Friday, August 15, 2014

The Little Spark of Madness

This week marked a tragedy for all of us and no, I am not talking about Independence Day which is only a painful reminder of yet another year of freedom but not much else in terms of progress. On August 11, Robin Williams, one of the best loved actors all over the world passed away, leaving behind memories of sheer brilliance and light-hearted laughter. Ironically, for someone who made millions of people laugh, he died after a prolonged battle with depression and addiction.

Like most of the 90’s kids who grew up in the age of satellite television boom in India, my earliest memory of the actor was of course his role as the estranged husband who disguised himself as a nanny to be close to his kids in Mrs. Doubtfire. I have seen the movie multiple times and each time ended up with tears in my eyes (ok, that is not big a deal given that I cry easily). But not only did I fall in love with the character, it also marked the beginning of my obsession with the funnyman who was not exactly the conventional preteen heartthrob. While he wasn’t a Leonardo DiCaprio or a Brad Pitt, he held his own and managed to enthrall audiences across age groups. Over the next few years, I watched him play a variety of roles in movies like Jumanji, The Birdcage, Flubber, Patch Adams, Nine Months, Dead Poet’s Society and of course, Good Will Hunting. I just couldn’t have enough of him as I then turned to reruns of Mork and Mindy every afternoon after school. It was his comic timing and onscreen antiques that heightened my respect for a generation of actors who were actors in the true sense of the term: Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis or Michael Douglas. At an age when I should have been drooling over Backstreet Boys or Justin Timberlake, I was watching movies starring middle-aged men playing the father of the bride or a mental institute patient or a greedy stockbroker.

But for me, brought up on a healthy dose of Bollywood where heroes typically have a larger-than-life aura, be it in terms of physical appearance or qualities, Robin Williams was the first actor who transcended all stereotypes. Here was a guy who was probably shorter than the average person on the street, who looked like the average working class executive and who never beat up any bad guys to pulp, and yet managed to command a huge respect in Hollywood. Not only did he carry several films on his shoulders, he did it so naturally, that you would never even imagine him as anybody else but the character he portrayed.

For someone who immortalized the saying, “You are only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it”, it’s a tragedy that the little spark of madness claimed a life which made alive so many characters on the silver screen…

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