PAGE 11: The Masquerade of Life

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By Vivek Menezes

This year at the International Film Festival of India, you need more than just an official pass and reserved ticket to access the stunning cinematic banquet that is the specialty of Asia’s oldest event of its type. You have to be properly masked up: for your protection, as well as ours, and all the rest of the festival-goers in our unprecedented pandemic predicament.

Masks are actually an intrinsic element of the theatrical. Those who are old enough – and this certainly excludes the 90% of Team Peacock who are digital natives of the millennial generation (and even younger) – will recall the two masks that were standard accoutrements to every auditorium or cinema hall: one cast in the rictus of grimacing, and the other beaming with mirth. These date back to ancient Greek theatre, the ultimate ancestor of cinematic playacting, and represent the classical muses.

“Life is a masquerade,” said Oscar Wilde, “everywhere you look people are hiding behind masks.” He meant artifice, and role-playing, as people pretend to be what they are not, and the great Irish poet and playwright knew exactly what he was talking about because he himself bore the secret of his homosexuality (before being exposed, humiliated, persecuted, and jailed for it). That “unmasking” was his ruin, undoubtedly counting heavily towards his extremely premature death at just 46.

Our 21st century tryst with masks during the Covid-19 pandemic has roller-coastered wildly with both comedic and tragic peaks and valleys. When the “novel coronavirus” emerged into our consciousness in the first few weeks of 2020, there were many adamant declarations and proscriptions against the use of surgical and N95 face protection. It turns out this was overt misinformation, that aimed to stockpile protective gear for medical personnel. It failed: the epidemic multiplied rapidly, and took hold with fearsome mortality in many countries.

Meanwhile, the countries which ignored the WHO and other pontifications, and immediately developed mass mask usage across their populations, managed to control and then essentially vanquish Covid-19. Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam. South Korea have all handled the pandemic notably better than other parts of the world which failed to take elementary precautions. Those populations – notably the USA and UK – where mask usage became politicized, struggled and have largely failed. 

What about India? We are in between. Many people who wear masks do so perfunctorily: sometimes on the chin, very often below the nose. In this way they risk themselves, and compromise the rest of us too. Listen up loud and clear, at least while you’re here in Goa for IFFI. Wear your mask, so that the rest of us can enjoy the movies too.

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