In an era where every one seems to be someone’s ‘ex’ – (a Mumbai fashion designer has launched a label cockily called Sex With My Ex) – marriage has become something of a curio. The subject is eternally bewildering: What is the formula to make a marriage work? Is there one? Is it an outdated institution? Or is it a mistake every one should make?
In an attempt to decode the idea of matrimony, two South African film-makers have decided to make a film on long-marriages-couples who have stuck it out for more than 50 years. “We wanted to capture 50-year-old marriages before they become extinct,” explains Karen Slater, who earlier made films on wildlife.
So, what prompted her to drop the buzzard for the bedroom? It started four years ago, when she and her then friend, Steven Bartlo, got involved with each other. Slater was 36, Bartlo was close to 50. When the ‘M’ word came up, both recoiled. The subterranean ghosts popped up. She was terrified because her parents had divorced, and he was utterly cynical, because he had seen his folks bicker all his life long. (In case you’re wondering which is better – chronic bickering or divorce – wait till the end of the article).
To determine whether or not they should get married, and also get some tools on what makes marriages last, they started exploring the idea of making the film, which they titled ‘Fifty years! Should we do it’. They have since been all over the world interviewing sweet old couples, including a conservative Catholic Dutch couple, a polygamous Zulu chieftain and his six wives, a suburban American couple, Bartlo’s parents (who are Indian) and, most recently, the Breach Candy-based spiritual advocate, Ramesh Balsekar and his wife Sharda. Somewhere in the middle of that, they got married and also feature in the film.
Slater and Bartlo were in Mumbai recently to interview the Balsekars, who have been married 67 years. (They would have loved to interview their own guru, but realised that he would not be an appropriate candidate as he had slept with too many of his disciples.)
Bartlo interviews the man, Slater the woman. So what did Balsekar, whose disciples include the gloomy Canadian singer Leonard Cohen, have to say? “He explains every thing in terms of philosophy,” says Bartlo, “…so whatever is meant to happen, must happen. It’s the same in marriage.” What does he mean? People are programmed by their conditioning and their genetics. So that affects their marriage. But an important tip: “Always put your attention on the needs of the other. You have to rise above your own personal desires.”
Bartlo’s thoughts? It is important not to take things too seriously. So, if something happens in your marriage, you accept it, absorb and process it, let it have its due impact on you, and then let it go. Going back to a Balsekarism, he adds, “Remember, the past is dead, and the future is entirely uncertain, so just live in the moment.”
And what did the others have to say? Well, the Zulu healer, who once had 13 wives, had this gem on offer. “You should never stray outside your marriage.” He claimed to be happily married though, not surprisingly, the wives did not entirely reflect that sentiment.
Divorce is not a bad word in the film-makers’ view, only “something treated too easily and light-heartedly, without any long-term vision,” says Bartlo. It was when Bartlo interviewed his parents, who have now transformed into a calm, hand-holding couple, he was most intrigued. He realised that, “If you make it through the rapids and whirlpools of your marriage, you eventually do reach the ocean of serenity…If you have the strength of character to make it through the rough spots, you usually do reach the Golden Age” – (a nugget perhaps that all of us not-yet-married-for-50-years should stash away in a secret drawer).
“If we hadn’t made this film, I don’t think we’d have got married,” says Slater. “These couples have been an inspiration.”