Kameshwar Upadhyaya

         

Whiplash

Kameshwar Upadhyaya

2


“I don’t think people understood what it was I was doing at Shaffer. I wasn’t there to conduct. Any moron can wave his arms and keep people in tempo. I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong.”

Fletcher was not there to like people and build a reputation with them. He was there ’to push people beyond what was expected of them’. Whiplash is a movie that brings out this lesser known facet of motivation quite clearly.

Andrew Neiman is a first-year jazz student at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory, School of Music in New York City. He has been at the drums since infancy, and hopes to see himself among the likes of the legendary Buddy Rich and Jo Jones. Terence Fletcher, the famous conductor, walks in while Andrew is practicing in the music room late one night and invites Andrew into his studio band as the alternate for his core drummer. When the band rehearses the Hank Levy piece ’Whiplash’, and Andrew struggles to achieve the right tempo, Fletcher hurls a chair at him. On another occasion, Fletcher slaps him continuously to get him to accept that he was rushing and was not in the right tempo.

Fletcher is abusive toward his students. He mocks and insults them with a firm belief of trying to make them better than what they believe they can become. Deep down, he believes that the elements of Buddy Rich or Jo Jones, the flash of which he can see in Andrew, can never be destroyed. He opines that it is these occasions that get people to stretch themselves to achieve greater heights. Rightly has someone pointed out that the fine line between pushing a student to his potential best and being an utter tyrant is inconveniently blurred. Fletcher believes that each one of us is here for a reason and the drive for breakthrough success comes from ’The Calling’ of the individual who sees his potential best; long before anyone else. It is this vision that provides him with the inner drive.

Tom Landry’s definition of a coach as “the person who makes you do what you need to do to help you become the person you want to be,” doesn’t imply using heartless and demeaning methods. Neiman’s talents emerged in spite of his brutal mentor, not because of it. Our self-direction or autonomy is a natural inclination. Daniel Pink points out to the simple example of how children play and explore all on their own. We’re all built with inner drive. That is why educational institutions provide a whole range of skills so that the individual can realise his Calling for himself. If workplaces can support autonomy by giving people real control over different aspects of their own work — whether it is deciding when to do it or what to work on, instead of micro managing, the inspiration to work in them would never die down.

The scarring effect of Fletcher’s method causes the kind of psychic pain that leads to self-destructive addictions. Don’t be fooled by outcomes. So how do you attain that intrinsic inspiration?

1.1People who find purpose in their work unlock the highest levels of the motivation. Pink, in his book Drive, says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than just yourself is what actually drives the deepest motivation. Purpose, as Pink puts it, is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just cannot fake.

That also means people who have purpose are inspired to pursue the most difficult problems. Elizabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School, has formulated her own motivating factors, one of which means the urge that helps people go the extra mile and stay engaged. She goes on to say that “People can be inspired to meet stretch goals, and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome.”

Employers can help employees connect to something larger than them. Get them out of mere measurement by numbers and figures, and connect work to people and values. Providing patient photos, for example, to radiologists, who have little direct contact with patients, improved their performance.

At the local competition, Andrew accidentally misplaces Carl’s sheet music, who is the lead drummer. As Carl cannot play without it, Andrew steps in, informing Fletcher that he can perform Whiplash from  memory since he had spent long hours practising it. Fletcher promotes him to the core drummer position. Fletcher later recruits Ryan Connolly, the core drummer from Andrew’s former lower-level class. Ryan is clearly a worse drummer, but Fletcher promotes him as the core almost immediately, infuriating Andrew. Determined to impress Fletcher, Andrew practices round the clock until his hands bleed. We are in the constant pursuit of attaining mastery, and we want to get better at doing whatever we are doing. It’s why learning a language or an instrument can be so frustrating at first. Mastery over any skill in the true sense is an asymptote. One can never master any art perfectly; he can only aspire and in the process, improve. That is why the aspiration of the individual to perfection is never achieved.

The next day, Fletcher tearfully reveals in class that a talented former student of his, Sean Casey, died in a car accident. The band rehearses Caravan, but Ryan struggles with the tempo. Fletcher auditions Andrew, Ryan and Carl for hours while the class waits outside. Fletcher finally gives the position to Andrew.

On the way to a jazz competition, Andrew’s bus breaks down. Determined to make a mark at the performance, he rents a car but arrives late without his drumsticks. After an argument with Fletcher and an outburst against his fellow musicians, Andrew drives back to the car rental office and retrieves the drumsticks. As he speeds back, he meets with an accident with a truck. He crawls from the wreckage and arrives on stage badly injured. When he struggles to play the score of Caravan due to his injuries, Fletcher stops the band midway through the performance to tell Andrew that he is ’done for’. Unable to see his vision slipping away, Andrew attacks Fletcher in front of the audience and is dragged away.

He even goes to the extent of breaking up with his girlfriend, Nicole, believing she might distract him. If the individual feels like he is not getting anywhere, his interest flags and he may even give up. A sense of progress, not just in his work, but his capabilities, contributes to his inner drive.

3.1Days after, Andrew is expelled from Shaffer and meets with a lawyer representing the parents of Sean Casey. When the lawyer explained that Sean actually hanged himself, having suffered anxiety and depression after joining Fletcher’s class, Sean’s parents want to prevent Fletcher from teaching. Andrew agrees to testify anonymously, resulting in Fletcher being fired.

Andrew abandons music and is living with his father. He happens to walk past a jazz club one day, and sees Fletcher performing on stage. Fletcher invites him for drinks. During that time, he explains that people never understood what it was that he was doing at Shaffer. He wasn’t there to conduct. Any fool could wave his arms and keep people in tempo. He was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. He believed that that was an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we’re depriving the world of the next Louis Armstrong. He invites Andrew to perform at a festival concert with his band.

On stage at the jazz festival, Fletcher reveals to Andrew, that he knew all along that Andrew was responsible for him being thrown out of Shaffer, since he was the one who had testified against him, and this concert was his revenge. He leads the band in a new piece for which Andrew was not given sheet music. Andrew is humiliated and flees the stage to be comforted by his father, but as Fletcher is addressing the audience, Andrew returns to the drum set and starts playing Caravan. The rest of the band follows suit, surprising Fletcher, who eventually joins in. Andrew ends the performance with an extravagant drum solo, and at the end of which Fletcher gives him a smile, which Andrew gratefully returns, having pleased his teacher at last.

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