Saturday, January 4, 2014

Junoon January . . . It was the best of months, and the worst of months.

Passionate obsession, or "junoon," is generally presented  in film as the not-so-distant cousin to romantic love. For a time, it may burn just as bright . . . but in the end, it is far more exhaustible than love (and exhausting to experience).



Regular, every day personal obsession is the stuff awesome stories are made of. Obsession gives people the drive to do amazing AND horrible things . . .  at any rate, things they will surely be remembered for. Things you have to be stark raving mad to even dream of doing in the first place. I love this type of obsession on film, and it often turns quirky or slow stories into great ones. David Lean's impressive cinematography aside, Lawrence of Arabia only works as a film because Peter O'Toole takes an evil pleasure in playing Lawrence a bit mad.



But romantic obsession? Most variations of Romeo and Juliet don't quite melt my heart and bypass my brain the way they should . . . so why would I be easily seduced by the moaning and machinations of less innocent lovers? It's difficult to sell me on violent, insane, nonsensical romance. The crazier it gets, the harder it is to make me believe. (Example: Tezaab's insane obsession worked in song, but not in story.)

And yet--it MUST be crazy to distinguish it from other star-crossed love stories. My favorite type of junoon/obsession must be equal parts fascination and narcissism. And it must seem as much the work of fate as fanaticism.

Sridevi throwing around the word "junoon" carelessly, oblivious to its inherent curse. Khuda Gawah (1992). 
Furthermore, it is also (probably):

  • a symbolic stand-in for the audience's internalized frustrations and need for a higher form of catharsis...
  • includes some believable psychological or cultural explanation as to why the couple might be SO very careless with their lives/love...
  • manages to be sexy without falling into the exploitation genre (which is really an entirely different level of obsession expression). Junoon is sometimes emotionally ugly, but not really physically graphic... 
  • and, one or both persons in the romantic couplet or triplet or what have you, are often less invested . . . or perhaps less emotionally available for some psychological or cultural reason.



This kind of junoon is ultimately distinguishable from other forms by the characters' inability to achieve any real satisfaction (the exploitation genre tends to rely on temporary fulfillment of needs or wants) throughout the story . . . that is, until the climax, when the obsession must find relief, either through violence, death, or total separation.




In general though, you know it when you see it. You know it when you get that slight cramp in your stomach that says, "He's a little mad," and the creeping dryness in your throat that says, "She's a lost cause." You know it when you need a very long nap after watching a film . . . when you are as exhausted and used up as the characters' pleasant feelings for one another.



Anyhow, since February (here in the U.S. at least) is dedicated to romantic love, I think that it's only fair that Junoon gets its own Hallmark holiday. And the next best thing (within my power)? Dedicating January 2014 on my blog to Junoon Around the World. (This will also coincide nicely with the anniversary of the beginning of my obsession with Hindi cinema.)

This month will be certainly be weighted towards Hindi films about romantic obsession, but I shall try and include some recent ventures into 1930's Hollywood, 1970's Soviet films, and 1950's Greek and Italian cinema.



I hope to see you all again on the other side. After all, one can't see more than two feet ahead when deep in the fog of Junoon.

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