violence is justified and narratively necessary. It is also consistent with Ritchie’s style.

    Holmes also completely misses a lot of things, like Irene Adler in a crucial sequence, the fact that Watson’s fiancee Mary isn’t a fool and the fact that there’s an entire chunk of the incomplete London Bridge about to come hunkering down.

    Examples of dramatic irony I suspect, especially the bit with the London Bridge.

    What’s delicious about “Sherlock Holmes” is that it is simultaneously nothing like anything Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and yet it doffs its hat, Guy Ritchie style, to the writer in numerous ways.

    Well said. And I love the middle paragraphs in this post as well, from Robert Downey Jr’s comic timing to the jigsaw puzzle.

  2. The flashforward and playing with speed is definitely very Guy Ritchie and great fun. Thanks for stopping by and the detailed comment!

  3. Pingback: links for 2010-01-10 « Rumblegumption

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