[dropcap]It[/dropcap] was fourteen years ago when I first met them in a dingy movie theater in the town of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, India. They lived in a universe completely different from mine, lives not even remotely approaching mine. And that was why I was drawn to them. Brian O'Connor, Dominic "Dom" Toretto, Leticia "Letty" Ortiz, Mia Toretto, Jesse, Vince, Han Seoul-Oh, Roman Pearce, Tej Parker and others opened before me a world I always fantasized of being part of, the only things that preventing that being the lack of an imported exotic Japanese car and the absence of situations conducive to racing it. I saw myself in them. They were kids like me, whom I totally related to.
It has been a long ride. The kids grew up and us with them. They raced their exotics through seven movies, each one building up a bit on the previous one, the stakes, scales, cars and characters getting bigger and flashier with each installment. The Fast and the Furious (2001) was a small movie about family camaraderie, cars, street racing, highways, crime, and heists. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) featured more races and cars, Eva Mendez and bromance between Brian and Roman. Everyone loves to hate Tokyo Drift (2006) but aside theatrics of sentimental nonsense, it has among the most intense car love in the series with all the drifting, the Mazda RX-7 Veilside and the 'stang. Fast and Furious (2009) was the last real "street race" movie in the series, with almost nonstop racing action, setting the pace for the rest of the series. The best of the series was Fast Five (2011), with which it matured from happy-go-lucky street-racing to serious gang-heist with the action getting even more insane. It was also the happiest movie of the lot. The series scaled greater heights with Furious 6 (2013) when the crew was called in to capture a world-threatening international terrorist. Furious 7 (2015) though was a continuation of 6, ended up being a tearful tribute to Paul even while being the loudest of the series yet.
The Fast and Furious movie franchise was a dream come true. Though there were "car movies" before like Gone in 60 Seconds and the Italian Job, they were far and few in between, and most of them were cheezy C-Grade items with bad stunts, unrealistically rich people and repetitive plots. F&F changed everything. We suddenly had a series of movies dedicated to fast and exotic cars, telling the story of the people that drove them, and the petrolhead in me was floored. Oh the cars! Exotic Japanese Tuners, American Muscle/Pony and custom built whips all smoked their tyres serving up a delicious array of automobile smorgasbord on screen. The Dodge Chargers and Challengers, The Nissan Skylines, Silvias, 370Zs, 240s and GTRs, the Toyota Supras, the Mitsubishi Evos and Eclipses, the Honda Civics and S2000s, Mazda RX-7s and RX-8s, Chevrolet Camaros and Chevelles, Plymouth 'Cudas and Roadrunners, Ford Mustangs and Acura Intergas... Oh God. Every time I watch a Fast and Furious movie, I can practically smell the rubber, the asphalt and the petrol fumes baking in the hot California sun.
The definite shift from street-racing-heist to full-on "Avengers meet Rajinikanth" took place at that moment in Fast 5 when they were duped by Heyes and they decide to steal "all his money." If you were to ask me, I think the series has kind of peaked and needs to return to its roots - street racing. Leave catching the bad guys to James Bond and Bruce Willis. The series is insane. Stunts border or cross the ridiculous, plots and storylines are afterthoughts, With all the spinning, smoking wheels, head-to-head races, screeching drifts, heart-stopping crashes and holy-shit stunts, F&F movies ran almost purely on adrenaline alone. The series was never apologetic on the ridiculousness it displayed on-screen. There was no bullshit in the movies, no deep message and meaning, but only fun, energy, entertainment and passion. And the cars. And the girls. But it was not just that. A simple car-movie would never evoke the emotional outburst Paul's death or the release of Furious 7 did, or make the franchise among the top grossing, ever. It was the happiness that the series brought us, it was the connection we forged with the characters who we felt to be our closest friends. We were happy with them, the happiness we feel when listening to Danza Kuduro.
Mia Toretto: Every Petrolhead's Dream Girlfriend/Wife
Brian, Dom, Letty, Mia and others always felt like those elder kids from the neighborhood. They were friends, people I could easily identify with, though they were all above my age group, except for Mia (Jordana Brewster is exactly 2 months younger to me). The connection with them was instantaneous. They dressed, walked and talked like anyone of us, they felt so real. There was no division of gender or race among them, the chemistry spontaneous, endearing and natural. They were just like our college gang, or better, they were the college gang (or even family) we wished we had. They always got each others' backs through thick and thin, even while on the run across states, countries and continents. They lived the all-American dream many aspire to, in a middle-class house on a quiet LA street, friendship becoming family, bonding over backyard family barbecues. There was the factor of their crimes, but since The Godfather days, "family" often lends a credence of acceptability to crimes committed. Yes, they lived the lives we secretly wished we did, we saw ourselves in them. As years passed they grew up with us, and as we graduated from college to our first jobs and then later jobs, they graduated from street racing to international heists to battling super-villains. As we got married and had kids, they too were reunited with lost loves, got married and had kids. However, this real-life narrative was also punctuated by death, which should be a given, given their line of work. We mourned Jesse (Movie 1), Han (3 & 7), Vince (5) and Giselle (6). Then came November 13, 2013.
As Ramsey says in Furious 7, it is either fear or loyalty that make a crew like the Toretto family work, and it as sure as hell is not fear. Loyalty to the family is what makes the crew, the movie, and the franchise. As the fans, the audience, we were invited to be part of the family, we were made to feel welcome in their clan, a part of their adventures, sharing their joy in victory, their pain in loss. It could be this why for me the highpoint of the series was when Mia admitted to Dom and Brian that she was pregnant with Brian's child in the midst of their run for their lives over those Rio Favela rooftops in Fast 5. Later in the movie, a conversation takes place between Dom and Brian about their respective fathers. Brian says this about his:
To be honest with you, I don't even remember what the hell he looked like. I don't remember. He just... He was just never there.
To which Dom replies:
You ain't going to be like that, Brian.
When the news of Paul Walker's death broke, my first thought went directly back to this conversation and Jack, Brian's and Mia's son in the F&F movies (I didn't know about Paul's daughter Meadow at that time). Dom's assurances were jinxed. Little Jack was going to grow up without his father's presence, forwarding that legacy. And then startlingly I realized that I had blurred the boundaries between actor and character. We had so grown accustomed to Brian O'Conner that Paul and Brian were not separate entities anymore, they were one, the death of the real one being implied as the death of the reel one. What would now happen in the Fast and Furious Universe? Would Mia lose her husband and Jack his dad and the others their brother and we our friend? It is rare that a high-Octane automobile action movie like Furious 7 would make one cry.
Godspeed, Brian, Goodbye Paul
Though often overshadowed by Dom, Brian was, in reality, the heart and soul of the Fast and Furious franchise. He was introduced to us as the rookie wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent with wavy golden hair, eager to prove himself both to his bosses and on the racetrack. He took on Dom in the first ever drag race in the series and lost and was called the "Buster". He endeared himself to Dom and then fell out with him before letting him go in a way of making amends for Jesse's death, which was also when he fell for Mia. His path crossed with Dom's again when they both were after another drug lord, resulting in Dom's arrest and conviction. Brian then joined hands with the family to rescue Dom from a prisoner transport and escaped with them to Brazil, selecting to throw his old life away for the street racing gang he was supposed to bring in, following his heart. He then fell for Dom's sister Mia which sealed his place in "the family", riding by Dom's side as his friend, brother, compatriot, in all their escapades ever since. From the reckless Buster of 2001 to the matured crime fighter, dad and hero of 2015, he had come a long way. It was time for Brian to leave his fast and furious life behind, to move on and take care of his family because there is nothing more important than family. He was family, for all of us, and family is all we got.
Dear Brian, as you ride into the sunset beyond the fork in that road, leaving behind your brother and his family, we only hope that you will be out there at wherever that winding mountain road leads, somewhere kissing little Jack and his baby sister and Mia, far removed from the vagaries of the world, in a land where the sun shines bright, the skies are blue and cars are always tuned. You will remain an ache in our heart, a hole in our soul that can never be filled, a beacon that will always remind us of how good things have been. No matter if you are a quarter mile away, half a world away or away on the other side, you will always be our brother. Goodspeed, Paul. Until we meet again.