Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Gupta

A year or so ago, Canyon and I opted to watch Steven Spielberg's The Terminal, as it was on Sky Movies and some kind of neurotoxin had paralysed us and prevented us from reaching for the remote and turning it off. As a huge huge fan of Spielberg, it was a painful experience. In the midst of a terrific late career run of flawed-to-actual masterpieces (with special props to Munich, a film that might rank in his top three best), it was disheartening to see such an antiseptically professional and stultifyingly dull movie standing out among the quality pickings. Though everything in it was individually very pleasant, it was an utterly empty film that hinted at an interest in bigger themes but never explored them. Even now, after thinking about it for months, I cannot figure out what the point of the movie was.

There was, however, one thing about it that stuck in my head and elicited a very vivid emotional response, i.e. it made me shout at the TV like a hopped-up berserker. The character of Gupta Rajan, played by Kumar Pallana, is the most obnoxious, unlovable, mean-spirited, misanthropic and despicable character I can think of, treating everyone around him like dirt, purposely leaving patches of wet floor around the terminal just so he can laugh as people fall over, and generally being a bad egg. I spent the entire movie in a state of torpor, unless Gupta appeared on screen, at which point my eyes would bulge from my head and profanities would burst from my mouth in disgusted outrage.

Please please please be aware that I'm referring to the character of Gupta and not Kumar Pallana. Kudos to him for manifesting such a believably loathsome character, worlds away from his meditative and enigmatic role as Kumar in The Royal Tenenbaums. I'm sad to see he's not in The Darjeeling Limited, which is eagerly awaited by 25% of our household. That is unless our two cats are not letting on their love of Wes Anderson movies. Sydney Cat certainly seems more docile when I'm rewatching The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. And it certainly has nothing to do with his ethnic background. There are no racist judgements here, and never will be. That's not how I roll, and I have no interest in anyone who does roll in that way. They should learn to roll in a different, less stupid rolling way. No, my ire is reserved just for the evil bastard who tormented everyone in The Terminal. Why was he in the movie? What purpose did he serve? Even though he helps out Tom Hanks near the end, he's still a jerk. It's not like he has an arc or anything. He's just a malevolent asshole. God! I hated him so much!

Not long after that, we were watching the underrated fourth and final season of The O.C., and realised that our considerable enjoyment was being spoiled by the continuing, inexplicable appearance of Willa Holland as Kaitlin Cooper, the vacuous and unintelligible mini-Marissa wandering in and out of the show with no interesting plotlines, no jokes, and only a dreadful couple of comedy-relief hangers-on acknowledging her existence in any consistent manner. Of all of the changes made during the last season (making Sandy lovable again, making Taylor Townsend super-awesome, finally figuring out what Ben McKenzie's strengths were and letting him play to them, etc.), making Kaitlin a regular character with more screentime was the only one that fell 100% flat. She sucked the life out of every scene she was in in much the same way that Mischa Barton did as her sister. Surely killing Marissa off was supposed to fix the fun-removing flaw that had dogged the show for three seasons. So why bring in someone to replicate that exact same quality? It boggled our minds.

During a particularly painful scene (probably involving guys leering over her underaged, undernourished, ill-advisedly bikini-clad body), I realised who she was. She was the Gupta of The O.C. It didn't take long for me to realise that almost every show, film or book has a Gupta in it, a character that is utterly vile, and not in a fun, so-bad-he/she's-good way, but in an oh-God-I-can-barely-stand-this-character way. Again, it has nothing to do with the actor, and this is nothing personal against them. That some actors are only known for that one Guptonic character is a disadvantage for them, but it is rectifiable. Willa Holland needs to play someone lovable and pronto, or face the dreadful fate of being tainted by Guptaness forever.

Let's see if I can extend the term to other shows. Riley Finn could be considered the Gupta of Buffy, though not 100%. Perhaps he's 50% Gupta. He had his moments, and Buffy's dismissal of him in season five was touching enough to elicit some sympathy, albeit too late to fully redeem him. For a long time I thought Tigh was the Gupta of Battlestar Galactica, but now that the show seems to be 80% Apollo/Starbuck twu wuv shenanigans, I vote that they share the crown (especially seeing as how season three Tigh is the badassiest badass on TV). Some might say Duncan Kane qualified on Veronica Mars, but he was just dull, more than anything. My own nominee would be Stosh 'Piz' Piznarski, simply for being a creepy ineffectual douche not fit to lick season-two-Logan's boots, though I accept that his female fanbase will have me tarred and feathered for suggesting it.

It's hard, though, A show/book/film should only have one Gupta, but some shows (Studio 60, Torchwood) or films (the recently watched, and hated, The Devil Wears Prada) are populated almost entirely by Guptas, while some shows (Firefly, Angel) have none. Remember that a character is only eligible for membership in the Gupta club if they make your blood boil and you would happily see the show/film/book exorcised so the character never comes back. It can be a purely subjective thing. That's cool. I hear some people liked Kaitlin in The O.C. I cannot fathom that, but I'll accept it.

Bearing that quality in mind, some characters who should be nominated as Guptas cannot be considered, as they are either lovable or occasionally the most interesting character around. I cannot imagine how badly 24 would be damaged if Chloe ever left, even though she makes me want to scream. Chloe rocks, despite or because of how horrible she is. Note that she is almost entirely unlovable, as a true Gupta should be, but she's fantastic anyway, and certainly the only recognisable human being in that entire ridiculous show. All hail Mary Lynn Rajskub for pulling off a near-miracle of character acting.

One thing is for certain, though. Of all the shows we watch, there is one Gupta who rules over all other Guptas, like she's the ur-Gupta (thanks to Canyon for that). No other character can come close. I am referring, of course, to the unhinged and vicious Rhonda Volmer, as played (brilliantly) by Daveigh Chase, from HBO's superb Big Love. Here she is, centre, with Ginnifer Goodwin (totally Guptaness free, because she is awesome) and Amanda Seyfried (about 20% Guptafied after being a pain in the ass toward the end of the second season).

Oh Rhonda, you make us so mad! Even evil Roman Grant and his even more evil son Albie are cuddly snugglebears next to her. Canyon cannot even watch her scenes without clenching her fists and screaming. The constant plotting against everyone, the rampant lying, the smug certainty in her superiority, the outrageous self-pity and selfishness, not to mention the cloying singing and preening. Rhonda, you are so fricking Gupta!


Masticator said...

I think Guptas can be different for different people. For example, whenever Nathan Petrelli comes onscreen, my forehead vein goes all a-throb and my slapping hand starts itching like a mofo. But it's whenever Niki/Jessica appears that the Masticatrix starts yawning ostentatiously and asking whether anyone wants a cup of scalding hot liquid, such as you might throw in someone's face. I'm not sure it's possible to ascertain definitive Guptosity. I rather suspect it's subjective.

PS You are a rascist.

Canyon said...

"Rascist"? Better than an orthography-denier.


Admiral Neck said...

PS You are a rascist.

You are the Gupta of my life. I shall henceforth refer to you as Mr. Gupta.

Very often the Gupta of something is determined subjectively, and it can cause conflict. For Canyon, the Gupta of the West Wing is lovely exasperated Toby, whom she thinks is evil, whereas in fact he is a delight. For me, West Wing's Gupta is obviously the vile Sam Seaborn, with his vacuous charm and ridiculous tics. Canyon luffs him, though. You can imagine the fun we have when they're both onscreen at the same time (i.e. large swathes of every episode).

The Guptosity of some characters is incontrovertible, though. I seriously doubt anyone can watch Big Love's Rhonda without wanting to drop the entire state of Utah on her evil little head.

Canyon said...

I take it back -- you are a racist. Racist against handsome men.

Admiral Neck said...

And you're racist against people who can act and scratch their large forehead in exasperation.

I think what we need is a great big melting pot, large enough to hold the world. If we can fit Rob Lowe's ego in there.

Canyon said...

You're just bitter because Richard Schiff was the Gupta of his own play, Underneath the Annoying Acting Tics (There Is An Ugly Man).

Masticator said...

OMG you guys, I don't want this to drive you apart! CanyadmiralNeck 4 EVA!!!

"Rascist" is the accepted online spelling of "racist", duh.

Dawn said...

Just wanted to add my insight into The Terminal (do you think SS really meant that literally?)

I think the point of the movie is that if you are Catherine Zeta-Jones you will always be able to jog through airports in 4-inch heels, pulling 2 little roll-y suitcases behind you, while swinging a sack of MacDonalds' fries never closer than 1 inch from your navy blue suit at all times and look incredible doing it.

sjwoo said...

I looked up Rhonda on IMDB. She played the girl in The Ring (you know, the long-haired killing machine that left Amber Tamblyn in the closet looking like Phyllis Diller). No wonder she scares the hell out of me...