Kramer vs Kramer of 21st century

Updated: Dec 11, 2019, 05:12 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

What Marriage Story does is perhaps tell the most common urbane, adult story, as is; unsurprisingly blowing you over

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story (on Netfllix) that's picked up maximum nominations at the Golden Globe Award this year
Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story (on Netfllix) that's picked up maximum nominations at the Golden Globe Award this year

MayankWhat are the two types of stories/films there usually can be? One that plucks you out of reality in order to experience a world that, most likely, you never will — these are pictures traversing across genres, between murders, to mysteries of the unknown future of the universe. A touch of truth though naturally elevates these stories toward timelessness. Star Wars isn't real. But it is realistic.

What's the other type? Ones that compel you to dig deeper into realities within yourself, or around you — almost holding you by the eyeballs, for a sense of recognition alone. This is close to journalistic. A touch of untruth, and the story won't survive the present; let alone the test of time.

Which of the two do you mostly prefer? Depends on who you are, I guess. There are obviously no hard and fast rules. But conventional wisdom seems to suggest that people/societies experiencing an over-dose of reality — too many everyday, serious/survival issues, personal and otherwise — tend to prefer escapism for their entertainment.

Those with the more First World problems, on the other hand — related to aspect much higher up on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs — are more inclined towards dramas throwing light on the human condition; often their own, but that of the others, too.

How do you more specifically characterise a #FirstWorldProblem? I suspect if it's to do with a nearly perennial state of personal confusion, bordering on angst, veering towards an existential crisis — none of which will seem so apparent to you, on the face of it, anyway.

This is really the point at which the lead couple in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story — played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver — are at, in their married life.

That's when we meet them in the movie. Or as Johansson's character puts it, "What's the opposite of fiancé — an almost ex-husband?? That's what Driver's character is for her at the moment.

Has their marriage been through the sort of tragedy or event that the generation before theirs, or the lawyers around them, might wish to pinpoint as a 'trigger'? No. Is there something so deeply incompatible about these two people that should make them want to gun for each other? Not at all.

In fact they seem like such a normal couple, having fallen in and out of love, that if it wasn't for the fact that they can both still wish for something better, they could continue being this 'normal' forever. What they're going through might even seem like their whole life depended on it. But it doesn't. It's just life. As it should be. Or is, at any rate.

You could watch E7, S2 of Little Lies (on Netlfix) to get a closer approximation of stuff between a young Indian couple; in case Driver's New York-based top theatre director Charlie Barber, and Johansson's LA-raised theatre/TV actor Nicole, seem too culturally specific. It's really the same, whether you're on American East/West Coast, or indeed an equally individualistic, emancipated upper-class metropolitan India.

The only thing complicating the lead couple's life is the child between them — the love for whom is more unconditional than between adults, that often hinges on egos, equality, and inevitable possession. Something about the shot of a well-meaning father, and an innocent son, that reminds me of Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1943), no matter which film it appears in.

But Marriage Story is a divorce drama. And nothing in this genre had come close to Robert Benton's Kramer vs Kramer (Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep). But that was in 1979. What's changed since? The popular perception that a couple must somehow persevere, in order to preserve a little child from the mental screw-up/scare of a parental divorce. The fact is a child's better off with two happy parents, living separately; than unhappy ones, living together.

Actor Aamir Khan, along with director Mansoor Khan, blatantly lifted the script, along with crucial scenes, from Kramer vs Kramer, to make a semi-pop, slightly massy type Bollywood entertainer, Akele Hum Akele Tum (co-starring Manisha Koirala, in 1995). Did it work? Not for me as audience. Didn't seem truthful/real enough; what with Anu Malik also copying The Godfather theme for the song, Raja ko rani se pyar ho gaya. Hah!

Baumbach's Marriage Story, that dropped on Netflix late last week, and has just picked up maximum nominations at the Golden Globe, having won Golden Lion at the Venice film festival, is a deeply personal story — seemingly autobiographical, although haven't met the filmmaker to know this for sure.

Don't know if divorce-rates are going up. That marriage as an institution is going through a serious rethink, I can see all around me. This could be your story. Certainly feels like a lot of my friends'. Rather watch, than pry into their real lives!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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