Today I got off from the board meeting early and my flight was in the evening. I had a few hours to kill with nothing to do. I chanced upon a YouTube video snippet of Bathsheba Everdene and Sergeant Troy’s sword scene of 2011 remake of Far From the Madding Crowd. I didn’t like it at all, there was no mystery, no suspense and no thrill that I remember experiencing when I first watched the scene in the original 1967 British movie starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terrance Stamp. Knowing me, YouTube presented the Terrance Stamp interview recorded just before the remake. He had played Sergeant Troy in the 1967 BBC movie. The interview opened a flood of memories flashing across my mind of the various times of my life when i had seen the movie and the times that I have read the book. It brought to my mind my struggle to derive meanings of various scenes. My first viewing was at a time when I had limited understanding of what was happening as our exposure to the themes discussed in the book were not discussed openly in my time. The book itself dealt with these themes in a roundabout manner making it difficult for school boys to fathom. I first saw the movie around 1977. I started going through the various scenes being presented by YouTube and connecting them with my earlier stage. Terrance stamp was saying that the original 1967 team involved in the movie consisted of luminaries of British Film making and were the who-is who of the British cinema. He predicted that it would be really difficult for the remake to break the spell weaved by the original. How true was that:
This was autumn of Islamabad of 1977. The advent of winter used to be signaled by a spell of rains that would continue intermittently for several days, and were accompanied by lightening and thunder, and often with strong winds. As a member of British Council library, I was a regular visitor who would frequent at least once, if not twice a month. During those days British Council Library was situated in the building next to Melody Cinema. My major responsibility was to keep the stock of books replenished for my mother who was a voracious reader and largely confined to bed with various illnesses such as hernia and arthritis. There were memberships of my sister, brother and me and each was able to issue four books. My task was to return the books that my mother had read and to issue new books that she may not have read. Her interests were fiction, thrillers, drama, suspense, adventure. Finding books that were stimulating was a tough assignment as it appeared to me that she had read nearly all the books. I started reading English books much later than Urdu Books that I used to be more interested initially. Pakistan Center Library that was nearby would always be another stop in my visit to library, which was often on cycle. Cycle because 10-15 hardbound books of British Council were really heavy. I had started with Jennings children fiction series by Buckeridge, and Hardy Boys a year or so before. It was also the time that I got attracted to Arthur Conon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I was more interested in adventure, crime and detection. I had little time for complexities of life dramas.
I saw the notice about the screening of “Far From the Madding Crowd” at the British Council and obtained the ticket for the movie. It mentioned Hardy and I thought it must be related to the Hardy Boys series. The movies in the library hall were shown on the projector. This would be the first of such movies that I saw at British Council in Islamabad and later in British Council Karachi.
It was raining and I decided to walk to the Melody from my home in F-6/4. It was dark, cloudy, and was raining lightly. I had the rain coat on which had been presented by my cousin who had come from Russia and I also had the umberella. The distant lightening and thunder could be heard. I reached the library around 5-6pm. The movie was long. My English listening comprehension at that time was also not very good. What I do remember is that this was my introduction to the life drama in the spectacular background of Dorset (Wessex of Hardy’s Novels). It was highly intriguing. I wouldn’t say that I understood it very well, but it introduced me to emotions and conflicts that would take a long time for me to contemplate, reflect and understand much later. This movie was my entry point to serious literature. Over the next few years I would go through Hardy’s Return of Native, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Mayor of Caterbridge. I tried to read Jude the Obscure several times but could never go past the depressing story. Of course, I had started reading at that time John Buchan and Dickens.
Coming back to Far From the Madding Crowd, I would read the book a few months later. Not that even that reading helped me understand quite a lot. Remember these were my initial forays into serious literature. There was mystery in there because these books and their film versions did not explain too many things. But, this mystery made me reflect on emotions, feelings, relationships rather more strongly than others. I started analyzing the moods and emotions more deeply. These were the times when we did not have the luxury of VCRs and ready availability of classic movies the way we have today. One had to wait for these opportunities and seek them out with great difficulty and preparation.
It would take me a long time to understand several portions of the book. Among the difficult portions of the books were that of the long walk of Fanny Price and the scene of the graveyard with water coming down from the gargoyles. The portion about Boldwood, and Troy’s disappearance and emergence in the village fair. The cock fight were other detailed versions. Hardy’s style is winding, tortuous, and provides a great deal of introspection on the inner thoughts and feelings.
I would read the book several times, I would also see the movie several times. Last few times with my children. I have enjoyed each such viewing and reflection. As I have been reflecting on this for the last one day since my stimulation in the picturesque setting of Bahawalpur University guest house, I feel the immensity of such visual and emotional experiences that I was introduced during those impressionable times of my life. It developed in me the capacity of deep thinking.
How over 40 years have passed and the time is as fresh as ever. I remember walking back after the movie from Melody to F-6/4. It had rained heavily during the period that we were watching this around three hours movie. Walking alone on that dark night with umbrella in my hand, on wet streets of Islamabad. Those were the days when there used to be nearly no traffic after nine and there were very few people on the streets. As I recollect that long walk, wonderful walk, I can see various phases of my life passing by. Islamabad of that time, which is no more. That youthful lively anticipation of future is now replaced with a warmth of knowing so many and seeing so many, and experiencing so many.
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