Life Lessons from Uppi 2

In 1999, the Kannada movie director and actor Upendra released what is probably the most intriguing Kannada movie ever made. The movie was literally named after him (Upendra) – because why the fuck not? After all, the movie was largely about a self-obsessed man (named ‘Naanu’ – which literally means ‘I’) entangled in the human condition, with the 3 female actors portraying the ideas of fame, happiness and responsibilities. I can talk for hours on end about all the insights I have gained from that movie. In fact, every time I watch it, I gain a new profound insight into the human condition. But this post is not about that movie.

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In 2015, 16 years after the first one, Upendra finally released the sequel to Upendra. It was titled ‘Uppi 2’ – possibly a play on the popular breakfast item ‘Uppittu’ (Upma), or not. The general premise of this movie was that the same character – now going by the name of ‘Neenu’ (meaning ‘you’) – is now living life completely in the present moment. The movie compares and contrasts this with other characters who live in the past or in the future.

The general principle of ‘living in the now’ is not at all new. There have been many many books written about that idea. It has also been represented well through characters in the movies (think of ‘The Big Lebowski’:  “Is this a… what day is this?”). So it is not something totally earth shattering what Upendra explored in his sequel. But what stands out in Uppi 2 are the scenes that show the different specific manifestations of the main character’s ability to live completely in the present. There are many to list here so I will stick to the one that made a big impression on me and has stayed with me ever since.

In this scene, ‘Neenu’ and his friend visit his home where he finds his entire family apparently massacred – with corpses in pools of blood all over the place. It is a rather gruesome scene which is made even more strange by Neenu’s continued calm and smiling nature even as he examines the massacre in his own home. Rather alarmed by his lack of response or shock, his friend asks him if he does not feel shocked, sad or angry looking at the tragedy in front of him. To this, Neenu responds by explaining (and I am paraphrasing here):

After a tragedy like this, most people take years or even decades to accept what has happened and to come to terms with it. After that, they are able to lead a normal life without the pain or sadness. I just accepted all this immediately and have already come to terms with it. So where is the need to feel sad or angry anymore?

Of course, it later turns out that his entire family was acting all of it to expose Neenu’s apparent apathy towards his own family members.

But the message was very revealing to me. Of course, we don’t need to go through a tragedy of the magnitude that his character did in order to make us realize the utility of the idea. Instead, we can just look at the daily frustrations and struggles we face that are beyond our control: a delayed flight, a trivial argument with the spouse, bad traffic, your sports team losing a game, you name it. We typically see many such incidents every single day of our lives stretching as far back as we can remember. We probably got frustrated, angry or sad at that time and likely stayed that way for a while depending on how severe the incident was. But over time, we almost always move on. That incident loses its significance and impact on our mood and its impressions go away.

So if we can confidently state that most of these daily frustrations eventually lose their hold over our state of mind, then we have to ask ourselves why get angry or frustrated in the first place? It is a legitimate question, and one I have formulated in a slightly more specific manner:

Say I have a frustrating experience today, what would my general thoughts be 5 years down the line:

  • Will I still get frustrated, angry or sad thinking about it?
  • Will I feel like exacting some kind of revenge or retaliation towards anyone or anything?
  • Will I even give a shit about it?
  • Come to think of it, will I even remember the damn thing?

If the answer to these above questions is a NO, then I simply have to ask myself why would I get frustrated, sad or angry in the first place? There is just no point in doing so if I know that it will eventually pass. So, much like how Vincent Vega responded after shooting Marvin in the face, Uppi 2 taught me how to immediately come to terms with and let go of the daily frustrations in life.

Of course, it takes a little practice to incorporate this into our daily life, but it is actually pretty easy. And once we are able to remind ourselves to ask this question every time something goes wrong, it becomes that much easier to come to terms with all the daily frustrations.

What ‘Shooting Marvin in the Face’ Taught Me About Making Mistakes

One of the most, if not the most, memorable scenes in the history of movie making is the shooting of Marvin in Pulp Fiction. It is a scene that completely turns the movie on its head, generates a shock value unparalleled in its nature, and leads the movie down paths that turn out to be future reference points in movie making. But I am not here to sing praise of the movie or the scene. I am here to point out something rather subtle that I observed in the scene and which has taught me a valuable lesson.

So let’s revisit the scene, shall we? Here it is, in all its glory:

Wow. Talk about shock value! Nothing hits you in the head (pun intended) more like this scene!

At about 55 seconds in, Vincent (John Travolta) shoots Marvin in the face that results in a blood and gut drenched car driving on the interstate in broad daylight, with two men in blood soaked suits in the front, and a dead, headless Marvin in the backseat! Now I am going to ask you to completely set aside the dark comic nature of the scene (no, really) and focus objectively on the way Vincent Vega reacts to the ‘incident’. Here is the transcript:

Vincent: Whoa!
Jules: What the fuck's happening, man? Ah, shit man!
Vincent: Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.
Jules: Why the fuck did you do that!
Vincent: Well, I didn't mean to do it, it was an accident!
Jules: Oh man I've seen some crazy ass shit in my time...
Vincent: Chill out, man. I told you it was an accident. You probably went over 
a bump or something.
Jules: Hey, the car didn't hit no motherfucking bump!
Vincent: Hey, look man, I didn't mean to shoot the son of a bitch. The gun 
went off. I don't know why.
Jules: Well look at this fucking mess, man. We're on a city street in broad 
daylight here!
Vincent: I don't believe it.
Jules: Well believe it now, motherfucker! We gotta get this car off the road! 
You know cops tend to notice shit like you're driving a car drenched in fucking
blood.
Vincent: Just take it to a friendly place, that's all.

                         

Now Vincent’s first reaction to the shooting is significant. What he says is as important as the way he says it. What he says is “Oh man! I shot Marvin in the face!”. And the tone that he uses is completely out of sync with the nature of the situation at hand. Instead of completely freaking out (much like Jules does), the tone he uses is perhaps something more appropriate for far lesser ‘crimes’. Something along the lines of the following everyday oversights:

  • Oh man! I forgot to add sugar to your coffee!
  • Oh man! I forgot to charge my cell phone before heading out.
  • Oh man! I still haven’t renewed my drivers license.
  • Oh man! I spilled some milk on the floor.
  • Oh man! I locked myself out of my car.
  • Oh man! I left my debit card at the ATM machine.
  • Oh man! I missed my exit on the interstate.

You get the idea.

Now use Vincent’s tone and expressions in any of the above reactions to every day oversights, and it will seem to be rather fitting for a ‘crime’ of that significance. So how or why would Vincent use that tone after he shot a seemingly innocent kid in the backseat who just ‘didn’t even have an opinion’ about ‘divine intervention’?

The answer to that is Vincent instantly acknowledged his ‘mistake’, accepted the situation, AND forgave himself for it. And with his ‘mistake’ forgiven and firmly in hindsight (within a few seconds), he proceeds to describe the situation as such – something wrong he did in the past that he doesn’t feel attached to anymore, and having come to terms with it completely. He even proceeds to clarify that it was indeed an accident and that he had no intention to shoot Marvin.

Now make no mistake. There was a marked carelessness that preceded the shooting – Vincent holding his gun in his hand, finger in trigger, AND pointing it straight at Marvin while talking to him. It is a carelessness that could have been easily avoided, thus sparing Marvin’s life*. But our man Vincent Vega chooses not to dwell on those aspects. He perhaps acknowledged those actions of his and ensures that he doesn’t repeat them in the future. And he does so instantaneously, thereby also ensuring that he doesn’t live with the guilt and blame for the rest of his life.

*But, seriously, why on earth would anyone want to be in a world where Marvin is still alive?!?

Now let us just ask ourselves some questions here.

  • How do WE react when we or other people make mistakes?
  • How long do WE dwell on our or others’ past mistakes and situations?
  • How long do WE hold our guilt and regret over something that happened in the past?
  • What does it take for us to accept the situation for what it is and move on in our lives – free of baggage?

We all make unintended mistakes – many of them arising out of our own carelessness or indiscipline. And then we typically spend months, years (and maybe even the rest of our lives) blaming ourselves or others for them and holding varying amounts of guilt/resentment and/or living in despair. Our lives and the lives of people around us are adversely affected because of our guilt and resentment. But what if we could simply forgive ourselves the way Vincent Vega did after accidentally shooting Marvin? It doesn’t have to be instantaneous, surely. But what if we at least genuinely considered that forgiveness was an option? Wouldn’t that be a far better option than living the rest of our lives with a ‘What if’ of ‘If only’ preceding our every thought?

So let’s run by a few such situations where we shall substitute our typical reactions with what Vincent Vega would say in a similar situation:

  • Oh man! I got badly drunk the night before the <insert name of important exam> and screwed up my chances of going to college.
  • Oh man! My alcoholic mom totally screwed up my childhood.
  • Oh man! My ex cheated on me big time.
  • Oh man! My dog got run over when I was distracted on my phone.
  • Oh man! I wish I was around more often with my kids when they were growing up.

There is absolutely no attempt at humor with what I have written in the list above. I write this only to put across the point that even things mentioned in the list above (and similar) merit our acceptance and forgiveness. The path forward would lie in accepting the situation for what it is, recognizing our mistakes and role in the situation, forgiving ourselves for it, and ensuring that we do not repeat them in the future. And the first 3 are necessary to accomplish the last one because it is that much harder to not repeat the mistakes when we are still beating ourselves up over what we did in the past.

So please, whenever it is you find you are blaming yourself for something that you did or that happened in the past, just stop and ask yourself the following question:

What would Vincent Vega do?

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PS: It should be pointed out that this post was written sitting in a coffee shop and watching Vincent Vega blow Marvin’s head off on a loop! Try doing that and still having a straight face to write a post about acceptance and forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Breaking Bad

5 seasons and a lot of intense and memorable hours later, Breaking Bad’s finale is finally upon us. I got on to the bandwagon very late – in fact only after the first 6 episodes of the last season had been aired. Fresh off completing all 5 seasons of The Wire for the second time, I had decided to not watch any more TV shows. It was just not worth it – all the time spent (wasted??), the lack of any productivity, a desire to do something more useful and constructive with my time, etc. got me very hesitant to embark on another massive investment of my time and ….., well, nothing else really. But ultimately it was the lack of sufficient returns with regard to the quality of the shows available that I decided to take a break.

I do not know who finally tipped the scales in favor of this show, but I got started on Breaking Bad. And that was all it took – getting started – and I had committed ALL my non-working time to complete watching all available episodes. Thanks Netflix. Within a few weeks I was done. 41 episodes of drama of the highest quality – a quality matched only by very few TV shows. Only 2 come to my mind – The Wire and the first 3 seasons of Damages.

Who’s there??

The story line and the plot was what kept most people hooked on to the show. Admittedly original, the premise of the show opened up a range of possibilities for the story to develop and take shape. But the writers stood grounded – all the time. No outrageous plot developments, no fabricated coincidences, no cliche situations, no Deus ex Machinas to save the day, and for once we did not see the inevitable game of institution politics  being shoved down our throats in the name of reality. None of the painful cliches holding up plot and/or character development – something any seasoned TV show viewer will attest to.

However, the real strength of the show lay not in the successful absence of the cliche, but in the development of plot and characters. Fact is these two were never separate entities. Most story lines (TV shows or movies) have scripts where the development in character follows the development in plot. That is something happens to the character and then the character begins to think and act differently. Breaking Bad, for the most part, did this in reverse.  They defined an initial sketch and history for all the characters and created initial situations (Walter White diagnosed with cancer and his meeting with Jesse). After this,  the characters’ own natural responses and weaknesses were allowed to dictate the direction in which the story and the plot developed.

Walter White’s persistence with ‘providing for his family’ on his own terms, Jesse’s inability to cope with the impacts his actions have had on those he loved, Skylar’s disapproval of Walter’s choices and her initial fear of her family coming under harm, Hank’s single minded obsession to nail Heisenberg – and all the things that led to and resulted from these formed an intricate web of action and consequence involving every single character in the show. It is really a beautiful thing if you meditate on it.

Think of it. A set of people with a certain initial characters/personalities and tendencies living through different times in their lives. An initial set of circumstances are thrust on them and thus begins the indefinite and incremental loop of response, consequence and further stimulus. But every time the response is going to be incrementally different because of the characters’ previous experience and newer set of circumstances to respond to. All this happening with minimal to no external interference or involvement. It is almost like an elegantly crafted genetic algorithm.

Maybe it is. (Or maybe it is an allegory for free market economics).

But to me, personally, Breaking Bad was a celebration of the human condition. A celebration of how everyday people respond when subjected to stress, loss, unexpected wealth, getting caught, uncertainty, guilt, cancer, and ultimately just plain old fear. Everything – Walter White deciding to embark on his meth making venture, Jesse helping the cops to capture Walter, Skylar cheating on Walter, Marie returning to her kleptomania, Walter revealing the location of the money in the desert – was all just the perfect portrayal of what a normal person under extreme stress and uncertainty would do.

There is an inevitable viewer disillusionment that comes with the vicarious experience of watching the plot unfold on a Television screen. It leads the viewer to having a false sense of superiority over the character for ‘knowing’ what the correct choice the character ‘should have’ made for his/her own good (which is usually nothing more than just the viewer’s preference). But the question to ask yourself is this: If you were really in that character’s shoes with that much stress, fear and uncertainty looming around you all the time, would you be reacting any differently? Once you answer that question honestly, Breaking Bad begins to transcend to a whole new level of TV drama.

The show will be missed. All the characters will be missed – everyone from Walter White to the most adorable Saul Goodman and Huell. But most of all, I would sincerely hope that the series finale does not go overboard just to create a happy ending. I would be at complete peace if Walter never gets to see his family, Jesse commits suicide and Skylar gets hold of part of Walt’s money. But that’s just me. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.