Tuesday, July 2, 2013



If you celebrated Canada Day, you may say soooorry with a long-o-with umlaut sound.

And if you hail from the UK, you say it when you approach a shop clerk with a purchase. In the US, it is generally reserved for a greater degree of contrition.

I was watching a Bollywood movie over the weekend and was again struck by a contrast with Hollywood. The movie, Jodi Breakers, begins with the hero celebrating his divorce from his practice wife, Satan. It proceeds with comedic effect to show him and his partner expediting divorces. Things go well until they break up the wrong marriage.

They approach the family matriarch, confess the misdeed and she gives the protagonist a tight slap. They do that in Bollywood when someone perpetrates a dire injury upon another. And then he said, "I'm sorry." The matriarch isn't about to shrug it off and accept his apology, she expects him to work it off. I first saw this pattern in Bachna Ae Haseeno, where the guy leaves girls standing at the altar and later seeks forgiveness from them.

India is not a society steeped in Christianity, so there's no cultural memory of the parable of the two debtors. Which is a good thing for the storyteller. (Christians forgive so easily that they make non-Christians think we don't take guilt seriously. By making the protagonist suffer to make things right, the Savior's sacrifice gets a fresh significance.)

Mostly, it improves the story as one character makes another character jump through hoops to win forgiveness. Why is this character doing such-and-such? Because the other character demands it as a condition of forgiveness. This might be something you can use.

If you are going to use guilt and forgiveness in your story, you should have a well-magnetized moral compass. You have to know right and wrong. You have to know the difference between venal and moral sins. And you have to realize that different people respond to the same crime differently. In the British movie In A Day, the crime is childhood bullying. The price of forgiveness is higher when the wounds are more painful.

A well-magnetized moral compass or a solid grasp of psychology.

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