Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vincent van Gogh in Hindi Films

I did a thread on Twitter on Vincent van Gogh in Hindi films. Sharing it here as well. 

Dialogue of the Day:
"Tumhari tasveer apne andar na jaane kya kya chhupaye hai." 
—Tara, Dil Chahta Hai

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

No Smoking—Of Kafkaesque Souls

Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking is one of my favorite films. When I first watched it at the time of its release, even though I did not fully understand everything about the film, I remember being fascinated that a film like that could be made in the Hindi film industry. No Smoking is based on Stephen King's short story titled Quitters, Inc. It is the story of K (John Abraham), a narcissistic businessman, who is addicted to smoking. His wife Anjali (Ayesha Takia) wants him to stop smoking. K's friend Abbas (Ranvir Shorey) recommends him to a rehabilitation center called Prayogshala, run by a godman named Baba Bengali (Paresh Rawal). When K visits Baba Bengali for a consultation, he is forced to sign a contract, that recommends extremely harsh punishment if K continues smoking. The film, then, transcends into metaphysical realms, where K eventually not only loses his habit of smoking but his own identity, too.

John Abraham's character K is named after Josef K, the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Trial. The novel is a critique of totalitarianism in which K is put under arrest for an unknown crime for an unspecified period of time. Anurag Kashyap has mentioned that Franz Kafka is one of his favorite writers. Kafka's novels are known for their surrealist themes. Surrealism is often described as literature in the dream state, where a different kind of logic prevails, that connects the real with the imaginary. Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, has written, "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak." This surrealism is a motif in the works of Kafka which has spawned its own term known as Kafkaesque. In an interview with The New York Times, Frederick R. Karl, author of a biography of Franz Kafka says, "Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world." These words also perfectly describe the crux of the plot of No Smoking and its Kafkaesque theme. The real and the unreal world of K collide to form a surreal world. K is often found near a bathtub as it is the device through which he travels between the two worlds. Additionally, the logic of the real world does not hold true as K's life goes through major tribulations that have no rational explanation. K is constantly traversing the two interconnected worlds, and the film depicts K's surreal world merging the events of his dreams and his reality. 
"To be is to do."—Socrates
"To do is to be."—Sartre
"Do be do be do."—Frank Sinatra
The film opens with the above three quotes. There is an interesting history of how these quotes came into existence. This list of quotes first appeared in the bathroom stalls in the 1960s and 1970s, but many a time, different authors were specified for the first two quotes. The phrase attributed to Sinatra was derived from his version of the song Strangers in the Night. At the end of the track, Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that were transcribed as "Do be do be do." However, the appearance of quotes in No Smoking is most likely due to another reason. The quotes were made popular when they appeared as a graffito in the novel Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut. In the book, the protagonist named Rudy sees these words scribbled on the walls of an airport toilet where he is trapped. In Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Lawrence R. Broer suggests that the scene represented Rudy's catharsis, his release of guilt, and his recognition that he is free to author a new essence in life. All of Kurt Vonnegut's novels are known for their anti-authoritarianism and their randomness. Thus, it is entirely befitting that No Smoking opens with these quotes as the film, too, has a strong theme of anti-authoritarianism and is a riot of randomness. In addition, the film represents a sort of catharsis for Anurag Kashyap, as he has himself said, that he made this film because his earlier films faced problems and never got released. Smoking, itself, is a way of letting out something. Characters are letting go of things in the film. At one stage in the film, there is K's wife, Anjali, sitting on a toilet seat and the film shows us her flushing after doing her job while she speaks on the phone. It is also noteworthy that the individual quotes are also in line with film's leitmotif of individual freedom and randomness; hence, the three quotes are consistent with the film's concept. 
K gets a recommendation from his friend Abbas that he got cured of his smoking habit by going to the PrayogshalaAnjali threatens to leave K if he does not stop smoking. Therefore, K decides to visit the PrayogshalaIt is located in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai. When K reaches the spot, the man at the counter directs him to an underground bunker through which K has to pass to reach the Prayogshala. He descends into the manhole, and thereafter, he has to take more stairs to go further down. There is nothing at the same level and he has to keep going down. This descent is nothing but the representation of K going to hell. Once he reaches the Prayogshala, Baba Bengali actually tells him that there might be democracy in the dharti above but this place is paataal ghar, and his writ runs here. Prayogshala is, therefore, symbolizing hell, where people come to get rid of their smoking habit. 
Initially, at an early point in the film, K looks in the mirror and tells himself that no one can tell him what to do. This is the idea of the film that one should be free to do whatever he wants. It is his life, and he will live it on his own terms. K is narcissistic and is not really a nice person. At one stage, he throws out an old lady from an elevator because she wanted him to stop smoking. Even if the activities he likes to do are harmful, he does them out of his choice. Smoking in the film is only a metaphor for freedom. This freedom could be of anything and is a basic right of every individual, even if that person is not really a good human being. The film, thus, tries to show how a person loses his soul if he is forced to do something that does not suit his character. This is why we see that there is a running theme of totalitarianism in the film. Baba Bengali, a godman, has been given the responsibility of curing the people of their addiction by his predecessor. Baba Bengali has met Hitler, the most (in)famous icon of fascist ideology, and he proudly displays his picture with Hitler in his Prayogshala. Baba is himself a dictator and forces people to sign a contract by hook or by crook. K's recurring dream occurs in Siberia (Russia) where he is surrounded by military personnel, which is again a hint towards another military dictator of Russia, Joseph Stalin (or Putin). If Baba Bengali (Hitler) and military personnel (Stalin) stop him from smoking, the film also shows K's friend Alex forcing him to smoke. Alex has come from Cuba where the writ of another famous dictator, Fidel Castro, runs large. Even if K likes to smoke, Alex is forcing him to have a cigar. He even names his cigars after Castro. The argument, again, is about individual freedom and choice. And, those who don't listen to Baba Bengali literally start losing their hearing, and then, continue to lose their sense of being, which includes their creativity, the feeling of love, and then their own character. To be is to do. To do is to be.
Early in the film, Anjali is watching Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List on the television. The scene playing in the movie shows the Jews in a concentration camp in Hitler's Germany. The same scene foreshadows the climax of No Smoking as well, underscoring the comparison of Baba Bengali's methods with Hitler's policies. In the dream, when K is running away from the soldiers, he jumps into the bathtub and enters into a surreal place where he becomes a prisoner. When K had visited the Prayogshala for the first time, he had seen some prisoners looking at him. This time, K has reached that spot and has become a prisoner. The other prisoners tell him that they will be taken for a bath soon. In the prison, K sees his reflection, which a fellow prisoner tells him is his own body on the other side. He can talk to his body using the phone if he has loose change. The lady announces that those who paid the full treatment amount will not be asked to take a bath. Thereafter, K and other prisoners are sent to take a bath, in which they are gassed like the Jews. Essentially, it was K's soul that was exterminated in the Prayogshala. A human has a body and a soul. In an earlier moment, Baba Bengali had told K that the soul is frivolous and indulgent. If one has the power, the soul can be controlled, but if one is weak, the soul needs to be exterminated and let go to cure people of their addiction. The Prayogshala, like Hitler's concentration camps, is a hellish place where he does that. K loses his soul. This is why the place is of sepia shade representing the color of the dirtiness of his soul. In that sense, No Smoking is a subversive film which makes a significant point that a human without the soul is just the body. Baba forced K to become someone with a soul. Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul; it is dead without the soul. 
In an interview after the release of the film, Anurag Kashyap had said that he made the film to express his anger and disappointment as his earlier films ran into problems with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This is his personal story as well. K is Kashyap himself. The Minister of Health at that time, Anbumani Ramadoss, wanted to issue a fiat to ban the portrayal of smoking in films. So, Kashyap made a film titled No Smoking, which people thought advocates people to stop smoking, but in reality, it champions the cause of artistic expression. In the script of the film, there is a point in the film, where it is mentioned that Baba Bengali has a picture with Ramadoss, but it was not shown in the film's theatrical version. In the last few years, before the starting of any movie, the government has mandated anti-smoking disclaimers and advertisements, which are absolutely bland. In a satirical response, No Smoking opens with a disclaimer that says, "A thousand people stop smoking every day, by dying. Smoking kills." This is also shown in the metaphor of the cut fingers in films. Baba Bengali used to cut people's fingers if they did not follow his orders. In the end, K's soul was purged, and he loses his fingers. Baba explained to K that his writer friend Abbas cannot write. People use their fingers to smoke, but they use the same fingers to write as well. Thus, by issuing such diktats, one is cutting their writing fingers, and curbing artistic expression. The government should have no role in dictating its moral choices to people. In a contrast, perhaps, Alex represented the other side representing the cigarette companies. If forcing people to not smoke makes them lose their fingers, coercing people to smoke is like castration. His cigars have the brand name Infidal Castrated. Alex was the mirror image of Baba Bengali. Alex was also surrounded by men and women who used to wear sunglasses, like Baba's lackeys. Baba Bengali idolized Hitler, and Alex too inspiration from Castro. 
Baba Bengali is, thus, a representation of the dictatorial government. When K visits him, he asks his men to bring a massive red-colored rule book that he will have to read which is nothing but a symbol of the bureaucracy and the red tape, where governments try to force people to sign a contract with its complex rules (like the Aadhar). Then, Baba says there is a Rajagopalchari version (abridged) as well, which I found to be extremely funny. Baba's Baba Bengali's full name is Shri Shri Prakash Ji Baba Bengali Sealdah Wale. This name is quite similar to Sri Sri Ravi Sankar of Art of Living. Baba has people from both the religions working for him, the men in red chaddis (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?) and the women in burkha, displaying another aspect of authoritarianism—religious—in this case. At some other point, K's doctor friend tells him that he was put in jail for some time under POTA that stands for Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was another controversial law that gave draconian powers to the government to control terrorism, highlighting another reference to authoritarianism in the film. We also get to know that K's brother can converse only in German, as Hitler was from Germany. 
Not only is there is a theme of fascism, but the film also shows the extent of omnipresent surveillance that can curb individual expression. In retrospect, the film is so ahead of its time as some of the things portrayed in the film actually turned out to be true. When K enters the carpet factory, the man sitting there scans his hand on a tablet, and it immediately identifies K, something that is becoming increasingly common today. There is a video record of the life of all the people who come to Baba Bengali. This massive Orwellian surveillance was recently uncovered by WikiLeaks. The point is that whatever one tries, no one can really escape the Big Brother. K tried to follow a meticulous plan where he did not tell anyone where he is going, but even then the acolytes of Baba Bengali were able to follow him in Africa. Anyone who enters into a contract with Baba Bengali is followed at all times by the same man. Abbas is surrounded by a man who is wearing sunglasses. The same man follows K in his different avatars. He was the taxi driver who brought K to his office after K loses his hearing. There was also a carpet kept on the top of the car, which was another symbol that this is Baba Bengali's man as his Prayogshala was located under a carpet factory. The same man is the guard at his office, who tells K that he has eight siblings. I kept counting if the man actually appeared at nine different places in the film. The same man also meets K in the elevator. Not surprisingly, he was the same man who dressed as a transgendered woman and met K at a traffic signal and threw some coins at K. The script mentions another quirky detail that the man's different characters have different voices. Ram. Shyam. Balram.
Baba Bengali's fee for curing people of their addiction was twenty-one lakhs, eleven thousand, and one hundred and ten rupees with an additional one rupee in change. Baba insisted that the one rupee be paid separately in cash. K signed the cheque for the amount but he did not have one rupee with him in cash. This nonpayment of one rupee will turn out to be a decisive moment for K later. When he is sent to the prison, the lady announced that only those who paid the full fee amount will not be asked to take a bath, that is, their souls will not be purged. In the prison, there is also a telephone booth that required one-rupee coins if K's soul wanted to talk K's body. K ignored Baba's advice, thus, has to bear the consequences. At an earlier stage, the man who was following K everywhere met him in his eunuch avatar at a traffic signal, and threw coins at K. He ignored those coins even then, which eventually would lead him to lose his soul.
As the film is autobiographical as well, almost all the characters in the film are inspired by the life of Anurag Kashyap. The letter K is not only an allegory to Kafka, but also to Kashyap. At one point, Kashyap himself makes an appearance in the film where he is standing in an elevator with K. K's wife Anjali and his secretary Annie are actually the same people. He thinks they are two different people, but in the end, Anjali tells him that they both are the same. In real life, at that point, Anurag Kashyap was married to Aarti Bajaj (the letter A like Anjali), who was also the editor of his films. Like Anjali and Annie, his own wife played two roles in his life. Abbas' full name is Abbas Tyrewala, who is no one but director Abbas Tyrewala, who was supposed to play the part of Abbas before it went to Ranvir Shorey. At some point, K and Abbas meet in a bar, and K says to Abbas that he has changed after his marriage. And, then, in the background, the words Paakhi Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se start playing. This is another inside joke as Paakhi is the name of Abbas' wife. Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi is referring is Paakhi Tyrewala, who has acted in Jhootha Hi Sahi, and also turned director recently. The song comes at the precise moment when K is talking about Abbas' marriage. At another point, Abbas mentions Maqbool and Main Hoon Na in a dialogue, and Baba Bengali when he is talking about Abbas mentions Salaam Namaste and Munnabhai M.B.B.S, which are also the two films among the many for which Abbas wrote the dialogue and the screenplay. There is also Vikramaditya Motwane in the film. He plays an employee with the same name who refuses to stop smoking in the office. Interestingly, the script also mentions Raj Kumar Gupta, as the employee who comes for an interview at K's office, but the same is not mentioned in the film. Raj Kumar Gupta has actually assisted Anurag Kashyap in the film, and also directed his own films, such as Aamir. At the launch party of his cigars, Alex says, "Beedi Jalaiyele ke Vishal desh me cigar Gulzar," again a wordplay on the people associated with the film. Vishal Bhardwaj is the producer of No Smoking, Gulzar has written the lyrics, and the song Beedi from Omkara is associated with these two men. 
Dreams and delusion constitute a significant part of the film's universe. K's wife and his secretary are the same people, but K thinks that they are different. These elements are interspersed throughout the film in different ways. At some stage during the end, K sees a group of men dressed as Santa Clauses roaming on the streets on New Year's Eve. Santa Clauses are, after all, a kind of representation of human delusion. At different points in the film, the screen keeps forming some kind of bubbles as if trying to portray that there is some kind of an illusion, separating the real and the imaginary. During the zero minute, when all the addicts are allowed to smoke for only one minute in the year, K reaches the place, which is called The Dead Factory, a perfect name for a place for the congregation of men who have lost their souls and are symbolically dead. In the same sequence, K tries to crawl between the legs of men to reach Baba Bengali. Immediately, in the next scene, there is a rat crawling in the pipes that gets trapped, representing the trapped mental state of K. Thereafter, K enters his dream state again, and as he was advised earlier by his psychiatrist friend, he jumps into the bathtub, moving down the pipe to hell. After he jumps into the bathtub and starts swimming, I was reminded of Mary Jane (Alia Bhatt) swimming towards the light in the climax of Udta Punjab.
Any Anurag Kashyap film is full of references and tributes to some of his favorite filmmakers. In No Smoking, too, we see something similar within the context of smoking. In the film, the song Jab Bhi Ciggaret is shot in a bar that is called The Bob Fosse. Bob Fosse was an American dancer, choreographer, director known for his award-winning musicals, such as Cabaret (1972). He has won eight Tony Awards for choreography and an Academy Award for his direction of Cabaret. Jab Bhi Ciggaret is a cabaret-style number that pays homage to him. The other noteworthy fact is that Bob Fosse was a known chain-smoker. According to his biographer Sam Wasson, while choreographing The Pajama Game in 1954, Fosse chain-smoked as many as six or seven packs of cigarettes a day. It is quite befitting to then pay a tribute to Fosse in a film related to smoking; perhaps, making the point that for some people, smoking is a way to sharpen their creative instincts. It is also interesting that a male voice is used for lip sync for a female dancer. This androgynous representation was also seen in the character of Ardhnarishwera in Kashyap's Gulaal (2009). There is a particular line in the song, Upale jaisa sulagta hu. Only Gulzar use a word that means cow-dung cake in the lyrics of a Hindi film song. The other songs, such as Phoonk De, are absolutely gorgeous. 
There are a lot many other references to songs that are played in background mirroring the events happening in the film. When K and Abbas are reminiscing about the time when they were young and smoked a cigarette, Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin plays. The particular sequence is titled Kyunki Bachpan Bhi Kabhi Naughty Tha, a spinoff to Ekta Kapoor's iconic show Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The part one of Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) opened with the title song of the same show. At some other point, K calls Abbas and Ghungroo Ki Tarah Bajta Hi Raha from Chor Machaaye Shor (1974) is playing in the background. When Anjali asks K to stop smoking, he plays Shut Up by The Black Eyed Peas in his car. At other stages, we hear Dean Martin's Ain't That A Kick In The Head and That's Amore being played. The script mentions many other songs related to smoking.

There is another set of symbols used in the film which only Anurag Kashyap can explain. Perhaps, some of them have an underlying meaning associated with them, while some of them are used for indulgence. For instance, there are white dialogue bubbles, like seen in comics, in which the characters of the film are conveying their real thoughts during conversation. Or, like the fact that Anjali wears two rings always. We also see the door in the room in Serbia where K is trapped opens only if you push it from the side you are on. There are dwarves with funny voices in Baba Bengali's Prayogshala. The prison number on K's shirt is written 8077 in Hindi numerals, perhaps, it has something to do with the Holocaust.

No Smoking is one of Anurag Kashyap's finest films. It, truly, is what we call a subversive film. It constantly makes one think on its deeper meaning as nothing in the film is without any reason. For the last month or so, I have watched and rewatched the movie, and I learnt something new every time. Many films are often called as 'ahead of their time.' No Smoking was not only so far ahead of its time, but the things shown in it are turning out to be prescient. Ten years ago, two films released on the October 26th—Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met and Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking. Jab We Met got its due immediately, but here is hoping that No Smoking will also get its recognition in due course of time. 

Interesting things present in the script:
There is a reference to the Clinton cigar (which I assume is referring to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky cigar story, and Ajay Devgan is mentioned as well. Presented some screenshots here. 

Other Reading:
1. Script of No SmokingLink
2. On Raman Raghav 2.0Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul, it is dead without the soul."
—Baba Bengali, No Smoking

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Moon in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Films―Yoon Shabnami Pehle Nahi Thi Chandani

If I could be given a chance to become a fly on the wall in a film song, Yoon Shabnami from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya will be on my list for sure as I feel it is one of the most splendidly choreographed songs in the last few decades. Words fail me to describe the sheer pulchritude of the song that is so stunning in both its conception and its execution. The song is picturized on the occasion of Eid where Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) plans to tell Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) that he loves her. In the song, Raj sings that the moonlight has never been as ravishing as before, and when the moon saw you (his lover―his saawariya), it got confused. Yoon shabnami pehle nahi thi chandani. Like the other people who are waiting for the Eid moon to appear, Raj is calling his lover to come out and meet him. The men are looking towards the sky; however, Raj is the only one looking in the other direction. He points to the other men that the moon has appeared but he does not look at it for long because his moon is not the moon of the sky, but Sakina. She had been glancing towards the sky from her balcony, and at that very moment when the moon emerges, Sakina comes out from behind her veil. Raj is ecstatic because his moon Sakina has appeared, and her beauty makes even the other moon feel shy. The one sight of his saawariya is enough to make him forget the gorgeousness of the celestial moon, and lose himself in her. Kho gaye tujh me hum iss kadar. 
In the song, all the other men are dressed in pure white, but Raj is dressed in a red-velvet blazer making him stand out from the others. The color red is the color of love, and Raj gives a stole of the same color to Sakina, that epitomizes his deep love and affection for her. She accepts the present and wears it, in a way almost accepting Raj's love assuming her lover Imaan (Salman Khan) is not coming back. However, Imaan arrives and waits for Sakina at the bridge. When Sakina sees him, she runs towards him, and the stole that Raj gave to her falls down from her shoulders, conveying to us the fate of Raj's love. Raj's moon Sakina goes to her saawariya, but his memories of her are enough to make him live through his life
Raj's gift is dropped
The moon is, in fact, yet another recurring theme in the oeuvre of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In almost all his films, the moon makes a special appearance of its own. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, there is Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, where on the festival of Karva Chauth, all the women, including Nandini (Aishwarya Rai), are waiting for the moon to come out in the sky. Karva Chauth is the festival where women keep a fast for their husbands and break that fast once the moon is out in the night sky. Nandini reminisces about her lover Sameer (Salman Khan) on this day last year when she was with him. The women sing, "Aaja re aaja chanda ki jab tak tu na aaye ga. Sajana ke chehrein ko dekhne ye man tarsa jayega." Come Oh Moon! Show Yourself. Till the time you won't come, this heart shall be thirsty to see the face of my beloved. Sameer tells them, "Na na chanda tu nahi aana. Tu jo aaya toh sanam sharma ke kahi chala jayena." No, no, Moon, don't come. If you come, then maybe my love will go away feeling shy. 
In one of the earlier posts, I had mentioned that Saawariya was a contrast to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in which Sakina rejects a musician Raj (similar to Sameer) for a more brooding Imaan (Vanraj). In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Vanraj (Ajay Devgn) takes Nandini back to her lover. In Saawariya, Raj tries to stop Sakina from going to her lover. It is interesting to note that the lyrics of Yoon Shabnami also paint a contrast to Chand Chhupa Badal Mein. In both the songs, people are waiting for the moon to come out. In Yoon Shabnami, Raj sings, "Chaand woh bharma gaya, tujhko dekha toh sharma gaya." The moon got really confused and felt shy when it saw you (his lover) This is quite the opposite of Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, where Sameer is asking the moon to not come out because then his lover will get shy on seeing the moon. "Tu jo aaya toh, sanam sharma ke kahi chala jayena." In both the songs, the singer sees his beloved in the chandani―the moonlit night. Chandani raat mein har sajani apne sajana ko dekhe ki. In the moonlit night, every woman shall see her beloved. Yoon shabnami pehle nahi thi chandaniThe moonlit night has never been gorgeous before. When Chand Chhupa Badal Mein ends, Nandini holds the sieve through which the women see their husbands to break the fast, but she avoids making an eye contact with Vanraj, because he is not her lover. It is a testament to our syncretic culture that the moon is used by Sanjay Leela Bhansali on two distinct religious occasions―Eid in Islam and Karva Chauth in Hinduism―to convey a similar underlying message. This has also been seen in his other films, such as Bajirao Mastani, where he tries to present the implicit similarity of religions. Usi Durga ki murti ko sajaate waqt hare rang ka chooda, hare rang ka shalo, aur hare rang ki choli pehnaate hai. Durga idols in temples are often adorned in green (the color often used to represent Islam). And, both the songs in the two films have a peacock symbol in them which is another Sanjay Leela Bhansali trademark. There are peacocks drawn on the walls in Yoon Shabnami; while Nandini sings. "Saawan ki rah jaise dekh mor hai." Just like the peacock is in search for rainfall.
In Devdas, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) goes to meet Paro (Aishwarya Rai) after he comes back from London. It is for the first time that they both will be seeing each other as adults. Paro is compared to the moon in the film. When Dev enters her room, she does not show her face and tells him that she is like the moon, and she fears that when he will see her, he will become breathless. Dev tells her that even the moon is not as vain about its beauty as she is. She replies to him that it is because the moon has scars, and she is flawless. He goes away from her room informing her that he will see her face at moonrise. In the night, when the moon is out, Dev goes to Paro's place, where she is sleeping in the courtyard. In a spectacular scene, Dev is stunned to see Paro's face juxtaposed with the full moon, leaving no doubt that Paro is indeed as celestial as the moon. He smiles to himself after he finally gets to see that luminous face. He takes some soot from the burning diya next to her, and puts it on her lips, giving her a nazar ka teeka to prevent her from any evil eye. Then, there is the song Woh Chand Jaisi Ladki that is based on these scenes in which the lover is yet again comparing his beloved to the moon and is waiting for one glimpse of hers to give succor to his torturous soul. Woh chaand jaisi ladki, is dil pe chhaa rahi hai. Mera chaand baadalon mein kyun jaake kho gaya hai. That girl, who is like the moon, is gaining over this heart of mine. Why has my moon gone into the clouds and gotten lost? Dev's other worshipper Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) is also related to the moon as she is named after the moon itself.
Paro is the moon
In Bajirao Mastani, a desolate Kashi (Priyanka Chopra) is coming to terms with the realization that her husband Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) has found a paramour in Mastani (Deepika Padukone). At some point in the film, Kashi is sitting by herself in Shaniwar Wada with her gaze transfixed in the direction of the moon. When Bajirao comes to meet her, she tells him that she is observing the moon, which is trying to hide between the clouds. Yeh chaand bhi na, kabhi iss badli ke peeche, toh kabhi uss badli ke. Here, she likens Bajirao with the moon, and subtly makes a statement that he is hiding something from her, and she is aware that he is spending his time with Mastani as well. Later, in the song Pinga, Kashibai compares the arrival of Mastani to the appearance of moon. She sings, "Dekho mere piya ki sanwari, jiya se banwari. Mere angna mein dekho aaj khila hai chaand." Look at my beloved's innocent sweetheart. She is at my door like a full moon. Thus, the film again highlights the presence of moon and compares Bajirao and Mastani to the moon. In Marathi culture, the women and the men often wear a crescent moon symbol called a chandrakor on their forehead as well. In Pinga, Mastani also wears a chandrakor for the first time, while Kashibai expectedly wears it throughout the film.
There is something similar related to the moon in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela as well. There is a song Poore Chand in the film that did not make it to the theatrical version of the film. Since the song does not appear in the film, it cannot be said for sure but it can be conjectured that it is most likely sung by Ram (Ranveer Singh) for his Leela (Deepika Padukone). Here, the singer compares the night of a full moon to his lover's face, and describes the movements of her beautiful face. "Poore chaand ki ye aadhi raat hai. Tere chehre pe aa ke ruk jati hai." This is the mid of a full moon night. It comes and stops at your face. In another moon sighting in the film, after Ram and Leela elope to get married, a full moon shines brightly behind as Ram walks towards Leela to consummate their marriage in Ang Laga De. 
There is the moon in Guzaarish, as well; however, the context is a little different. While the earlier mentioned films compared the lover to the moon, here, the moon is compared to life itself. The song Chaand Ki Katori calls life as a cup of moon. "Saare taare ek taraf, zindagi batori batori hai. Chaand ki katori hai, raat yeh chatori hai." All the stars on one side, have collected the life. It's a cup of the moon, this night is an epicure. The moon has been a common trope in films; however, it holds a special significance for Sanjay Leela Bhansali, given its repeated sightings in his filmography. There is no doubt that even in his future films that the ever resplendent moon (like the peacock, another symbol of resplendence in his films) would grace us with its presence in some form or the other. After all, a filmmaker known for his magnificent films is an innate partner of that celestial object that is often described as the epitome of beauty in the universe. 

Other Reading:
1. On Bajirao MastaniLink
2. On Motifs in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films―Link
3. On Dola Re DolaLink
4. On SaawariyaLink
5. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-LeelaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Usne meri aatma ko chhua hai, Maa."
―Nandini, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

Raj's chaand :-)
P.S.―I might have misinterpreted some lyrics. Apologies. Happy to be corrected. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati is expected to hit the theaters on December 1, 2017. The trailer of the eagerly-awaited film was released recently and was received with a positive response. As always, the trailer showcases the trademark strength of Sanjay Leela Bhansali in creating visually stunning spectacles. Padmavati is the story of Rani Padmavati, the Rajput queen and the wife of Rawal Ratan Singh, the ruler of Mewar. In 1303, Alauddin Khilji attacked Mewar with the aim of capturing Padmavati. The Rajput forces were defeated. However, instead of surrendering to Khilji, Padmavati is said to have committed jauhar (self-immolation) to protect her honor. The film portrays her story and stars Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh in the lead roles.
There is Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati, dressed in traditional costumes and jewelry. Since the film is based on Padmavati, the background music in the trailer is also about her. The lyrics say, "Rani sa Rajputi shaan hai, Rani sa mhaari aan baan hai." The queen is the pride of the Rajputs; she is our honor and dignity. She is often seen inside the temple of Lord Shiva with the shivling and the tridents, representing the legend of Parvati and Shiv. 
The trailer brings out the contrast in the personalities of Rawal Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji. Ratan is well-groomed, calm, and composed, while Khilji appears to be wild and has a flair for drama showing all emotions. Ratan is seen wearing white representing purity; Khilji is often dressed in darker colors, representing his evilness. In one particular scene, Ratan walks with women behind him, while Khilji is sitting on a chair and men carry him. There is also a contrast in the background score in their scenes. Ratan and Khilji both seem enamored of Padmavati. While Ratan keeps looking at Padmavati while she sews pearls on his turban, Khilji keeps a padma (lotus) with him. As they are opponents, they seem to be playing chess, and later, fighting on the battlefield. This contrast is underscored also when we see that the Rajput army's flag has the sun; the Khilji army's flag has the moon. We also see Ratan and Khiji wearing their headgear that represents their pride. Khiji wears his crown; a few scenes later, Padmavati puts the warrior helmet on Ratan. 

The most discernible aspect of the trailer is that it brings out the sheer wickedness of Khilji. The first time he enters the screen, the tone of the background music changes. We see that there are birds kept captive in their cages in his lair, as if showing us how he prefers to keep people in control. Khilji is narcissistic as he is often seen near the mirrors. In the scene, where he is being carried on the chair by some men, there are some wild animal statues in the front. Also, notice how the two ends of the chair on which he is seated look like the open mouth of a wild animal. The same thing is observed in his lair, where there are two pillar-like structures that seem to look like the open mouth of some animal. Khilji eats like a wild animal. He wears clothes that are made of fur-like material. He fights and wins various gladiatorial contests. All these scenes show Khilji's ruthlessness and he is being compared to a wild beast. Ranveer Singh has completely transformed himself into this evil incarnate.
Animal Instincts
In addition, we see that all the three characters in the trailer have scenes with fire. The opening and the ending credits in the trailer are also written as sparks of a fire. Since the act of jauhar is significant to the story, perhaps, that is why there is an emphasis on fire in the trailer credits as well. 
There is a bit of Bajirao Mastani in Padmavati, especially, in the war scenes that have a sepia color palette that resembles the scenes in the former film. In Bajirao Mastani, Mastani defines her love for Bajirao where she speaks three statements that end with woh ishq. She said, "Ishq—Jo toofani dariya se bagawat kar jaaye, woh ishq; bhare darbar me jo duniya se lad jaaye, woh ishq; jo mehboob ko dekhe toh khuda ko bhool jaaye, woh ishq." Sanjay Leela Bhansali always emphasises and repeats some words. Oo ke tera, tera, tera zikr hai. In Padmavati, we see something similar again where Rawal Ratan Singh narrates the characteristics of a Rajput warrior, and he ends the phrases with woh Rajput, like Mastani did using woh ishq. He says, "Chinta ko talwar ki nok pe rakhe, woh Rajput; ret ki naav lekar samundar se shart lagaye, woh Rajput; aur jiska sar kate phir bhi dhad dushman se ladta rahe, woh Rajput." He mentions ret ki naav, a boat made of sand, and later in the trailer, we see a ret ka toofan, a sandstorm with a warrior galloping towards it. There are some other similar touches from Bajirao Mastani's trailer as well, such as men dressed in red headgear, the use of fire on the arrows, among others as shown below.
Padmavati and Bajirao Mastani
In all of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films, there is a leitmotif of weaving representing the bond of relationships. For instance, the flag-weaving scene between Kashi and her mother-in-law in Bajirao Mastani, or Sakina weaving carpets in Saawariya. Here also, there is a particular scene where Padmavati was shown to be weaving pearls on Ratan's turban. It is one of the most beautiful scenes in the trailer.
Weaving Scenes
There is always a lot to see in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films and he seems to be one of the rare filmmakers who still understand the mesmerizing power of the big screen. As a fan and an admirer, I am eagerly waiting not only to watch Padmavati but also learn from the vision of an indefatigable auteur. 
Other Reading:
Weaving Love—A Motif in the Films of Sanjay Leela BhansaliLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Rajputi kangan me utni hai taakat hai, jitni Rajputi talwar mein."
Rani Padmavati, Padmavati

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bareilly Ki Barfi—The Ingredients of Love

As the title of Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's Bareilly Ki Barfi suggests, the film is a short and a sweet love story. It is inspired by The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau. Set in Bareilly, the film is about Bitti (Kriti Sanon). She thinks she has a lot of 'flaws' in her, which is why she is not able to find a groom. She runs away from her house, and serendipitously reads a book titled Bareilly Ki Barfi whose lead character is exactly like her. The book is ostensibly written by Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao); however, he was forced to be the writer by the book's actual writer and publisher Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana). Bitti wants to meet Pritam as she thinks he will understand her, and she reaches out to Chirag to find more about him. What follows is a nice and a humorous tale that has shades of Lawrence D'Souza's Saajan and Kunal Kohli's Mujhse Dosti Karoge!
One of the themes in Bareilly Ki Barfi is that people have flaws and one of the essential ingredients of love is to accept people with their flaws. Bitti keeps reiterating that she has many faults in her. In her first letter to Pritam, she writes that everyone sees faults in her, but he saw a positive aspect in those faults. When Bitti decides to get engaged to Pritam, she again explains to Chirag that Pritam likes her the way she is, and accepts her with all her flaws. Bitti will not change herself to get married to someone. In another related moment, Pritam's mother keeps on pestering him that he should take care of himself better. He rhetorically questions her that perhaps he has all the faults, which makes one conjecture that his mousy underconfident personality could be a consequence of his mother's constant complaints. The film never delves deeper into this aspect of him, but this underscores the concept of flaws that Bitti also mentioned. It is fascinating to watch how effortlessly Pritam becomes this new person Badass Babua who is the polar opposite of him. Perhaps, he always had this side to him, but he never got a chance to flourish. We see even Chirag trying to become who he is really not. He is also hiding some aspect of him. He behaves a little differently with everyone. There is a point in the film when Chirag schemes for Pritam's downfall and his friend Munna jokes with him that he is 'neech' (villain). Later, Munna takes back his words and he tells him he is not 'neech' (villain) after Chirag is not able to say the truth to Bitti as he cannot break her heart. There is a shift in the film as to who the hero is and who the villain is. In fact, at some other point, the voice-over tells us, "Ek chaalbaaz nahi, dusra rangbaaz nahi, par love ki leela dekhiye, ek chaal bana raha hai, aur dusra chaal jama raha hai." One is not a schemer; the other is not a bully. But strange are the ways of love that one is hatching schemes, and the other is taking on an attitude. It is this whole aspect of being true to yourself, not becoming someone else, and accepting people with flaws, is what the film tries to portray and reward its characters. 
The film has some really hilarious scenes, but also has some lovely little moments. When it is Chirag's birthday, Bitti takes him to her family shop whose board reads Lovela Sweets, as the ee ki matra fell off in the rain. She takes him inside and puts a candle on one of the sweets, making it a little birthday cake, like Sid did for Aisha in Wake Up Sid where he made a bread-jam cake on her birthday. The name Chirag means a lamp of light. When Chirag is reading his letter in the end, he stands in front of numerous little lamps. At some point, while he is reading, the electricity goes off, and the only light present is the one from the lamps. It is a beautiful touch where the man whose name is Chirag is standing in front of little chirags, proposing to his lover who is compared to a sweet. It is also quite befitting that a man who opposes the hero's love is named Pritam Vidrohi—Lover Rebel
In Vikas Bahl's Queen, Rani was the docile daughter whose father was the proprietor of a sweet shop. She was naïve and ingenuous. She was studying home science. At one stage, her fiancé Vijay says that she is as sweet as sugar syrup. He refuses to marry Rani days before the wedding, and she is heartbroken. Bitti from Bareilly Ki Barfi is also the daughter of a sweet-shop owner. Bitti is also a barfi. However, Bitti, even though belonging to a small town, is nothing like Rani, from the supposedly modern Delhi. She smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, eats non-vegetarian food, does break dance, and watches English movies. She does not listen to her parents. She is independent and works in the customer care department of the electricity board. She will go on to meet someone who is like Surinder Sahni from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, who also used to work in the electricity department. Punjab Power, lighting up your life. Surinder Sahni this side ji. But the most interesting aspect of Bitti was her relationship with her father. Narrotam Mishra raised Bitti with the freedom to do whatever she wants. Bitti is called as the son of her father. There is a lovely moment in the film when he comes and offers her a cigarette. She declines, but there is an image in which both of them are actually smoking. When was the last time we saw a scene where a normal (and not some villainous) father and a daughter shared a smoke together? Then, Bitti tells him that being a girl is a disaster. He then tells her that he does not believe in these norms but eventually, they have to live in the same society. As Bitti told he is a Libran, perhaps, that is why he is able to maintain this balance. At some other point, there is a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge reference in the film, where Bitti compares herself to Simran and tells her friend Rama that Raj should know how her Simran looks like when she is sending her picture to Pritam. Taking it a little further, one can visualize the strict relationship that Simran had with her Bauji is in complete contrast with the less formal, almost friendly relationship that Bitti had with her father. Simran had to literally beg her father to let her go so that she can marry Raj. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Bitti has already decided she will marry Chirag; however, just before she puts the ring on him, she still asks for her father's permission. Of course, he will not object to it.
There are some other really laugh-out-loud moments in the film, such as the one where Pritam says, "Rangbaaz log dekhte hi nahi hai," when he is asked to behave like a bully. The setting, the location, and the dialogue seem authentic. Debit and credit card expected (sic). Aasteen ka anaconda. Rama tells Bitti that she has a boutique and not a shop. Performances are splendid by everyone, especially by Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa, and Rajkummar Rao. It is as if they have belonged to this small-town milieu since forever. However, at places, Kriti Sanon felt too sophisticated for the part of Bitti. And, as much as I love Ayushmann Khurrana (#BublaForever), he feels a tad too urbane as Chirag. I guess these are minor quibbles and it requires more thought on the importance of actors 'looking' the part. But I was happy that unlike Meri Pyaari Bindu, he gets his Bindu Bitti here because writers should also have a happy ending, sometimes. 

Songs used in the background
Titanic poster
Books in Movies
P.S.—At some point in the film, when they are in a boat, the boatman talks about Jawani Diwani and says it starred Hema Malini, Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna. After that, he starts singing the song Dreamgirl. Was it some kind of a joke as Jawani Diwani has no connection with the aforementioned three stars or the song?

P.P.S.—I have a personal connection with the city of Bareilly. My mother was born and raised in Bareilly. I have been there a few times when my grandmother and my mother's brother were alive. The last time I went there was in 2004 and I still remember I watched Koi...Mil Gaya on cable TV there. Bareilly is largely known for its surma (kohl). Mera Saaya's Jhoomka Gira Re made Bareilly famous in films. Let's see how much impact Bareilly Ki Barfi has on the popularity of the city.

Other Reading:
1. Of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, and TamashaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyaar kiya hai Munna, kurbaani toh deni padegi."
—Chirag, Bareilly Ki Barfi