BY SMRITI VERMA
Recently, I was talking to a friend about how monotonous holidays can get at times, and she told me I needed “soul food,” and god knows what that even means, but I decided to heed to the advice and try to do things that would “feed my soul” on some foundational level I can’t fathom. Basically, I tried to be your unusual carpe diem Instagram aesthetic poster girl, delving into painting and journaling and nature photography and whatnot (none of this is to take that I’m somewhat criticizing or judging a particular way of living.) The happiness provided was fleeting, and I ended up focusing more on the watching good movies than most, and from movies I went to period dramas, and that reminded me of my long lost love for them.
There’s this shot in the little-known period drama called Bright Star wherein Fanny Brawne, the heroine, stares outside her window as in the wind blows in, the drapes rising and falling against the blinding sunlight. The shot is complimented with the tune of a violin, and as Fanny lays down on her bed, you can almost feel the dreaminess of the shot pervading through the screen, and the calm spreading over you. It’s beautiful, but not to a degree of hurting: just the right amount, the right music, the right shot, all of it coming together to create an effect so enrapturing and raw that you feel like you’re falling asleep.
I was around fourteen years old when I first saw Bright Star, still a starry-eyed teenager who indulged too much into Austen and those daydream fantasies for her own good. Period dramas can be way too fancy in their conception, cultivating the years-old adage of a hero and a heroine, both of them are oh so in love and are separated by the shackles of reality. The idea, of course, is to get you rooting for the couple – whether it’s through including scenes of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy standing in the rain, fighting and throwing carefully constructed dialogues at each other faster than we, the casual commoner, can think them in the 2005 version, or the way too many smirks given by Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland in the television film. Some of these effects end up being charming, some not so much.
Yet the naturalistic atmosphere, the subtle romantic feel, the empire waistline gowns, the formal manner of speaking – all of these give these movies a feeling of being unreal and reinforce the fact that these dramas are so far cut off from reality that the difference is out of this world. Hence, the experience is completely immersive – rather, in the first few period dramas I’d watched, I spent more time trying to decipher the dialogues than anything else. I’d say these dramas take themselves too seriously sometimes, but for me as a teenager, watching these was perhaps like watching my daydreams come to life. That part compounded the satisfaction, and my natural gravitation towards them.
I’ve always felt period dramas as a work of art, knowing how elitist, or narrow they might be. There is something to say about the manner in which Keira Knightley walks in the beginning sequence of Pride and Prejudice, or the image of Ben Whishaw climbing and lying on the treetops as John Keats in Bright Star, or the famous Colin Firth scene where we see Mr. Darcy go swimming, seeing him in an entirely new light (if you know what I mean). They’ll always be my favourite way of wasting time away, and if that puts them in the category of soul food, then I guess I can’t argue.
SMRITI VERMA grew up in Delhi, India. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Adroit Journal, Coldnoon, B O D Y, Cleaver Magazine, Word Riot, Open Road Review, Alexandria Quarterly, Yellow Chair Review, and The Four Quarters Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2015 Save The Earth Poetry Prize and enjoys working as a Poetry Editor for Inklette and Poetry Reader for The Blueshift Journal.