“Dark, f***ed up, seedy-ass tenements
The roof is where gangs rape old ladies just for sentiment, yeah
Now this s**t is getting real ghetto prolific
Ain’t no hipsters gentrifying
Gotta keep this s**t authentic”
– RadhaMUS Prime aka. Radha Blank
The moment Radha put on her headphones, flipped open her notepad and blurted out the lines mentioned above, it sounded like a scream of catharsis. She was meant for this and suddenly the black and white scene from Blank’s movie The Forty-Year-Old Version seemed to light up in a splash of rainbow where for those two minutes, she was liberated.
One of latest releases on Netflix, Blank’s profound, introspective film chronicles certain crucial facets of life – grief, rejection, hopelessness and failure. Blank, a New York-based teacher and artist, plays herself in the movie where the plot revolves around similar episodes in her own life. In the movie, Radha (the name of the character as well) is shown as a theatre playwright whose heydays are in the past. She is ardently looking for a producer for her play based on a theme of gentrification in Harlem, US.
It is not an easy prospect as the (predominantly white) producers who are the gatekeepers of the New York drama community are asking Radha to showcase more “black trauma” in the play, something which she terms as “poverty porn.” Although the movie steers clear from overplaying race politics, Radha’s troubled relationship with New York’s drama society plays a crucial role in providing us with a subtle glimpse of America’s deep seated racial discrimination.
Radha who is balancing a failing career in theatre while teaching in a city school is someone with whom most of us can relate to at some point or the other in our lives. She doesn’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning for what seems like an already shitty day, gets late for the bus to work, is alone and in need of companionship.
However, where many might give up, Radha shows indomitable spirit. It is this spirit which leads her towards hip-hop where she finally finds her solace, and more importantly, her voice. Radha takes the moniker of RadhaMUS Prime (based on Optimus Prime, an alien robot cartoon character) and flamboyantly spits out the words which seemed to have been repressed for a long time inside.
In her own room, Radha tries to rap for the first time where she says –
“Why most hip hop got me feeling so much older yo?
When the f**k is this loud-a** song gon’ be over?
Yeah, I tried to dance hard
But my knees straight caught me
Cause, yo, this is 40, ni**as
This is 40.”
This particular scene focuses on two key aspects. Firstly, it shows Radha accepting her vulnerabilities. She goes forward and exposes her frailties without any filter. After she rhymes the verse mentioned above, Radha directly stares at the screen for half a second with a glare of an epiphany. It is a brilliant scene from a technical standpoint of filmmaking as well.
Secondly, the number 40 (also mentioned in the movie title) is of special significance. The number represents not only Radha’s age, but the concept of age being used as measurement for success. There are prevalent preconceived notions about certain ages which we are used to hearing from society. By 25 we are expected to get a decent job whereas 30 means we should look towards marriage and possibly settling down going forward. These numbers have a duty attached to them. Radha beautifully tackles these core societal notions by reinventing herself at an age when many might think that time is not on their side.
In real life, as per reports, Blank had 12 plays to her name but no one to produce them. She faced multiple rejections and also got fired from a screenwriting job. The Forty-Year-Old Version is the result of her frustrations, experiences and her resilience which explains her winning the ‘directing’ category at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.
Radha Blank’s debut film leaves us with a pivotal lesson that no age is too late, and no vulnerability too weakening.
Ayushman Basu is a marketer by profession with dreams of becoming a musician one day. Even if the album might not be a hit, it will strike a chord with some people.
Featured image credit: Netflix