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A Personal Tribute to Roger Ebert : The Man who Introduced me to Cinema

I woke up at around 7.a.m and like always I logged onto Facebook and as I started looking at the notifications, I saw that my dear friend Prashanth had written,4/4. It’s definitely more than a coincidence. Four Stars for the life lived by Roger Ebert.My groggy mind hadn’t yet registered what the status meant and I started looking at the other notifications but in about a minute I saw another update that read “R.I.P Roger Ebert” and then the moment came. The moment of realisation that the hero you aspired to be, the hero you admired was no longer around. Even though the thought of him not being on the earth anymore registered in my mind, I didn’t feel anything more at that point. No, I wasn’t too numb to feel anything and I wasn’t past feeling but even with all the proof staring at me, the blog entries that came up when I googled, the twitter feed and the facebook updates, I couldn’t take it into my heart that my hero was no more.
You see, I was introduced to Roger Ebert‘s writing through another one of my dear friends, Arjun, without whom I wouldn’t be the Cinephile I am today, and Mr. Ebert was already affected by cancer for around 5 years by then. I learnt that he had beaten cancer not once but twice at that time.Roger Ebert my HeroIt was around the time I was finishing my 11th grade and starting 12th grade that I was introduced to Mr. Ebert’s film reviews. And from that eventful day, I have been a religious follower of Mr. Ebert’s writing. When you read Roger Ebert’s reviews, you see a man with wit, a man who loved cinema, a man with a very subtle sense of humor, warmth and great intellect and you are drawn to him. I read everything about him like one does when you get a hero and I found that both Roger Ebert’s professional and personal journey were in a way a triumph in my eyes. He was doing what he loved the most, i.e watching movies and was also a strong willed man who had stared death in the eye and come back to tell the tale. Not everyone beats cancer twice and not everyone can continue writing reviews in the same tone as they did when they were 25, young and eager to take on the world.This was something that happened when I was in 11th or 12th grade, before he had his third bout with cancer. And in the third bout, he won. Again.Now you know why I couldn’t take it that Roger Ebert was no more when I read those updates on the internet. For Roger Ebert, cancer was like the common cold. It comes and it goes but he stands tall above everything else. It might take the function of his jaw, his salivary glands and his voice but it doesn’t take his spirit, his all conquering spirit.An hour passed and I got ready to leave for office. I was in a daze but I hadn’t succumbed to the feeling of nothingness that was creeping around the corner of my heart. I felt the coldness coming but I thought I would be able to shake it off. I don’t remember having cried before when a person died. As I was riding pillion on my friend’s Honda Activa, I started thinking about how Cinephiles around the world have journeyed with him. It was then that I felt numb and the tears started pouring down. For around an hour in the traffic, I kept thinking about those memorable 5 years when I started my journey as a Cinephile and how that was shaped by Arjun and Roger Ebert.

Roger Ebert at MoviesThe only connection I’ve had with Roger Ebert apart from the movies is a signature of his that a Facebook group that I am part of received from him through Krishna Shenoi, one of Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Foreign Correspondents. That’s the closest I’ve come to Roger Ebert, a signature on paper that I haven’t touched but there are just a couple of people who’ve influenced me as much or more. Whatever I’ve learnt about the movies came from Roger Ebert and through him, other writers and books about the movies. When I watch a movie, one of the first thoughts that goes into my head is how would Roger Ebert react to such and such a scene. Would he be equally enthralled or would it be just another scene for him or would he be disappointed. For many a person, Roger Ebert’s analysis of a movie is critical to understanding or appreciating a movie. For me, Roger Ebert was a journeyman, whose views were something that fellow minded Cinephiles and I would ponder upon. For us, Roger Ebert’s writing was something to analyse, not just the movie.In 2012, he was into his 46th year of reviewing movies for Chicago Sun Times and he had reviewed 306 films for that year, his highest for a year in all of his 46 year career. On April 2nd, 2013 he wrote a fitting blog entry, “A Leave Of Presence”. And he wrote,

So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.“ For a man who had made cancer seem like just another little disease not once or twice but thrice, fighting it another time wouldn’t have been the issue. But Roger Ebert knew that he didn’t want this again. He had seen enough of the world through his physical self and had lived a life that was 4/4 as Prashanth rightfully put. He was staring death in the eye and letting it know that he was coming on his own terms and that it didn’t have a say on him. He was having the final say, like he always has. I haven’t seen a single episode of Ebert on television and I don’t know what his voice sounds like. If he wrote something as his final piece, “A Leave Of Presence” would qualify as the stuff of legends. Leaving the material world when you have reached a high would be perfect, even if there’s more that you can offer. It is the cinematic ending everyone aspires for and very few achieve. Mr. Ebert has achieved that.When Roger Ebert left the world, he left behind a legacy of great writing, the kind that makes words seem too little and too less. He left behind a legacy of journeymen who consider themselves Cinephiles and a legacy of people who aspire to one day do what they love the most.

After I finish writing something, I always feel inadequate; like haven’t done enough. I feel like I have meandered from what I have to say and have written too much and said too little, like a pseudo – intellectual. Aspiring to write like Roger Ebert is something I dream about and if I live half the life that Roger Ebert has, I’d be a happy man. It gives me immense pleasure to see that there are so many people out there whose lives have been touched by Mr. Ebert. It is lovely to see all those loving tributes being poured. This is a man deserving of such love and there’s nothing as beautiful as love being given as conditionally as what we’ve witnessed today. I look forward to the journey that you have now left me behind in, the journey of discovering cinema, a journey of unending love with your colossally beautiful work keeping me company.

Mr. Ebert, consider me as one among the many who’ve been inspired by you and like you said ; “See you at the movies!”  R.I.P.

By: Hithesh Devasya
Posted: May 9, 2013, 9:39 am


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