Thats a line from a long-time short story,
The Night Watchmans Occurrence Book by VS Naipaul
which the scriptwriter of The Mystic Masseur the movie
has not yet put his hands on, to do the hatchet job on an artistic vision
hes done on Naipauls 1957 novel.
Take a glance at the Week in Review on the left.
It has been what we are coming to understand to be a typical week in
Really, theres nothing unusual in this weeks
murders, still missing kidnapped children, robberies, assaults, etc.
In fact, its all what people of this country are coming to accept
as pretty usual, so one can pretty well understand Prime Minister Patrick
Mannings nonchalance and bland dismissal of those who read crisis
in whats going on around them.
That people are being gunned down in cold, cold blood
the latest like a rerun of an exciting western at MovieTowne
is becoming pretty usual. That children are the targets of kidnappers
is becoming pretty usual. That with each incident the PM evokes what
has become his pretty usual position as head of the National Security
Council of certain, unusual information to which he is privy,
is also pretty usual.
And that his National Security Minister and the Police
Commissioner with each high profile incident start robber-talking
in tones of the mythical Midnight Robber is (yawn
) oh so usual.
So, as a leading parliamentarian has been said to
have said in a previous time of similar siege, by similar persons, wake
me up when its over.
That is, if I could sleep.
As it is, already, the average citizen is rethinking
the usual antidote for insomnia, which until Thursday would have been
taking in one of the offerings of MovieTowne. Now, theres that
small matter one must consider: He/she might become collateral damage.
For Mr Mannings average citizen, untouched
and unaffected by the crime situation, who dares venture into this wild
wild WestTowne, however, the cineplex is now showing The Mystic Masseur,
which is promotionally pitched as a time and a place for magic
The movie, like the novel, is set in Trinidad. Need
I say more on how misleading then that promotional line is?
Nothing in the book, nor even the Caryl Phillips-scripted
Merchant Ivory production remotely shows any place for magic and miracles,
unless one considers an opportunistic, self-annointed masseur-cum-mystic-cum-political
leader-cum-national icon ripping off people wanting to be ripped off
in a struggling village a place for magic and miracles.
But then it might have been penned with the same
blinkered vision that directed the scriptwriter to extrapolate on the
Naipaul story to its detriment; the kind of deteriorating 2020 vision
that inspires observations like Mr Mannings.
Now it would have been closer to the truth if the
promoters had said the movie is about a Caribbean backwater, where it
is pretty usual for one to be an average citizen one day, a religious
leader the next, a coup leader on the third, a murder and plunderer
on the fourth, by the fifth a community leader, on the sixth metamorphosed
into a politician, and by the seventh, who knows, a Prime Minister sitting
back sagely, surveying the collateral damage.
That would have been truer to the vision of the book
and the movie although, wrapped around Phillips extrapolations,
the movie almost misses the point.
In fact, it seems to have stumbled on it quite by
What about the word coldly that a script
writer, director, producer, make-up artist, actor do not understand?
Even Mills and Boon readers know it means absence
of love; a closed heart, unreceptive, dismissive, aloof
It is the last word in Naipauls novel A Mystic
Masseur; the word that lingers most significantly.
Coldly, with all its implications, the novel
suggests, is the tone in which Ganesh Ramsumair, pronounced the newest
version of his name G Ramsay Muir. That assumed name that negated
his origin, that made him no different from his rival, Narayan, whom
he had sent to the political graveyard, reflected the cold, superior
character public adoration had made of him.
From the first page, the first image of Ganesh were
presented with is, Ganesh seemed the only cool thing in the village.
So the movies softening of his image, even having him even training
a successor, is a travesty of the authors vision.
Ganeshs pronouncement of this Anglicised version
of his name comes at the end of the long road in his evolution from
failed teacher, failed writer, failed masseur, fake pundit, corrupt
politician, MBE, hailed by all, revered both by the country folk and
the city folk; a statesman in a place that had no model to know what
statesmanship is; a demi god who had built his kingdom on adoration
of the ignorant.
In a rare display of insight, the movie actually
suggests coldly was also, perhaps, fulfillment of an autobiographical
prophesy what Naipaul himself had become in his own rise to fame;
but then, its casting has also been good, though the deficient scripting
left the actors unchallenged, the most inspiring acting coming from
The Great Belcher.
But the positive dawns only after one recovers from
scenes that jarr what simple research on the period would have corrected:
n Sparrows Jean and Dinah and Lord
Pretenders Never Ever Worry being blasted on the radio
anyone who is familiar with rural Trinidad would know no Indo-Trinidadian
village as closed and remote as Fuente Grove would have been blasting
calypso in the 1940s;
n an entertainment group with a lead female singer
at the impoverished young couples wedding;
n villager, albeit middle-income ones, bedecked in
three-piece suits while going about their daily routine;
n and how the Trini accent spoken by an American/Indian
comes out Jamaican, so the Trini emphatic man, becomes the Jamaican
marn; and the village ah go becomes I (pause) go (pause).
In its better moments, the movie hints at the deficiencies
in how a society like this, built on pillars of fraudulence, deceit,
corruption and short-sightedness throws up its leaders, and how easy
it is for scum to rise to the top.
Anyone can become a masseur, a pundit, or pastor,
and in a matter of time, a politician and leader of his people, not
because of competence, but because its people are too dull-witted, or
blindsided, to know their own power, or how those they warmly hold up
as leaders, treat them so coldly.