Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kahaani 2—Of Vidya Sinha And Rajnigandha

Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh is the second film in the series of women-oriented films that he plans to make, hence, the added '2' in the title. The first film Kahaani was a brilliant film that is considered to be one of the finest films in the last decade. It was about a pregnant Vidya Bagchi looking for her husband, but it is found out that she was not who she said she was. Kahaani 2 is also about another Vidya (Vidya Balan) and her daughter Minnie (Tunisha Sharma) who live in Chandan Nagar in West Bengal. Minnie cannot walk. The story takes a turn when Minnie is kidnapped, and Vidya has an accident. Inderjeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) is the policeman assigned to the case, and when he sees Vidya, he realizes she is Durga, a criminal wanted for kidnapping and murder.
Kahaani 2, essentially, follows the same contours as that of Kahaani. The film has the same broad template as that of the earlier film. A woman makes up a kahaani about herself, pretends to be someone else, and manages to game the system. In both the films, her assumed new name is Vidya. She has a sympathetic cop who helps her in her mission. She is compared to Durga in both the films. In Kahaani, Vidya kills the evil man who was responsible for her husband's death on the occasion of Durga Puja, a festival that celebrates the victory of Durga over the evil Mahishasura. In Kahaani 2, her real name is Durga Rani Singh, and she is tackling the social evil of child abuse. The two films have some characters that are played by the same actors, such as the Bengali head cop. The films also have similar scene structures. For instance, in Kahaani, there was an unexpected scene where Vidya was almost killed by being pushed in front of the metro train. Here also, there is a similar scene where she comes in front of a taxi. There was an unassuming serial-killer man in Kahaani. Likewise, there is a serial-killer woman who murders people using a blade. The films have the milieu and the ambiance of Bengal. In another little detail, we saw that in Kahaani, Vidya stays at Mona Lisa lodge. The man who was the manager of the lodge becomes an assistant cop in Kahaani 2. At some point in Kahaani 2, when Inderjeet is running after Goopi, we see something related to Mona Lisa in this film as well. There are replicas of Mona Lisa which Goopi makes to sell them to others. In Kahaani, Satyaki visits a school, and he sees that the children's school shirt has a swan on it. In Kahaani 2, Mohit uses origami to make swan-like/bird-like figures. Thus, the two films are connected but not necessarily have any relation in terms of the story. 
Kahaani 2 is about Durga. She is a strong woman, who is living life on her own. She writes in her diary that she likes Arun. At some point in the film, Arun shows her a scene of Vidya Sinha from her movie Rajnigandha. Durga adopts Vidya Sinha's name as her own to escape from the Dewans. Released in 1974 and directed by Basu Chatterjee, Rajnigandha is about Deepa, played by Vidya Sinha, who is conflicted between choosing her fiancé and her old boyfriend. The important thing about the film is that it is about whom Deepa chooses. She is not dependent on anyone and makes her decision on what she feels. It was a film that advocated a woman's choice. In addition, Rajanigandha was one of the few films, at that time, that showed an ordinary middle-class woman going out for work. As Trisha Gupta writes, "Vidya Sinha made her office-going seem so natural that I have never really paused earlier to think about how remarkable it actually was. In Bombay cinema, too, the office-going women of ’70s films, from Vidya Sinha in Chatterjee’s own Rajnigandha (1974), to Zarina Wahab in Gharonda (1977), or Ranjeeta in Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978), were still a huge exception." It is in this context that Rajnigandha and Vidya Sinha are portrayed in Kahaani 2. Durga, too, has a normal office job and works as a receptionist in a school. Later, she finds a job in another office in Kolkata. Also, Durga, like Vidya Sinha's character Deepa, has to make a decision between two choices. She says, "Mujhe kisi ek ko chunana tha, aur maine Minnie ko chuna." She could have gone away to London, but she chose to stay with Minnie. She makes this decision completely of her own volition. The film shows some other aspects of a woman's choice. Kahaani 2 showed the women leading the charge in having sex. It is Durga who calls Arun to her place where they have sex. Also, it is Rashmi, Inderjeet's wife, who subtly hints to her husband for having sex. It is important to point another detail. At an early stage in the film, Inderjeet visits Vidya's house and goes through her stuff. What was particularly striking was that we could clearly see the sanitary pads in the drawer. It is an exception to see a sanitary napkin in a Hindi film, where it is still considered a taboo to talk about them. But the film does not shy away from showing these; the same scene is shown in the trailer, too. Thus, all the above points are relevant as the film tries to portray the daily life of a woman, dealing with unusual circumstances. 
In 1983, a nine-year-old kid singing Lakdi Ki Kaathi in a film called Masoom won everyone's hearts. The kid, named Rahul, was played by Jugal Hansraj. In Kahaani 2, the same Jugal Hansraj plays a creepy man Mohit Dewan who sexually abuses his niece. In casting him, the film tries to play with the audience and makes a chilling statement that someone who looks masoom can turn out to be an evil monster. In fact, at quite a few times, the film shows how people condone crimes based on appearances (shakal dekhe ke lagta hai). Child sexual abuse studies have shown that in a significantly high percentage of cases, the abuser is usually a family member or someone known to the child. There is a particularly chilling scene where Mohit makes an origami item in front of Durga, as if this crushing and manipulation of paper are what he does this to his victims, too. The film portrays child abuse in a sensitive manner, and in a way, is educating the viewer. It is important to become a child's friend, then, only she can be free to talk. It is not a good idea to impose one's choices on children, and it is better that they make their own choices. It is in patterns that children bring out their issues, and it is important to have a conversation with them about somebody touching their private parts. It is also necessary for parents to not trust anyone blindly. For instance, at a particular stage, Inderjeet kept looking at the man who used to take his daughter to school, and the man started avoiding looking into Inderjeet's eyes, as if he has a guilty conscience. Perhaps, that man was hiding something. 

Kahaani 2 gives a little quirkiness to all its characters, ranging from the hospital patient to the criminal making fake passports. Early in the film, there is a disheveled man who collects plastic waste, and we see he holds a bottle of toilet cleaner. He will be the one who will have Vidya's phone. The creepy Mohit likes to make origami items. The serial killer uses a blade to murder people. Inderjeet's wife, Rashmi, does some superstitious trick before her husband leaves the house. The board carrying the name of the clinic where Vidya is admitted is always flickering. This occurs another time when Mohit has kidnapped Minnie, and the bulb starts flickering. In addition to this quirkiness, Kahaani 2 uses old Hindi and Bengali songs throughout the film. In the first scene of the film, Yeh Raatein Nayi Purani from Julie can be heard, as if like Julie, Kahaani 2 is about an unwed single mother. At some other point, Aya Sanam Aya Deewana Tera from Bade Dil Wala can be heard when Inderjeet is riding a bike to find someone. At another stage, Chhoti Si Kahaani Se from Ijaazat plays when Rashmi is asking Inderjeet about his ex-wife, something that happened in Ijaazat, too. There are a lot of other songs, including some in Bengali. Some of them appear to have a specific context, while others give something to think about its purpose.
Kahaani 2 has a terrific first-half, where it builds a fantastic thriller narrative, with a brilliant performance by Vidya Balan. However, I was left a little underwhelmed about its ending, as it became quite predictable. There is a running gag in the film where Inderjeet is often mocked for trusting his gut feeling. He did not get a promotion because he believed in it. He always believed in it. Eventually, his gut feeling turned out to be true. I kept thinking if that was also what the film trying to do with us—to trust our gut feeling, which we are hesitant to do so. After all, our gut feeling about the suspense came about to be true. Perhaps, in life, too, we should learn to go with gut feeling, sometimes, if not always. 

Dialogue of the Day
"Koi apni Diary me jhoot kyu likhega."
—Inderjeet, Kahaani 2

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dola Re Dola—Of Radha and Meera

Dola Re Dola from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas is one of my favorite cinematic moments from Hindi films. Set in the early 1900s, Devdas is the story of Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan). His wealthy family prohibits him from marrying his childhood love Paro (Aishwarya Rai). An embittered Devdas embraces alcoholism and meets a courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) who falls for him. The film is the story of these three characters, and is based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel Devdas. The song Dola Re Dola is picturized on Paro and Chandramukhi. In the novel, there is no mention of any meeting taking place between Paro and Chandramukhi. However, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas not only has a meeting between the two, but it extends this meeting to a full-fledged celebratory dance on the occasion of Durga Puja. Purists have questioned this aspect but, to me, the song is, fantastically, subversive as it tries to question the social hierarchies of that time. 

Before the song, Paro visits Chandramukhi and asks for mitti (soil) from her place for creating Durga's idol. It is believed that those who visit prostitutes leave their purity and virtues outside the house of the prostitutes, thereby, making the soil outside the prostitute's house pure and virtuous. This soil is used for creating Durga's idol. Paro also invites Chandramukhi to her place for Durga Puja. When Chandramukhi arrives, she introduces Chandramukhi as her friend in front of her mother-in-law. Paro convinces Chandramukhi to dance with her so that they can forget their heartache for some time. Thereafter, the song begins. In the song, Paro and Chandramukhi are dressed identically together in a red-and-white saree, and adorn a lot of jewelry. This uniformity in their dressing reflected the shared love they have for the same man i.e. Devdas. And, in this uniformity lies the song's subversiveness. It treats Paro and Chandramukhi as equals with the same stature. The two women dance together not in private, but in front of the society, underscoring their equal standing. Paro is married to a zamindar, and is the thakurain, a feudal term derived from Thakur which means a master, and represented the upper class of people. Chandramukhi is the tawaif, a courtesan who was shunned by all, and has no respect in the eyes of the society. In this context, the film treats the two of them as equals, and they are bound by the love for the same man. They sing, "Lag jaane do najariya, gir jaane do bijuriya." Let everyone stare at them, let the lightning fall. Paro and Chandramukhi are well aware of what they are doing. They know that they are disrupting societal norms. Even if the heavens strike, they do not care, because they want to dance for the man they love, and love sees no class barriers. 

A few moments later, Chandramukhi says, "Baandh ke main ghungroo," and Paro continues, "Pehen ke main payal." It is here again the film brings out the difference and the similarity in Paro and Chandramukhi by the kind of jewelry they wear. Chandramukhi sits on the floor, and shows her ghungroo, while Paro remains standing and bends to show her payal. A payal is usually associated with a woman's beauty and grace. Ghunghroo have been traditionally worn by classical dancers for centuries; however, it gained the reputation of adorning the feet of courtesans through Indian cinema, in movies, such as Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah and Mughal-E-Azam. Here, Paro, the upper class woman, wears a payal, and Chandramukhi, the courtesan, wears a ghunghroo. Thus, in Dola Re Dola, the two women sing about the jewelry they wear, based on their societal status, and despite these differences, the jewelry they wear is for the same purpose of dancing for the man they madly love. 
There could also be a religious subtext to payal and ghunghroo. In many Hindu texts, it is mentioned that Krishna's lover Radha used to wear flower anklets, and during Raas-Leela, the sound of anklets was heard. On the other hand, Krishna's devotee Meera used to sing bhajans in his name with ghungroo on her feet; also popularized by the song Ke Pag Ghungroo Band Meera Nachi Thi from Namak Halaal. Earlier in Devdas, we see the song Morey Piya, in which the dance of Paro and Devdas represents the raas-leela between Radha and Krishna. Jamuna ke teer baaje mridang, kare Krishna raas Radha ke sang. On the banks of the river Yamuna, the drums are beating, and Krishna does raas with Radha. Paro and Devdas are Radha and Krishna. In the song, too, we see Paro, as Radha, wearing a payal. At a later stage, Paro visits Chandramukhi, and she sees Krishna's idol in her house. Chandramukhi says to her that she worships Dev. Main toh sirf unki pooja karti hun. She tells Paro that for her, Dev is omnipresent, and if she sees through her eyes, she will find his essence in everything related to her. If Paro is Radha, who wore payal, Chandramukhi is the Meera who dances with ghungroo. Chandramukhi refuses to take ghunghroo from Kaali Babu, and refuses to dance for him. She waits for Dev to come because, like Meera, her ghungroo are for Dev. 
Payal and ghungroo have been a repeating motif in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films. His heroines usually wear payal. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, there is a point during Dhol Baaje, where Sameer picks up Nandini's payal. In Saawariya, in the last scene, Raj keeps Sakina's payal with him. In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, the sounds of Leela's payal are present throughout the film. In Bajirao Mastani, Kashi wears payal, and Mastani wears ghunghroo when she dances in front of Bajirao. Like Chandramukhi, Mastani refuses to wear ghunghroo when asked to dance in front of others. Like peacocks, mirrors, fountains, top shots, and the weaving motif (link), this is another pattern that is a signature trope in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. He has often said that his favorite director is V. Shantaram, whose films also had a lot of dance and payal, and these include films, such as Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, and Geet Gaya Pattharonne
Further in Dola Re Dola, Paro and Chandramukhi continue their conversation. Paro sings, "Maathe ki bindiya mein voh hai," and Chandramukhi adds, "Palkon ki nindiya mein voh hai." Dev is in the bindi of Paro, and in the eyelashes (sleep and dreams) of Chandramukhi. It is here we notice that though Paro and Chandramukhi are dressed identically, the only difference between them is the red bindi that Paro has put, while Chandramukhi wears no bindi. I am not entirely sure why is that the case. Perhaps, it has to with a red bindi being one of the signs of a married woman. Since Paro is married, she wears a bindi, and as Chandramukhi is not, she does not wear it. In a beautiful moment later, Paro sings, "Haan maang me bhar lena sindoor." Paro gestures her hands from Chandramukhi's midline to her own midline as if putting sindoor (vermilion) on both of them. Here again, the film gives an equal footing to Chandramukhi by making her feel like a married woman for a few moments, which otherwise, her society did not allow her. Kya tawaif ko mohabbat karne ka adhikaar nahi hota. Paro does not distinguish between their love, even if the others do not recognize Chandramukhi's love. The sindoor she puts on Chadramukhi and on herself, again, represents the same man they both love.
Like the comparison between payal and ghungroo, there is another similar comparison in the song. Paro sings, "Choodi ki chhan chhan me hain," and Chandramukhi sings, "Kangan ki khan khan me hai." In some cultures, choodi and kangan represent different context. Sometimes, kangans are associated with married woman. In moments before Dola Re Dola begins, Paro gives Chandramukhi the kangans that Dev had given her. These kangans were given by Dev's grandmother to Dev so that he can give it to her bahu. In doing so, Paro gives Chandramukhi the rights of Dev's bahu. This comparison of choori and kangan again emphasizes the difference between Paro and Chandramukhi but ultimately their similarity in loving the same man. 
In Bajirao Mastani, there is a similar treatment like Dola Re Dola. In the song Pinga, it is the two wives of Bajirao, Kashibai and Mastani, who dance together. Kashibai and Mastani are dressed in a traditional Marathi silk saree, with a traditional necklace, a khopa hairdo and green bangles. Both of them share the love for Bajirao. At one point, they sing, "Jo peer meri hai so peer teri hai." What I worship, you worship it, too. Like the sindoor in Dola Re Dola, they sing, "Are dono ki maang laage, sooni aadhi, aadhi laal."

Dola Re Dola is, thus, subversive in many ways. A married woman dances for the man she is in love with, but that man is not her husband. A tawaif dances also dances for the man she is in love with, even though the society does not give her the right to love any man. Dola Re Dola also becomes a song in which both Radha and Meera dance together for their Krishna. The song might not be what the author of the novel would have thought about. But that's the beauty of cinema. It provides everyone an opportunity to reimagine and reinterpret stories in their own way, and in the process, it pushes boundaries, and creates pure art that touches us all.  

Other Reading:-
1. On Bajirao Mastani (link)
2. On the weaving motif in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films (link)
3. On Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram-Leela (link)
4. On Black (link)
5. On Saawariya (link)
6. On Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (link)

Dialogue of the Day
"Jo shama mehfil sajati hai, kareeb jaane par woh jala bhi sakti hai."
—Chandramukhi, Devdas

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Befikre And Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge—A Tale of Two Films


Befikre is Aditya Chopra's fourth directorial venture in a career spanning more than twenty years. The film is the story of Dharam (Ranveer Singh), a Delhi boy who works as a stand-up comic in Paris, and Shyra (Vaani Kapoor), a French girl who works as a tourist guide in Paris. The film tells their story as they go through different stages in a relationship from lust to friendship to love. The film is the director's take on modern day relationships, unlike his other films that have often sided with traditional ideas of love and sexuality.

The first time that Dharam meets Shyra is at a party in Paris. Dharam often goes to parties to meet girls. In Aditya Chopra's debut film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), the first time when Raj and Simran meet, Raj says he has seen Simran before, perhaps, at Robbie's party. Simran replies that she never goes to parties. Dharam and Raj go to parties, but Simran is not like Shyra. Dharam flirts with Shyra but she rebuffs him by saying that she does not like Indian boys. He jokes that he also does not like Indian guys because they smell of methi. In DDLJ, Simran asks Raj as to why does he call her Senorita. He does so because his ex-girlfriend was Spanish, and she left him because she did not like Indian guys. This dislike of Indian guys makes one think if Shyra is like Raj's ex-girlfriend. From these beginning moments in Befikre, till the end, the film constantly reminds one of DDLJ. Either there is a direct reference to a scene in DDLJ, or, something is changed like the role and the situation, but the context remains the same. The film becomes almost like a retelling of DDLJ
Later, Dharam and Shyra hook up for the night, and she leaves him in the morning saying she is not looking for a relationship. When she is about to leave, Dharam jokes that, "Ek Hindustani hi dusre Hindustani ke kaam aata hai." In DDLJ, this was the exact same dialogue that Raj uses to trick Simran's father when he came to purchase beer at his store. Dharam and Shyra start dating each other. In Ude Dil Befikre, we see them getting drunk and snogging all the time. There is a point in the song, when Shyra and Dharam see a mannequin wearing a red Playboy underwear. Shyra steals that underwear and gives it to Dharam. In DDLJ, after Simran gets drunk, she serenades on Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main. In that song, too, Simran sees a red sexy dress in a shop on a mannequin, and she wears it, like Dharam does in Befikre. There is also a moment when Dharam and Shyra do the steps of ballroom dance, quite reminiscent of Raj and Simran dancing the same in Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam. 
At some stage in Befikre, Dharam gets caught by the police for driving under influence, and he calls Shyra to help him as his wallet was stolen. Shyra pays his fine, and speaks to the officer in French to get Dharam released. In DDLJ, there was a similar situation when Simran lost her passport as she missed her train. She was planning to hitchhike a ride but she is questioned by the police for her identity papers. It is Raj who comes and saves her from getting arrested by the police officers. Raj and Dharam even have the same color car.
In her book Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Anupama Chopra writes, "Rebellion is a part of Bollywood's formula for cinematic romance. Every decade has a defining love story in which the lovers confront their parents (Mughal-E-Azam, Bobby, Love Story, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dil). In DDLJ, Raj's dissent is unique. He rebels by refusing to do so. In a poignant scene, Lajjo gives Simran her jewelery—the only thing she owns—and tells them to leave. But Raj refuses. There are always two roads, he tells Lajjo, the right one and the wrong one. And though the wrong route is seductive in its ease, he will take the more difficult, correct path. Because, he says, he does not want to snatch or steal Simran. He wants to marry her with the approval of the family. He believes that their love will conquer all opposition." Raj wants to marry Simran with the explicit approval of her father. There is an exalted status of Simran's bauji as if his decision is the supreme and is all that matters. Parents play a critical part in DDLJ. Even for a month-long European trip, Simran had to literally pray to the gods. However, in Befikre, parents are mostly absent, or play a minimal supporting role at best. Dharam and Shyra casually tell her parents that they are going to be living together, out of wedlock, something impossible in the case of Raj and Simran. The conflict that the characters face in the film is not external, but driven by their own self, and their choices. In a moving scene in DDLJ, Lajjo tells Simran her life story, and begs her to forget the love of her life Raj and instead marry Kuljeet. She says, "Aaj main, teri maa tujhse teri khushiyaan maange aayi hun." In a similar setting in Befikre, Shyra's mother and Shyra bond over an aloo ka paratha. Unlike Lajjo, Juhi does not ask her daughter to forget happiness, but she tells her to find her own happiness, and hints her to not marry Anay. One mother is telling her daughter to not marry her lover, while the other mother is telling her daughter to marry her lover. While Lajjo reminded Simran of the shambolic state of the rights of Indian women, Juhi reminds Shyra of taking advantage of her being French. Apne French hone ka kuch toh fayda utha. 
Aditya Chopra's films have often portayed a conflict between tradition and modernity. It is quite interesting to see the film based on modern relationships names its lead character as Dharam, meaning religion. In Befikre, Dharam has a mother in Delhi, while his father is no more. It was the opposite case in DDLJ, where Raj was the son of a single father, while his mother had passed away. Raj's father Dharam Veer shares his name with Dharam. While Raj's father turns up to help his son, Dharam's mother never shows up, even at his only son's wedding. It is Raj who comes to India from Europe in DDLJ; it is Dharam who travels from India to Europe in DDLJ. Raj has a geeky friend Rocky, who looks a lot like Dharam's friend Mehra. There was a shot of Raj running with a ball in DDLJ; a similar shot is seen where Dharam runs with a ball in Befikre. Dharam keeps doing pairi-paina to Shyra's parents, like Raj used to do. At some point, Dharam sings, "Mere corn flakes me jo aaye," like Simran sang, "Mere khwaabon me jo aaye." The conversation between Dharam and Shyra often take place on a bridge; the important conversation between Raj and Simran during the palat scene happens on a bridge.
After a night out with Raj, Simran thinks she committed the ultimate sin of sleeping with a man before getting married. Raj says to her that he is not that kind of guy. He knows, "Ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai." While DDLJ reminds us of the Indianness of Simran even though she has been brought up in London, Befikre emphasizes the Frenchness of Shyra. She does not identify herself as Indian at all. She believes she is French. She has no qualms in having pre-marital sex, and does not shy away from looking for casual hookups, which prompts Dharam to call her a slut (for which he later apologizes). Simran is embarrassed by Raj finding her bra in her luggage. Later, Raj sees her bra when he accidentally rips a piece from Simran's kurta, Shyra shows no shyness and readily takes off her shirt, showing her bra. Of course, Dharam and Shyra were a couple at that time, but it reinforces the film's idea of liberal sexual values of French women. The original script of DDLJ had Raj coming to bauji's shop to ask for a pack of condoms; it was later changed to beer as it was felt it was too much of a transgression; in Befikre, the lead character strips down giving the audience a glimpse of his derrière showing no inhibitions.
In Befikre, there is Anay, who is Shyra's other love interest. He calls himself an old-fashioned boy, and in his own words, he is a cliché but classic. This love for tradition reflects in his life choices, as he is an Oxford-educated investment banker, working in a hundred-year-old firm.He gets engaged to Shyra. In this context, Anay was much like Kuljeet from DDLJ, but a much nicer person than Kuljeet. Anay and Dharam become good friends, like Raj and Kuljeet. At some stage, Shyra sees Anay walking to his apartment. Dharam remarks that he is not going to turn. Shyra remarks, "Palatne ka wait to 90s me karte the," She was just checking out his ass. In DDLJ, this was the iconic scene where Raj looks at Simran walking back to the train, and says to himself if Simran loves him, she will turn back. Agar yeh tujhse pyaar karti hai toh palat ke dekhegi. A few moments later in Befikre, Dharam and Shyra are walking on the streets. Dharam hears a few dogs barking and gets scared. Again, quite like the way Kuljeet got scared after hearing the imaginary growling of lions in the jungle. Then, in a latter scene, Anay takes Shyra to an opera, which casts one's mind back to the opera singer in Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane in DDLJ. We see Shyra wondering if she is the kind of girl with whom someone can spend his entire life. Raj also remarked to Simran that she is going to spend her entire life with somone whom she has not seen. There is quite a similarity in the lines they speak.
My favorite scene in Befikre is the exact moment when Dharam realizes he is in love with Shyra. This happens when Shyra calls him to meet her. She informs him that Anay had proposed to her, and she wanted reassurance from someone she knew that she is making the correct decision. Dharam sees her walk by, and then, something strikes him. He realizes that he is in love. Then, we see imaginary Dharam and Shyra, singing Je T'aime and walking along with Dharam. They sing, "Ne dis jamais je t'aime. Kehna na yaar pyaar hai." Never say I love you. If one recalls, this is also the same way when Simran realizes she is in love. Raj and Simran say goodbye at the train station, and Raj tells her that he is not going to come to her wedding. Raj walks away, and then, something struck Simran that she is in love. Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko Toh Pyaar begins in which Simran imagines Raj to be everywhere. Dharam and Shyra sing to never say I love you but deep inside Dharam is in love; in a contrast, Simran and Raj sing that even if you refute a million times, you are in love. The lyrics are contrasting the two situations. One is saying to not fall in love, while the other is saying that you are falling in love.
When Shyra decides to get married to Anay, Dharam gets engaged to Christine because he also wants to get married, though he does not love her. Dharam and Shyra like each other; however, they are getting married to different people. Like in DDLJ, Raj agrees to marry Preeti, when Simran was getting married to Kuljeet. At Shyra's engagement party, Dharam plays the tune of Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna on his saxophone, as Raj sang the same song at Simran's engagement. In the climax of Befikre, Shyra asks Dharam to break her wedding. On the wedding day, Dharam tries to break her wedding, and gets beaten up by Anay, and Christine's brothers. Somehow, Dharam and Shyra manage to escape from the wedding. Likewise, in DDLJ, Raj's whole purpose of coming to Punjab was to break Simran's wedding. A night before the wedding Simran asks Raj to elope. The next day, everyone is the family finds out that Raj is Simran's lover. Raj gets beaten by Kuljeet and his friends, and somehow, Raj and Simran manage to get together. While the climax of Befikre tries to be comical, the climax of DDLJ is more serious; however, both have the same things going on. The tag line of DDLJ was Come Fall In Love, and in Befikre, Dharam and Shyra literally fall in love in the end, and compare love to bungee jumping.
If all the above situations were not enough, there is one more reference. The poster of DDLJ has the film's title with a cap, and in another poster, there is Raj wearing that cap. There is a cap in Befikre, too, in the film's poster. In a reversal of roles, instead of the Dharam, it is Vani, who wears the cap in this one with the words Who Cares Mon Amour written on it, giving another throwback to the director's iconic first film. All the above points and situations appear to be repetitive but it is important to bring them out in detail, because Befikre is not only referring DDLJ, but in many ways, it is retelling the same story from a different perspective. DDLJ is the leitmotif of Befikre.
Befikre refers other films, too, including some popular ones, and some belonging to Aditya Chopra's own production house. Most notably, the name of restaurant that Shyra's parents own is called Indian Summer. This was also the English title of Yash Chopra's Lamhe. There is an early moment in Befikre when there is a chicken wings eating competition. There was something similar in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where Taani and Raj had a competition of eating gol gappe. There is a dance between Shyra and Dharam, again, similar to the one in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. In Band Baaja Baaraat, Shruti and Bittoo promise to not fall in love while eating bread-pakoras. Jiske saath vyaapar karo, usse kabhi na pyaar karo. The break-pakoras are replaced by crêpes in Befikre when Dharam and Shyra say they will not fall in love. This celebration of break-ups, an Imtiaz Ali concept, is now getting as common as Nirupa Roy playing mother roles. Befikre is the third film of 2016 to celebrate a break-up after Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and Dear Zindagi. Shyra keeps saying that she is tired and wants to stay put. Bas theherna chahti hun, ek jagah rukna chahti hun. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bunny faced a similar tiredness but he refused to admit it. Main udna chahta hun, daudna chahta hun, girna bhi chahta hun, bus rukna nahi chahta. There is another similar scene in Befikre and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani where the two protagonists in the two movies put their feet in water when they are confused about their life choices.
At one point in the film, it is seen that Shyra has an open copy of Chetan Bhagat's Half Girlfriend by her bedside. In Chetan Bhagat's own words,  "Half girlfriend, to me, is a unique Indian phenomenon, where boys and girls are not clear about their relationship status with each other. A boy may think he is more than friends with the girl, but the girl is still not his girlfriend. Hence, I thought we needed a term like half girlfriend." It would be too simplistic to relate this to the film's stroyline but there is a similar conflict between Dharam and Shyra to give a name to relationship. She was his girlfriend, and now is his friend. He is still jealous when he sees her with a man. They are something in between a couple and friends, like she is his half-girlfriend.
Half Girlfriend
In the opening song of the film, Labon Ka Karobar, there are multiple couples kissing each other. Some of these couples belong to different races, and some belong to the same sex. However, the theatrical version of the song does not have the gay kisses because the moral policing body led by Mr. Nihalani felt it would not be acceptable to the audience to see two men kiss. Besides the actions of the film certification board, one would expect a film on modern relationships to show a little sensitivity to homosexuality. However, the film caricatures it, like any other typical film. Dharam makes casual remarks stereotyping the gay community.
Befikre is a watchable film, with some great performances by its actors, especially Ranveer Singh, but by no means it is a film with revolutionary ideas. A lot of things that it wants to show have been done before. It is a revolutionary and a daring film for its filmmaker, whose films have always veered towards tradition. He is trying to make a point that he, too, can make a film based on modern relationships. In my other favorite scene of the film, Shyra explains the significance of the love locks bridge in Paris. Thousands of padlocks, tied by lovers, on the bridge were taken down as it made the bridge unstable. Shyra remarks that even the most romantic city in the world realized that no one can bear the weight of love. It is the same predicament faced by its filmmaker trying to make something different, but he is bogged down by the love for his own first film.

It was interesting that Befikre at many places calls Dharam as Dharma, which is also the production banner of Aditya Chopra's famous cousin Karan Johar. And, it also evokes Sooraj Barjatya's family drama Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! The holy trinity—Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, and Sooraj Barjatya—are known for their films seeped in Indian values. Last year, two of these filmmakers, Aditya and Karan, made a film on what they feel are contemporary relationships. The last pantheon of the trinity still more or less stands (though he tried an experiment in Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon). The icons of tradition are moving towards modernity. Their ideas of it are a little derivative but as they say, if one does not move with the times, there is a danger of one being left too far behind, which no filmmaker would ever like.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyar mein padna is like investing in mutual funds. Hum sabko lagta hai baad mein jab mature hoga na, tab return degaa. Joh hum nahi sochte hai woh yeh hai, ki investing in mutual funds is subject to market risk."
—Dharam, Befikre

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Arrival—Palindrome and Purpose

Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, is the story of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor at a university. Adapted from a short story called Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival begins when an alien spacecraft lands in Montana. The extraterrestrial beings in the spacecraft are called heptapods because of their seven legs. Louise is called by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Witaker) to help establish a contact with the heptapods, and decipher their language as in the past, she had helped them translate Farsi. Louise is joined by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and together, they work to find the heptapods' purpose of coming to earth. In Gravity, there was a mother who was dealing with overpowering grief of her daughter's death. In Arrival, too, we see flashbacks of Louise's daughter who succumbed to a disease, but when the film ends, we realize that her story is far too complicated to follow a linear pattern. 
Linguistics and language is the core theme of Arrival. The film is based on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis—the theory that the structure of a language shapes or limits the ways in which a speaker forms conceptions of the world. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is widely disputed among the linguists but of late, there is empirical evidence that supports a weaker version of the theory which states that language can have a small effect on cognition. When Louise interacts with the heptapods, she starts dreaming in their language. We believe that, perhaps, she is overworked which is why she is seeing flashbacks from her past. But what happened was that Louise's brain got rewired that she was able to communicate with the heptapods without any help. Like the time when she goes onto the spaceship after the blast, and she communicated with Costello without using any computing devices. She understands what they are saying. The flashbacks were actually flashforwards, which made her perceive time like the heptapods. While this is the central theory in the film, Louise also shares interesting anecdotes and the science about the language. She tells us that Portuguese originated in the kingdom of Galicia, and it sounds different from other Romance languages. In the Middle Ages, language was seen as an expression of art. Avatar depicted a new language Na'vi. Likewise, a language based on logograms was created for Arrival
At some point towards the final moments in Arrival, Louise's daughter asks her that why she was named 'Hannah'. Louise replies that her name is very special as it is a palindrome; it reads the same forward and backward. Few moments later, the film's twist is revealed where it is shown that conversing with the heptapods gave special powers to Louise with which she could see the future. In many ways, the whole premise of Arrival is also based on a palindrome. At first instance, it might not seem so, but if evaluated on the lines of the twist, the concept of the movie being a palindrome holds true. A palindrome is a word, a verse, a sentence or a number that reads the same backward or forward. The most prominent indicator of the movie's palindromic subtext is the film's ending, or should it be called the beginning. The story of Louise as seen in the film does not follow a normal linear trajectory. Initially, we see scenes of Louise having a daughter, who dies due to cancer. Then, it appears that Louise takes us on a flashback. We believe them to be Louise's past. Ultimately, it is revealed that all these scenes were not in the past time, but are actually part of her future time. In the initial moments of the film, Louise says, "I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn't work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, its order. I remember moments in the middle. And this was the end. But I am not sure I believe in beginnings and endings." Likewise, the movie has no clear ending and beginning. If the order of its scenes was reversed, it would still make a perfectly fine story.  
Related to the palindromic context, there is a certain lack of defined direction in the film. At one later stage in the film, Ian explains the research that he and his team had done on heptapods. Unlike all human languages, the writing of the heptapods is semasiographic. It conveys meaning, but it does not represent sound. The heptapods communicate using logograms—a circular form of writing that resembles ink-blots. The logograms, unlike speech, are free of time. In the sense that one has to know the full sentence before writing a logogram, where as in human language, this need not be true. The logograms have no forward or backward direction, and linguists call it a form of non-linear orthography. Like their language, the bodies of the heptapods and even their ship have no forward or backward. They think non-linearly, and, perceive time non-linearly. Thus, there is a palindromic subtext not only in the film's story, but also in heptapods, with no easily identifiable beginning or ending. There is non-linearity, or circularity, whatever we may prefer to call, underscored dominantly in the film. There is a moment in the film, when after the death of her daughter, Louise is walking all by herself in the corridor of the hospital, that is designed in a circular way, providing another hint at the film's circular motif.
 
When the film ends, it forces us to go back to all the other signs that were present in the film about time being non-linear, like the way we read a palindrome backwards to make sure if it reads the same. At one stage during the middle portion of the film, Louise's daughter plays with clay and makes a few animals. One of the clay animals she makes is a heptapod. If her daughter was in the past, she could not have made a heptapod. There are other color drawings that her daughter makes. In one of them, she draws a man, a woman, and a bird, and she says, "Mommy and daddy talk to animals." This was actually being compared to the time when Louise and Ian talked to the heptapods, and they used to always take a bird in a cage when they went to communicate with the heptapods, which is what Hannah drew. 
The heptapods landed their spaceships at twelve different places on earth, including Pakistan. The scientists in the film are not able to find any decipherable reason of them landing at those twelve specific places. While explaining about heptapods and logograms, Ian specifically thanks 'our friends in Pakistan'. I think Pakistan is put because of its connection with the Indus Valley Civilization. The Harappan script remains undeciphered but, similar to the logograms, it is assumed to have elements of non-phonetic symbols. Perhaps, that was the reason of including Pakistan, and also the map shows the heptapods landed in Punjab, Pakistan, where, in fact, the Indus Valley Civilization was based.
When Louise and Ian are able to establish communication with the heptapods, they name them Abbott and Costello. In Ted Chiang’s story, the aliens are called Flapper and Raspberry, so, I was a little curious if there was any rationale behind choosing those specific names. One of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies is named Abbott, so maybe there was something related to it. But some researchers have pointed out that naming the heptapods as Abbott and Costello is a reference to the comedy duo with the same name, whose most famous routine Who’s On First is based on language and miscommunication, much like the film's linguist theme. 
There is a beautiful moment in the film when Ian tells Louise that she treats language like a mathematician. He did not realize that there could be a lot more complexity in language, and, he jokes that he is single because he does not get communication. Unlike science-fiction films, such as Interstellar, where sometimes, the physics got a little overwhelming at places, Arrival focuses more on the linguistics. It is not a coincidence that even Interstellar had a linguistic connection where at some stage, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) hacks a drone of the Indian Air Force where he used Sanskrit as the coding language. There is a Sanskrit connection in Arrival, too, which would later point to one of the biggest flash points in the film. Early in the film, Colonel Weber asks Louise to translate an audio recording of the language of the mysterious creatures who have arrived on earth. Louise says that unless she sees and interacts with them, she cannot understand it. Colonel thinks she is lying and trying to join their mission, and he says he is going to the next candidate at Berkeley. When he is about to leave, Louise tells him that before he commits to the next candidate, he should ask him the Sanskrit word for war and its translation. Colonel decides to come back and tells her that the Berkeley candidate believed that the Sanskrit word for war is Gavisti, that means an argument. Louise says that it means a desire for more cows. It is a fascinating scene. From my limited knowledge of learning Sanskrit in school, I always thought Yuddham was the word for war in Sanskrit. At another stage, Louise tells Weber a story, which is still believed to be true, of how kangaroos were so named. When James Cook landed in Australia, a sailor asked the Aborigines what the hopping animals with pouches were called. One of the Aboriginal people replied that it was a kangaroo, which meant 'I don't know' but was misinterpreted as the name of the animal. The larger point that these scenes make is that there can be different interpretations of the same word. Later in the film, this point again comes back. After Louise and Ian are able to communicate with the heptapods, they ask them their purpose of coming to earth. The heptapods respond and Louise interprets it as 'offer weapon' which makes the defence establishment think that the heptapods were here for creating a war-like situation among the different countries. Louise defends the heptapods as she thinks language, like culture, is messy, and sometimes, one word can have two meanings. Scientists from other countries also believe that hepatapods meant 'use weapon'. It is only after Louise really learns the heptapods' language, she figures it out that the heptapods did not mean weapon, instead they talked about a gift. The weapon is a gift. 
The gift that the heptapods talked about carries a profound meaning, especially, in the times when the world is moving towards more isolationism. At some point, Colonel Weber reminds Louise of what happened to the Aborigines; a more advanced race nearly wiped them out. Later, Costello tells Louise that their purpose is to help humanity, and they are offering her, and the others a gift, as in three thousand years, they will need humanity's help. The larger point that the film makes is that if the human race is to survive, we need to talk to each other, and collaborate with each other. We need to speak and learn each other's language, because in some point in the future, humanity will be under threat, and a more advanced race (or a natural disaster such as climate change) can wipe out humanity. Instead the nations are indulging in their own specific narrow interest and fighting with each other. Hence, the film focuses on the criticality of non-zero-sum games. 
In game theory, a zero-sum game is a situation in which each participant's gain or loss of a utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. In contrast, a non-zero-sum describes a situation in which the interacting parties' aggregate gains and losses can be less than or more than zero. In Arrival, all the twelves different countries where heptapods landed were indulging in zero-sum games. For instance, in the film, Russia killed their own scientist when it found out that he sent a message to other sites. The Chinese spoke to the heptapods using mahjong, a game like chess where every idea expressed is in terms of victory or defeat, like a zero-sum game. Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) also advises to keep their research to themselves, without sharing it with their 'enemies'. He gave examples from history that talked about the divide and rule policy that the British used in India, and the Germans used in Rwanda to make different factions fight among themselves so that only one prevails. He says, "We are a world with no single leader." All these are zero-sum games, while Louise and Ian advocated that the purpose of the heptapods is related to non-zero-sum games. The heptapods landed at twelve sites and the one in Montana was only one of twelve. Similarly, different countries are also a part of the larger human race. We need to help each other instead of fighting among ourselves. Many need to become one to work for a win-win situation. We need to trade information with each other (as the world moves towards more protectionism). Louise is able to stop the war by telling the Chinese leader General Shang his wife's dying words, "In war there are no winners, only widows." Likewise, we are fighting a war with each other in which there are no winners. And, for that, we need to speak and communicate with each other. It is only then we will learn to stop misinterpreting things that are not actually meant. Hence, language is such a critical part of the film's theme. The Russian scientist sends the message that the heptapods told him that we have all been given weapons. The weapons are misinterpreted. What the heptapods meant that we all have been gifts. These gifts are the ability to speak and communicate with each other to come together because there is no time. In her future, Louise writes a book on her conversation with the heptapods. The book is titled Universal Language, again, underscoring the importance of humanity speaking a universal language. In her thesis, Louise had written, "Language is the foundation of the civilization. It is the glue that holds the people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict." Ian disagreed with her as he believed that the cornerstone of any civilization is not language, but science. Louise, eventually, proved him wrong, and this statement was also the profundity of Arrival.
In the film's final moments, when we are trying to make sense of Louise's life, she tells us, "If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things? Despite knowing the journey where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it." It is a thought-provoking question. Despite knowing that we all have a limited time on earth, and we will die at some point, we are so afraid of embracing the vagaries of life, that we avoid living life to its fullest. Early in the film, Louise asks the heptapods, "What is your purpose?" Perhaps, it is also a question that we all should ask ourselves. As Mark Twain once wrote, "The two most important days in life are the day you born and the day you discover the reason why."
Dialogue of the Day:
"If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?"
—Louise Banks, Arrival

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Notes On Some Hindi Movie Songs

A few years ago, songs from Manish Jha's Anwar were quite a rage. Maula Mere Maula and Tose Naina Laage continued to play on the radio channels many months after the film's release. Both the songs are masterpieces of their own. Anwar is the story of Anwar (Siddharth Koirala), a Muslim man, who researches on Hindu temples. Due to some circumstances, he is caught in a temple with some drawings. The police and the villagers believe he is a terrorist, who wants to bomb the temples. He is trapped in the temple, and there is no easy way out except a near certain death. While he is in the temple, he reflects on his life, when he was in love with Mehru (Nauheed Cyrusi) who committed suicide due to his impulsive behavior. 
Krishna-Meera
Tose Naina Laage has not been picturized in the film, but has an attached video with some scenes from the film. It is a very interesting video in the sense that it tries to challenge some conventional notions. There is a point in the film when Anwar's friend tells him the story of Meera and Krishna. He advises him that one should love like the way Meera used to love Krishna, and vice versa. Their love had truth, sacrifice, and trust. Meera's love was so strong that she melted and immersed herself in Krishna, and he did the same, too. Jahan pyaar me do log ek ho jaaye, balki yeh kahein ke ek or do ke paar ho jaayein. When two people unite in love, or rather, they cross all boundaries when they are in love. This forms the basis of the picturization of Tose Naina Laage. There is Anwar dressed as Krishna, playing his flute with an imambara in the background. He sees a woman dressed in a saffron saree, and runs towards her. She keeps running away from him, and then, mysteriously disappears. The subversion here is that, traditionally, it is Meera who is a devotee of Krishna and it is she who wants to see him. But here, it is Krishna who runs after Meera. The positions of the god and the disciple have been reversed. In the beginning few moments of Maula Mere Maula, we see Mehru, dressed in a burkha, is playing the flute, while Anwar is looking at her from the ground. She is Meera (how similar are the names Meera and Mehru) who plays the flute, while it is Krishna who comes towards her, like the Gopis who used to watch Krishna playing his flute while perched on a tree. The fact that the role of Krishna and Meera, being played by Muslim charaters, along with the stature of the god and the disciple being reversed challenges the stereotypical portrayal of Krishna and Meera. It is also noteworthy that the film does not even talk about Radha. The love between Meera and Krishna is portrayed as the purest form of love, and the film goes to the extent of saying that no other story, be it Heer-Ranjha or Romeo-Juliet, can compare with Meera-Krishna.
The lyrics say that mohabbat toh ek jaaveda zindagi hai. It means that love has an eternal life. There is another fantastic passage in the song. It means why would anyone wish to die when there is love. If one has love, even after death, his story lasts forever. Love has an eternal life. Then, we see many interesting shots in the song. We see an ant on a flute, a few fishes, and a lotus getting immersed in water. I am not entirely sure what do these symbolize. It could mean different things. Perhaps, something to do with life not ending with death, if one has love. All these creatures represent different forms of life. A fish cannot survive without water; a lotus blossoms only in water; and, an ant cannot survive alone. Or, it could be something related to Krishna and Meera, as there is a popular bhajan talking about Krishna's lotus feet and Meera's life as a fish. 

Shama ko pighalne ka, armaan kyun hai
Patangge ko jalne ka, armaan kyun hai
Isii shauq ka, imtihaan zindagi hai
Mohabbat jisse, baksh de zindagani
Nahee maut par, khatam usaki kahani

Why does a flame, wish to melt,
Why does a moth, desire to burn,
Life is just a test of these desires,
Love which gives someone life,
Beyond death, his tale lasts.

Whenever I read about Meera, I am reminded of Kiran Nagarkar's splendid Cuckold. At some point in the book, Meera's husband says, "We were that rarest of couples. Even after years of marriage we were madly in love. I with her and she with somebody else."  If only history acknowledged his love, too.

Song Credits:
Lyrics: Hasan Kamal, Sayeed Quadri
Music: Mithoon
Singer(s): Kshitij Tarey, Shilpa Rao

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Radha Kaise Na Jale from Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan is a beautiful song. The song's lyrics are based on the story of Radha and Krishna, and talk about Radha's jealousy when she sees Krishna flirting with the other women in the garden. Moments before the song begins, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), Gauri (Gracy Singh), and Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley) are standing in the temple of Radha-Krishna in their village. Bhuvan explains to Elizabeth about the immense love between Krishna and Radha. He tells her that Krishna was married to Rukmini, and Radha was married to Anay, but the two of them had this pure love between them that became an ideal for love. Even after eons, they are worshipped together. Their love was like a dew drop on a lotus leaf. Neither united nor separated. Kamal ke patte pe shabnam ki boond jaisa. Ek bhi nahi hue, aur alag bhi nahi. It is such a sublime comparison. While he explains this to Elizabeth, Gauri feels jealous of the attention that Bhuvan gives to Elizabeth. 
A few moments later, Gauri and Bhuvan start dancing on Radha Kaise Na Jale. Bhuvan is Krishna. He carries a flute, and wears a peacock feather, as Krishna used to do it. Gauri talks about the jealousy of Radha, which gives the impression that she is Radha. But the interesting thing is that the film hints that it is Elizabeth who is Radha. There is a particular point in the song when the expressions of Elizabeth give the feeling that she is jealous of Gauri. When the song finishes, she compliments Gauri as if trying to make up for her jealousy. The fact that Bhuvan's mother has the same name as Krishna's mother Yashodamai is another indicator that Bhuvan is Krishna. During the final scenes in the film, the voiceover tells us that Elizabeth went back to England. She never married, and became Bhuvan's Radha. The film explicitly points out that she was Radha. As Radha and Krishna did not get together, Bhuvan and Elizabeth were also not meant to be together. The differences in race and economic status between Elizabeth and Bhuvan posed a huge barrier at that point in time. Even though they could not be together, they still had this love that transcended time and space. At an earlier point, Elizabeth told Bhuvan that she was falling in love with him, but as Bhuvan did not know English, he did not understand what she was saying. Krishna was married to Rukmini; in the film, Bhuvan got married to Gauri, so Gauri was Rukmini. Though Elizabeth is more like Krishna's another famous devotee Meera, the film compares her with Radha, while Gauri, displaying shades of Radha, is more like Rukmini. During the song, we see that Elizabeth is dressed in white, Gauri is dressed in yellow, and Bhuvan wears both these colors—yellow and white—a lot like the two different kinds of love that he received from the two women in his life.

Song Credits:
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Music: A.R. Rahman
Singer(s): Udit Narayan, Asha Bhosle, Vaisali and Chorus

It is interesting that Anwar talks about Meera, and ignores Radha, while Lagaan talks about Radha and ignores Meera, when both of them could have replaced the other one in context in the two films. 

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Tujhme Rab Dikhta Hai from Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is truly a secular song. During the song, Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) and Taani (Anushka Sharma) visit a temple (Hindu), a church (Christians), and a dargah (Muslims). In the female version of the song, they complete the quartet by visiting the Golden temple (Sikhs). Actually, the young boys in the male version of the song are Sikhs, so the first song has all the four principal religions of India. What is interesting is that we see only kids at these places of worship. They say that children are like god. Bachche bhagwaan ka roop hote hain. Maybe that is why we see only kids at those places in a song about seeing god in a lover. He sees god in the temple, in children, and in his lover. 
Song Credits:
Lyrics: Jaideep Sahni
Music: Salim Sulaiman
Singer(s): Roop Kumar Rathod, Shreya Ghoshal

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The other day, I was listening to Sau Aasman from Nitya Mehra's Baar Baar Dekho. The song says, "Sau aasmaano ko aur do jahano ko, chhod ke aayi tere paas." A hundred skies, and two worlds, I have left to come to you. In Saat Samundar Paar from Vishwatma, the singer says, "Saat samundar paar main tere peechhe peechhe aa gayi, zulmi meri jaan." Crossing the seven seas, I came after you. Are they not quite similar in meaning except that the distance has increased subtantially in the second one? :) 

Sau Aasman
Song Credits:
Lyrics: Kumaar
Music: Abhijit Vaghani,Amaal Mallik
Singer(s): Armaan Malik, Neeti Mohan

Saat Samundar Paar
Song Credits:
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Music: Viju Shah
Singer(s): Sadhna Sargam

Dialouge of the Day:
"Mujhe koi bhi aisa nasha pasand nahin jo waqt ke saath utar jaaye. I love life."
—Harry, Mausam

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Neerja―Amazing Courage

I always remember Baradwaj Rangan Sir's piece on Aisha, which is one of my favorite pieces of writing in cinema, and I go back to it every few months. In his post on the film, he writes, "Even the way Aisha sips from a spoon has a calculated daintiness, just this side of precious, and it‘s only fitting that she reveals she’s in love by mumbling through a mouthful of gaajar halwa, as if alleviating the bitter onset of a grown-up emotion." It is such a wonderful interpretation of the sweetness of gaajar halwa. While watching Ram Madhvani's Neerja, I remembered the aforementioned scene when Neerja (Sonam Kapoor) reads the letter from Jaideep (Shekhar Ravjiani) and eats a chocolate cookie that he had given her. It is a heartbreaking scene when she reads the lines from Anand that life should be big and not long. In Before Sunrise, Céline had said, "I’m so scared of those few seconds of consciousness before you are going to die." Perhaps, Neerja had some own premonition of hers that her life is going to end, which is why she read Jaideep's letter to her before her birthday. She was proposed for marriage, and the sweetness of the chocolate brings her a momentary comfort from the proceedings happening around her.
Neerja is the story of Neerja Bhanot, a purser of the airline Pan American World Airways. She was shot and killed when she was on Pan Am Flight 73, which was hijacked by some terrorists belonging to Abu Nidal Organization. However, it was due to Neerja's sheer courage that she was able to save the lives of 359 out of 379 people on the flight. Ram Madhvani brings to life her story in his film, with Sonam Kapoor playing the eponymous role of Neerja brilliantly.

The film is meticulously researched with a lot of detailing. At one point, Neerja's mother switches on the geyser before waking her up. Neerja gets a polythene bag from under the mattress of her bed (like my home). We see that she reads a book by Mills & Boon. She picks video cassettes of the movies of Rajesh Khanna for her radio engineer friend in Karachi. We see a bunch of dholwalas in the background when Neerja comes to the airport. Since this was the eighties, anyone coming from or going to foreign was greeted with dholwalas at the airport. In the plane, a grandmother asks the airhostess if she is single so that she can fix her up with her single grandson, like all parents are fixated with marriage of their children. 
The film creates some really eerie moments that point to Neerja's impending death. In the first few scenes, a taxi driver blesses her with a long life, which will not be true. Later, her brother refuses to give her the Stardust magazine that she wanted to read, and he says, "Tu mar nahi jayegi agar nahi padegi toh." And, she did die without reading it. Neerja keeps repeating the line from Rajesh Khanna's Anand that life should be big, not long. Neerja's mother asks about a ring, which Neerja lost, as her mother thinks the ring was going to protect her. Neerja wants a dress for her birthday, which is in two days, and we know that she is going to die before her birthday. When she is getting ready to go to work, the terrorists are also ready getting ready. Her scenes are juxtaposed with those of terrorists as if both of them are preparing for some war. If she prays to the gods, they terrorists also do the same. At some other point, Neerja tells Jaideep that if he misses her, he can come and look at the billboard of her advertisement for a bridal dress. Jaideep will have to eventually come to that place. Initially, on the TV at Neerja's place, they are playing advertisements in which Neerja acted as a model. Later, when the plane is hijacked, the TV is playing the colorful lines of the rainbow that meant rukavat ke liye khed hai, as if signifying the interruption in Neerja's life. In the beginning moments of the film, a bunch of kids burst balloons continuously, making noise of a blast. Fascinatingly, a similar sound is made by another bunch of ill-prepared terrorists, but this time with guns. All these bring a slight chill to the proceedings in the film. 
 
Rukavat ke liye khed hai
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." It was not that Neerja did not have any fear. She got scared but she remembers her father's message to not tolerate any kind of wrong-doing. She believed her duty towards other passengers to be far more important. Even in the end, she goes to search the plane for the kids who were left behind, though she could have easily got out from the plane. I always wonder from where people get such exceptional courage in themselves. During the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, we heard such brave stories of Taj Hotel's staffers putting their life in danger to save their patrons. At many times in Neerja, I was reminded of the quotes from the Mahabharata. At one point, Neerja starts giving water to the passengers. The hijacker threatens her with a gun, and asks her what she is doing. She says that she is just doing her duty. Like Krishna had said to Arjun, to do your duty without caring about the consequences. Her father tells her to not only to do anything that is wrong, but also do not tolerate anything that is wrong. Again, like Krishna said that if it is wrong to do adharma, it is a bigger wrong to tolerate adharma. Adharma karne se bada paap adharma sehna hai. Neerja took the advice from her father, and gathered the courage to stand-up to the terrorists in her own way. She tolerated her abusive husband earlier, but this time, she will not tolerate any injustice. She had no weapons, and the only weapon she had was her immense presence of mind, and she used it to save the life of the people on the flight. 
Neerja also shows how some people react when they have fear. It's the fear of unknown that scares us all. Neerja's mother tries to convince herself that nothing will happen to her. She gives assurance to others that everything will be all right. Neerja's brothers start crying. The first passenger, in fear, blurted out that he is an American and not an Indian, without realizing that the terrorists were actually looking for American citizens. One of the younger terrorists, too, felt fear initially when all of them were stopped for checking at the entry of the airport. In the plane, he sees a young kid wanting to go to the toilet and tells his leader that he should let him go as he is only a kid, as if he understands that because he is young, too. One of the main terrorists took out his fear in the form of anger by hitting his younger accomplice. In the end, the terrorists start shooting everyone as they got scared and panicked. And, then, there is Neerja, who managed to overcome her fear to do the impossible. As the film's tagline says, "Fear gave her courage." 
One of the reasons that I delayed watching realistic films, such as Neerja and Aligarh, is that the tragedy of the real-life incident guts me. All the while, I was hoping that somehow Neerja manages to escape. The moment she slides down the door after getting shot was so moving. The film underplays some of its finest moments, but at the same time, it hits you emotionally. After that, Neerja's mother gave such a beautiful speech that I almost bawled. Really, there is no greater pain than losing your own child. Shabani Azmi delivers the speech with empathy and humanism, without a single false note. 
Neerja's life went through two different phases of claustrophobia. She was trapped in a loveless and an abusive marriage. She wanted to get out, and she managed to do it the first time. Perhaps, that might have driven her to follow the profession where she keeps on flying. The second time, she again got trapped in a claustrophobic space, that reminded her of her marriage. She manages to get out, but this time unable to fly again forever. In the beginning moments of the film, Neerja says that she has seen Rajesh Khanna's Anand seven times in the theaters and remembers every line from the film. She often repeated, "Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahin." Her life is a shining example of a life lived larger in her deeds than in years, which is why years later, she continues to inspire people who are her lifelong mureeds
Dialogue of the Day:
"Hamare me bhaiyon ko Veer bulate hain. Veer ko raakhi baandti hai behenein. Behnon se toh koi nahi kehta hamari raksha karna." 
―Rama Bhanot, Neerja