Fiddler on the Roof
I bought Fiddler on the Roof about three weeks back. And much like in the case of Measuring the World, I had no idea why I bought it, except that the cover said it was nominated for as many as eight Oscars and the testimonials were quite impressive. “The most powerful movie musical ever made” said one by Pauline Kael. Frankly speaking, I have no idea who Pauline Kael is either. I asked Apoorv and Chittaranjan if they’d heard of it and they made strange faces. But I had to watch it now that the CD had been bought. That I did today. To put my views about the movie in a few words only, I am glad I did.
There is something about musicals that I like. They can say more things than a normal movie (and I am not talking about Indian movies here, those are melodramas) could ever think of.
The movie, and the original musical of 1963, talks about a small but happy town in Czarist Russia occupied mostly by Jews. The town values its traditions. As the song in the beginning puts it, traditions are the most valued possession of the town dwellers. There’s one for almost every aspect of life you can think of. What the men should do, what the women should do, the young men, the young women, the children…everybody is bound by tradition. At the end of the song, Tevye, the milkman and a father of five daughters, says, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as the Fiddler on the Roof!!”* The most important tradition of course is this: marriages are always arranged. Strikes a chord somewhere? You bet.
But the problem with traditions is that they are vulnerable to be broken. And at a time when revolution and anti-semetic movement is sweeping across the Russia, they stand no chance.
The whole story revolves around Tevye, his wife and five daughters. They are poor, but they are happy. The daughters are scared of getting married because the matchmaker always brings in terrible matches. The mother is not much worries about the age of the match, it’s the financial position that matters for her. Money will keep her daughters happy. One day, the matchmaker brings in a proposal from the town’s butcher, a widower but a rich man. Mama’s happy and Papa too. The daughter, though, is in love with her childhood friend the poor tailor. The parents don’t rate him highly for obvious reasons. But the poor tailor and the daughter convince Papa saying that an year ago they had made a pledge to each other that they’d get married. Tevye is shocked. How could they make a pledge? Marriages are supposed to be arranged by the parents! “Even a poor man has the right to some happiness”, says the tailor. Tevye sees the love for the man in his daughters eyes and agrees. And in turn he convinces her mother. That way, one tradition is broken. But this is only the beginning. Not only his family, the whole town has events in store that’ll change the lives of its people for ever. It’s how it copes with them that forms the message of the movie.
The entire sequence of events is brilliantly choreographed and the songs are tremendous. Chaim Topol, as Tevye, is brilliant. So is every other character in the movie. In fact, in spite of so many of them, you never get confused or bored. That’s what makes this musical one of the best. In fact, apart from The Sound of Music, I can’t think of any other that’d come close. I haven’t seen many, to be frank.
Now that I have seen it, I can tell you that I am in complete agreement with Paulines Kael, whoever she is.
*The complete song is available here on youtube.
Image courtesy: Teach with movies