From Hans Gruber to the Half-blood Prince

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21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016
21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016

They say it needs empathy and a certain amount of nostalgia to write a tribute to a great artist after they have passed away, with their image embedded on the collective consciousness. I believed I had oodles of both after having written three of them in the space of a year. When Alan Rickman, the British actor, succumbed to cancer at the age of 69 on 14 January, this year, I was on vacation. Now I come back to begin my year, trying to remember Rickman and write yet another tribute. Instinctively I tried all the usual methods: googling the man, reading up on his interviews and trivia, watching videos on YouTube, that either countdown to ‘top 10 memorable characters’ in his filmography or mash-ups of all the iconic moments and dialogues he gave us.

Yet this time around, the tested methods did not work. For how do I put to words the sense of bereavement that struck me when news of his death arrived; that moment of confusion and denial one feels on being told they cannot see any more of a person? Of course, the feeling is absurd for I can always go back to his films with just a few taps on my phone’s screen. But how can one overlook the fact that he is no more on the same planet. Rickman will not be there in any more new films I watch. He has gone into the Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn zone of my movie watching experience. Now if I watch his films, a little voice in my head will keep interrupting, “he exists just on that screen”.

Realisation dawned slowly but surely, with Alan Rickman I could not go down the impersonal-tribute-on-the deceased’s- life-and-works path. While the world talks and talks about Alan Rickman, how the man became readily recognisable to an entire generation as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, or how unjust it is to brand the actor who had a sturdy theatre education as just one famous character, I only have my own experiences (read nostalgia) to draw from.

My first tryst with the actor happened as an eight-year old, during an era our parents or older relatives would firmly plant themselves beside us when watching Hollywood films, to surreptitiously monitor our consumption of ‘adult’ content. The film was Die Hard and I cannot vouch being an action film fan but the moment the German robber Hans Gruber stepped in I was hooked. With evil thakurs or lecherous goons colouring my understanding of villains I found the calm yet menacing Gruber having a more magnetic effect on me rather than Bruce Willis’s heroic cop. I was the only one who gasped when Gruber fell to his death in the film’s climax. Quite unequivocally I have Rickman to thank, for letting me develop my interest in villains and the complexities in humans, despite the white and black binaries of the protagonist and antagonist rampant in our popular cinema.