Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dark Temptations

I recently wrote an article for the Times of India's special New Year edition. It expressed my love and admiration for the colour black. ToI in the usual ToI fashion forgot the byline. It just said: "The writer is an author and screenwriter who spends his time between Chennai and Mumbai". Wow, so I am that writer!

If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say "Fuschia is the new Black" or "Aquamarine is the new Black", well I will be left with a lot of pennies at a time of financial crisis when the pound-rupee exchange rate is abominable. Growing up I used to incessantly wonder, to everyone's plight, when Black would be the new Black. Mothers, and may God bless their souls, always come through for little brats with too much curiosity and too little patience.

Black is always in. Black is always cool. Black covers you in a veil of mystery and gives you an edge. And when all else fails, black gets you out of trouble. And it has done all this since time began. For what existed before time, the universe or that big bang we keep hearing about in science journals? Black, of course. It is not a colour, but the absence of it. The absence of all light. It exists in the heart of all men and for the sheer contrast it provides to everything else in life, it's presence is necessary, nay, paramount.

And it has left its indelible mark on popular culture. The colour Black has always provided the backdrop, the canvas, on which great art, cinema, music and literature can be freely painted.

Imagine Batman as a caped crusader wearing flashy tights and saving the denizens of West Mambalam (nothing against their lot, but do they really need saving?) while riding the latest offering by hamara Bajaj. Would we ever get to see the monster hit that was The Dark Knight? Here's a movie almost completely set in darkness, that poor detested daughter of the colour black. Its music is ominous; it delves into the darkest corners of the human condition and yet its capacity to entertain is unmatchable.

Imagine Ralph Fiennes's Voldermort meeting Harry for the first time on a bus stand on a warm sunny day. Imagine Darth Vader wearing a green or a blue helmet.

Hitchcock's films were never the same once black and white gave way to colour. Salvador Dali's psychedelic set for Spellbound would never have the same charm, the same aesthetic sensibility in colour. The magicians would lose their ability to create believable illusions.

The complete genre of horror films would disappear without Black's ability to spook us.

But what happens when the medium is not visual but affects our other senses. There is no colour to be seen. And yet its presence can be felt.

Where would metal or grunge be without black. There would be no Black Sabbath and no Metallica. There would be no collectible Black Albums for connoisseurs. And all of Goth culture would just disappear. Where could teenage rebellion find a better companion and guide than in the colour black?

Would musicians go to the crossroads and sell their souls to the devil to be able to write and play better music? Would there be haunting, melancholic lyrics? Would there be head banging with friends in large grounds and auditoriums while listening to divine heavenly music? The answer is a clear no.

All of fantasy literature owes a great debt to Black. The Mines of Moria and the Battle of Helms Deep in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings wouldn't have existed without it. Wizards and witches, dungeons and dragons, folktales and dark and grim fairy tales - they all wouldn't have the same force.

Every mystery novel ever written, every Enid Blyton adventure tale where youngsters explore abandoned light houses - they would vanish into thin air without Black.

Krishna - that most charismatic of characters in our mythology whose skin is the colour of twilight - his raaslila and maya are a direct result of Black. One could even equate sensuousness to this 'colour'.

It's not only the stars but also the deep and dark emptiness of space that has attracted man towards the skies. Black also represents our insignificance in the greater scheme of things. And yet it propels us forward in search of the uncertain, the unknown. And so we get space opera on one side through fiction and films and actual endeavours to cross the barrier of space by diligent scientists and engineers working day and night.

But Black is now tired. We are exhausting it. It is time we made a sincere contribution towards its rejuvenation. Maybe this coming year we round up the usual Page 3 suspects and tell them not to sport Black. Try Fuschia or Aquamarine instead.