In Conclusion

Posted on March 2, 2010


It is a hot afternoon in Galle, Srilanka. We are at the third day of the fourth annual literary festival. Point me not the irony of travelling overseas to attend an event which has a better albeit younger (by a whole year) equivalent at Jaipur. The exotic feeling of sitting in an old Dutch fort and eavesdropping on the many conversations on the rather controversial elections on the island makes up for it.

A session titled ‘Endings’ is in progress. The description, as I read in my blue, colour-coded programme tells me so: Killing characters and tying up loose ends: Mohammed Hanif, Louise Doughty and Sarnath Banerjee explain how they do it.

“I always write out my ending in the beginning. That way I know exactly what the rest of my novel should lead towards.” Says Doughty, who is moderating the panel.  Graphic novelist, Banerjee laughs in response. “My mom tells me I write terrible endings. But they have good closure, good closure and terrible endings.”

Soon enough, an interesting discussion ensues on stage as the authors discuss the makings of an ending and the writing process involved in it. “Favourite last lines anyone?” Doughty turns to the audience after much have been discussed on creative craft and the four-act structure of Hollywood screenplays.

“Let’s make it easier and include films.” She says after sensing the momentary silence as people struggle to remember the last lines and it spurns off possibly the most interactive session of the festival (because of course, one has always watched more movies than read books and yes, that applies to people who attend literary festivals.) Immediately people are jumping to their feet to share their favourite books and movies.

“I want to take this one before someone else does, The Usual Suspects,” says Adam Smythe, a participant at the literary festival.  ‘China Town’ someone else says.  ‘The Great Gatsby’ (So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past: F. Scott Fitzgerald).  People are remembering lines and endings they liked and disliked. They point out how mixed one felt about Ian McEwan’s wonderful novel, ‘Atonement’ and the movie that was made on it because the happy conclusion only happens in the protagonist’s head while someone else remembers feeling utterly cheated with the Harry Potter finale that ends with a tepid “All was well”.

As people continue on these lines, I struggle to think of something to contribute. To put in words how completely blown away I was with Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Sea of Poppies’ which ties in the beginning with the end in one of the greatest prophetic styles I have ever come across. I look at my host, who smiles at me with understanding.

“There must be something wrong with people who can’t remember book endings.”  He tells me, confronted with the same problem. Shrugging we listen on. The session ends.  Fine Ceylon tea waits outside. My embarrassment fades away and an hour later, I am completely absorbed as Michael Frayne reminisces on his famous play cum book, ‘Copenhagen’, trying to delve into the truth of what happened between Niels Bohr and Heisenberg during World War II. However, the question stays with me all through the rest of my trip.

We all have our favourite endings. Those memorable last lines and scenes that stay with us and get repeated in social conversations. Who could forget the compelling, curveball climax act of Frank Darabont’s ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ that completely throws you off gear, or the chilling effect of watching Gene Hackman descend  into muted insanity: calmly playing the saxophone  amidst the wreckage of his home knowing he has been outsmarted in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’. Closer home, one is instantly filled with elation remembering that  nerve wracking last ball catch of ‘Lagaan’ or the heavy thud in the heart at the shot of a decimated Paro in white as she falls to the ground against the  gate  in ‘Devdas’.

Resolution remains a fundamentally human craving. The sense of completeness that something has ended and ended well at that. Few feelings quite compare to that. One of the primary draws for any work of fiction, whether in literature or cinema is the climax, that which brings it all together.

Jayendran Srinivasan, an M.S. student at the University of Florida, Gainseville in his own words takes a “deterministic view of literature and cinema.”  “I always feel open endings are a reflection of the fact the writer/filmmaker ran out of ideas. The plot achieves closure only with an unambiguous ending. I don’t look for open-endedness to an overwhelming extent in books or movies which is probably why I don’t like reading or watching theatre of the absurd or existentialist works.”  He says. “There was this last line I remember from watching Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ recently: “Is it better to live like a monster or to die a good man” and I thought the ending brought together the entire movie beautifully.”

Jayendran, who has dabbled in theatre and playwriting during his time at BITS, Pilani thinks that if there were one ending he would undo, it would be ‘Merchant of Venice’.  In his version, “Shylock gets his pound of flesh and symbolically redresses for the wrongs heaped upon him by the Christians. On a whimsical note, I think it should end with ‘that’s all folks’ with Bugs Bunny’s voiceover. But yeah ‘Merchant of Venice’ because I felt ultimately, justice and rationality were made to bow down to mercy and Antonio won on a pretty stupid technicality.”

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