Saturday, July 15, 2017
One of the earliest adaptations of O. Henry's works in Hindi cinema was Bombai Ka Babu (1960). Directed by Raj Khosla, the film was inspired by Henry's story A Double-Dyed Deceiver. The film is the story of Babu, played by Dev Anand, who takes to crime from a young age. After coming out of prison, Babu decides to mend his ways. He goes to meet his associate, Balli, who tries to convince him to join in another heist. Meanwhile, the police raids Balli’s hideout, and arrests all his associates. Balli is released on bail and suspects Babu of being a police informer. When Balli meets Babu again, there is a fight between the two and Balli dies on the spot. Afraid of being implicated again, Babu runs away to Shimla, where he gets entangled in another criminal racket. Bhagat, the leader of the gang, wants Babu to go in disguise as the lost son of a wealthy man, who had run away from home two decades earlier. Babu becomes Kundan, and is received with affection by the wealthy parents. His younger sister Maya has some doubts about her returned brother but never expresses it. Meanwhile, Babu falls in love with Maya. Bhagat continues to blackmail Babu to rob the family of their possessions. In the climax, Babu discovers that Kundan was no one else but his dead associate Balli. The romantic angle between the brother and the sister was not present in A Double-Dyed Deceiver but other events including the final twist were inspired by it. Bombai Ka Babu's ending is rare and unconventional with hints of incestual relations as the two lead actors with romantic inclinations end up as brother and sister.
cited as the remake of Bombai Ka Babu, but unlike that film, there is no twist in the end in this film. However, the theme of lovers as a possible brother-sister duo was present in Zameer, too.
Noted actor Pran's son Sunil Sikand made Lakshmanrekha (1991) that was also a retelling of After Twenty Years. The film starred Naseeruddin Shah as Amar and Jackie Shroff as Vicky. Amar and Vicky are close friends. Amar is a police inspector, while Vicky is a criminal. At some point, Amar's father is killed before his own eyes by Birju. Amar attempts to avenge his dad's death by plotting to kill Birju as he had managed to escape conviction by producing false alibis. When Amar tires to finish Birju, he is confronted by Vicky, who has now become a police inspector. Vicky will not permit Amar to take the law into his own hands. The basic premise of two friends changing their belief in the criminal justice system over the years is inspired by After Twenty Years.
Most recently, Vikramaditya Motwane made the poetic Lootera (2013). Set in 1953, it is the story of Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and Varun (Ranveer Singh). Pakhi is the daughter of a rich zamindar of Manikpur. Varun is an archaeologist who wants to excavate some sites near her house. Pakhi falls in love with Varun, but he turns out to be a thief who steals all the antique jewelry and artifacts from her house. Devastated by his betrayal, Pakhi moves to Dalhousie. She does not keep well. Every day, she looks out at a big tree outside her window, and thinks that when the last leaf of the tree falls, she will die that day. Varun comes to Dalhousie for another robbery, but the police is looking for him. He takes shelter in Pakhi's house, and learns about Pakhi's last leaf theory. Varun had always wanted to be a painter, and in the end, he paints a leaf and puts it on the tree outside Pakhi's house so that Pakhi can live. In doing so, he not only paints a masterpiece but he also seeks redemption for his betrayal and proves his immense love for Pakhi. The second half of Lootera involving the leaf sequences is based on Henry's The Last Leaf, which was the story of an old artist Behrman who saves the life of a young girl Johnsy, suffering from pneumonia, by giving her the will to live. Johnsy thinks she is going to die when the last leaf on the ivy vine outside her window falls. However, the leaf does not fall, and she starts to get better. The same day she gets better, Behrman dies. It is discovered that the last leaf on the ivy plant was painted onto the window by Behrman, who died of pneumonia which he contracted while being out in the wet and cold, painting the last leaf.
Besides Lootera, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's directorial debut film Musafir (1957) has also been thought to have a few shades of The Last Leaf. The film is about a house and the lives of three families who live on rent in it for different periods. Musafir comprises three different stories related to the circle of life. The third story in the film is about a widowed mother Uma (Usha Kiron) and her son Raja (Daisy Irani) who cannot walk. Outside their house, Pagla Babu (Dilip Kumar) keeps on playing the violin. Pagla Babu is none other than Uma's ex-lover Raja, who had left Uma two days before their wedding, and after whom she named her son. A friendship develops between the young Raja and Pagla Babu. Raja tells Pagla Babu that he dreamt that there were big red flowers on the tree outside their house. Pagla Babu tells him that he will walk the day there are flowers on the tree outside. Meanwhile, it is found that Pagla Babu is suffering from cancer. Pagla Babu's health deteriorates and he dies. The day he dies, Raja starts walking and red flowers appear on the tree. Like it was in The Last Leaf, Raja walks on the same day when Pagla Babu, who had given him hope, dies. There is a contrast with Henry's story as instead of the last leaf falling, there will be flowers blooming in the tree.
In addition, commentators have also noted the themes of melancholy and waiting for death in Musafir to be similar to that in The Last Leaf. In his book Hero, Volume 1, The Silent Era to Dilip Kumar, Ashok Raj writes, "Although the film [Musafir] presented Dilip Kumar as Devdas reincarnated, there was a difference; the lover-sufferer, in this case, is not restless, but in a state of chronic depression, which finds expression not in self-indulgence, but in a kind of resigned sadness. He keeps on playing his violin as if announcing his inevitable death any moment. It seems that Hrishikesh Mukherjee took this idea from The Last Leaf, the famous short story by O. Henry. In his later highly acclaimed film Anand (1970), Mukherjee transformed this role of death-in-waiting to a highly spirited positive character (played by Rajesh Khanna), a cancer patient, who intends to take death merely as a way of life. Anand, unlike Devdas, lives every precious moment of life with full zest before accepting an untimely death."
For the sake of completeness, one of the episodes of Doordarshan's TV serial Katha Sagar was also based on The Last Leaf. Starring Supriya Pathak, Neena Gupta and Irshad Hashmi, the episode was directed by noted film director Shyam Benegal.
Henry had written, "There are stories in everything. I've got some of my best yarns from park benches, lampposts, and newspaper stands." His stories reflect that, and perhaps, that is what makes these films even more thoughtful as they help us discover the beauty of emotions in everyday life.
1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Hindi Films—Link
2. The Oedipus Complex In Hindi Films—Link
3. Court Judgements Citing Films—Link
4. On Raincoat—Link
5. On Lootera—Link and Link
1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Hindi Films—Link
2. The Oedipus Complex In Hindi Films—Link
3. Court Judgements Citing Films—Link
4. On Raincoat—Link
5. On Lootera—Link and Link
Dialogue of the Day:
Dialogue of the Day:
"Mera zindagi mein sab ne mera istemaal kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya."
Sunday, July 9, 2017
I have been having a bit of brain freeze for the last few weeks. I just cannot write anything and am struggling a lot to articulate. It seems I have completely run out of ideas. I guess it is the beginning of the end. And, yes, it has happened after the blog completed ten years this week; perhaps, it is tired, too. Just putting a bunch of shots which I did not get a chance to put earlier.
The feeling of freedom and exhilaration in the films of Imtiaz Ali, opening up of arms and feeling the wind—Sejal (Jab Harry Met Sejal), Meera and Jai (Love Aaj Kal), Aditi (Socha Na Tha), Geet (Jab We Met), Ved (Tamasha), Heer (Rockstar), and Veera (Highway).
Roses in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali—Paro (Devdas), Kashi and Mastani (Bajirao Mastani), Sophia (Guzaarish), and Gulaab Ji (Saawariya).
The character of Sophia in Guzaarish seems inspired by Frida Kahlo.
Looking at their lovers—Paro (Devdas), Pakhi (Lootera), and Charulata (Charulata).
Dialogue of the Day:
"College di gate de is taraf hum life ko nachate hai, te duji taraf ,life humko nachati hai."
—DJ, Rang De Basanti
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Rituparno Ghosh's Raincoat is a beautiful film. The film is inspired by a story of O Henry called the Gift of the Magi. The story is about a married couple, Jim and Della, and how they deal with buying Christmas gifts for each other, with their limited means. They both sacrifice their prized possessions to buy gifts to show how priceless is their love. Adapting to an Indian setting, Raincoat is about Mannu (Ajay Devgn) and Niru (Aishwarya Rai). They grew up in the same neighborhood and were lovers once. Due to Mannu's poor financial condition, Niru marries another guy. It is now six years later. Mannu has lost his job and needs money to start his own business. Niru, now a married woman, is dealing with her own financial problems as her husband suffered huge financial losses. She is also struggling to make ends meet. Mannu goes to visit Niru; they reminisce about the past, and make up stories about their perfect life. In the end, like it happens in the Gift of the Magi, a surprise gift awaits the both of them.
In one of the film's songs, Mathura Nagarpati, the lyrics ask Lord Krishna as to why is he going back to Gokul. Krishna was raised in Gokul by Yashodha and Nanda. He went to Mathura where he killed his evil uncle Kansa and became the ruler of Mathura. The song talks about why does he want to leave this great kingdom and go back to Gokul to his old love. His beloved Radha is a married woman who has moved on, then, why bring back the painful memories again. Why can't he forget her and move on?
Tumhari priya ab puri gharvaali,
Doodh navan ghivoo din bhar khaali,
Biraha ke aansoon kab ke ponch daali,
Phir kaahe dard jagao,
Mathura Nagarpati kahe tum Gokul jao.
The girl you loved (Radha) is a married woman,
Busy all day with taking out milk, cream, ghee,
She wiped away the tears of separation long back
Why do you want to evoke that pain again?
Krishna, why do you want to go to Gokul?
Although the song is ostensibly about Krishna and Radha, it mirrors the life of Mannu and Niru. Mannu and Niru are like Krishna and Radha. They were lovers once. But now a lot has changed. Niru is married to someone else and is busy with her life. In the beginning of the film, Mannu's friend Alok tells him to not go to Niru's place. Alok reminds him that he took him out to watch the same film again and again so that he can move on. Mannu's mother also tells him to not visit Niru. In the final moments of the film, Alok's wife Sheila tells him that women are practical. She says that at that time, Niru's husband would have come back home and she would be busy with him. Mannu believes that Niru would be reminiscing about him, but it is not like that. Niru would be busy with her own issues and she won't be thinking about him. Tumhari priya ab puri gharvaali, doodh navan ghivoo din bhar khaali. Yet, Mannu will take a journey to go and meet Niru—his Radha. Thus, we see a playing out of the song in the story of Mannu and Niru. Like the eternal love between Radha and Krishna who could not be together, but formed a lifelong bond, Niru and Mannu share the same bond. Even after years, they still love each other. There is a leitmotif of Radha-Krishna in the film's other songs as well.
Maajhi tora naam to bata,
Phir kaise pukare tujhe, kaise pukare,
Akele hum nadiya kinare.
Niru left Mannu because her parents fixed her wedding with someone who could provide her security in life. Niru had not seen the man she was marrying even once before her wedding. She married her [unnamed] husband for financial security. Mannu's financial condition was not strong enough to take care of her. The film never judges Niru for her decision to marry someone rich. She did what she had to do. More than often, humans make choices which they think are the best for them at that point. The consequences of those choices are experienced only later. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but as Max Baucus said, one cannot operate by hindsight. Even when Niru and Mannu are lying to each other, there is never a judgment on either of them. We understand their reasons of doing so and we don't judge them and their actions. However, there is a point in the film where it feels that the film wanted Mannu to have shown more himmat to convince Niru. When Niru is getting married, he comes and tells her that he has arranged the loan of the car that she wants. Niru tells him that she has known him for eight years, and he has shown his himmat only a day before her wedding. Later, the landlord also tells Mannu, "Agar kaleje me itna zor nahi tha toh kahe ki mohabbat." If you did not have guts, then, why get into romance? It is here that it feels that like Mannu should not have given up so easily after all what is the point of love if you don't fight for it.
There is an early point in the film when Mannu is crying in the bathroom. Sheila listens to his crying from the outside, and, later tells him that he should put the shower on so that no one can hear him crying. The bathroom makes an appearance a few other times in the film. On being asked as to why does she not travel with her husband, Niru says that she is afraid she will get locked in a bathroom on the plane and no one will help her to bring her out. Mannu laughs at her. Later, this bathroom again comes back. Niru tells Mannu that she wants to leave everything and fly away somewhere. Even if she is stuck in the bathroom of the plane, at least, she will go somewhere with it. She is locked even today, so, what if she is stuck in the bathroom. Mannu tells her that one cannot be locked in a bathroom forever; someday someone will come and open the door for her. Thus, both of them get their own bathroom scenes. He locks himself up and cries in the bathroom; she feels trapped in her house as if she is locked in a bathroom and wants to fly away. He has not moved on from his past and not married, still locked in the memories of the past, while she is locked in the burden of perpetual poverty. There is an element of entrapment and loneliness in Niru, like Charu had in Charulata. As José Arroyo writes about Charulata, "The film’s windows are closed off against the heat but seem semi-barred and begin to suggest a prison. She hears a bird. She’s framed by her house, sumptuous but overwhelming in its immensity: it takes her a while to get to the drawer holding her opera glasses. Finally, she peeks at the world outside, with its music and it drums, its workers. Life is available to Charu only through opera glasses and barred windows." Likewise, we get the feeling that Niru is trapped in her house, and here too, she keeps all the windows of her home closed as if she is in a prison.
The film's title Raincoat is given as it plays an important part in the film. The raincoat that Mannu wore had the letter that talks about his hardships, which Niru reads when she wears it to bring food for him. It is kind of ironic that a garment that is worn to hide and protect becomes the very medium through which something is revealed. Hence, the title is significant. In one of the pockets of the raincoat, Niru put her own jewelry so that she can help Mannu in her own way. Mannu only finds about it later when he reaches home. This is a classic trope of surprise endings in the oeuvre of O Henry as we saw in another recent adaptation of his story in Lootera. And, as in Lootera, there is a feeling of melancholy in the principal characters the film.
There is a point in the film where Mannu says that he has not come to break Niru's marriage. After this stage, we hear a lovely song in the background. The song is Meri Jaan Mujhe Jaan Na Kaho and was originally sung by Geeta Dutt for the film Anubhav (1971). Directed by Basu Bhattacharya, Anubhav is the story of the relationship of Amar (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mita (Tanuja), a married couple, who, after six years together, are trying to spice up their marriage. Mita is unhappy as her husband is always working. She tries to be intimate with him. However, Meeta's ex-lover Shashi re-enters Meeta's life, and finds a job in the same organization as Amar, throwing her marriage again in jeopardy. Anubhav was the first in a trilogy of Basu Bhattacharya films based on marital relationships in contemporary urban India. There is a lovely dialogue in that film where Amar tells Shashi, "Beeta hua kal aaj hamare beech tabhi aata hai jab hum aaj ko puri tarah jee nahi paate." The past memories come between us when we are not fully able to live in the present. Rituparno Ghosh pays homage to the rain song from Anubhav, which also fits beautifully with Raincoat's own narrative. The song has beautiful lyrics by Gulzar, and has many possible interpretations.
Sookhe saawan baras gaye, itni baar in aankhon se,
Do boondein na barsein, in bheegi palkon se.
It is kind of funny that when we meet people after a long time, we expect them to change as the general expectation is people change with time. However, if two people had been meeting all the while, the change is not observed and the expectation of change diminishes. Niru tells Mannu that he has changed a lot in appearance and as a person. He has become darker, has lost weight, and has become quieter and more pensive. He tells her that she has not changed and she is still the same as she was earlier. The two of them still remember a lot of their memories of past. They still have feelings for each other. She still feels jealous when he talks about any girl, be it his secretary or his fiancée.
Harry Potter Books
When he is narrating about his business plans, Mannu tells Niru that he plans to name his production house as "Rajni Productions", after the old TV show Rajani. He adds that his numerologist told him to change the name as a five-letter word is unlucky. He says he is planning to write it as Rajnee. But the fact is the original TV show was called Rajani and already had six letters. Years later, this would come true in some other form when Ajay Devgan would change his name to Ajay Devgn.
Shot in record sixteen days, Raincoat is Rituparno Ghosh's first Hindi film. Aishwarya Rai and Ajay Devgn give fabulous performances. They both look the part and channel the pain and the suffering of Niru and Mannu beautifully. They are ably supported by Mouli Ganguly and Annu Kapoor. The film's music and lyrics by Debojyoti Mishra and Gulzar add to the film's beauty. Over the years, the film has become a classic and even after so many years, it does not feel dated.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Kisi mausam ka jhonka tha,
Jo is deewar par latki hui tasweer thirchi kar gaya hai,
Gaye sawan me ye deewarein yun seeli nahin thi,
Na jane kyon is dafa inme seelan aa gayi hai,
Dararein par gayi hain,
Aur seelan is tarah behti hai,
Jaise khushk rukhsaaron pe geele aansun chalte hain,
Ye baarish gungunati thi, isi chhath ki munderon par,
Ye ghar ki khidkiyon ke kaanch par ungli se likh jaati thi sandese,
Girti rehti hai baithi hui ab band roshandano ke peeche,
Dopehrein aisi lagti hain,
Bina muhron ke khaali khaane rakhein hai,
Na koi khelne waala hai baazi,
Aur na koi chaal chalta hai,
Na din hota hai ab na raat hoti hai,
Sabhi kuch ruk gaya hai,
Woh kya mausam ka jhonka tha,
Jo is deewar par latki hui tasweer thirchi kar gaya hai."
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Phobia, directed by Pawan Kripalani, is quite a sophisticated horror film as compared to other Hindi films in the genre. The film is the story of an artist Mehak (Radhika Apte), who after being assaulted by a taxi driver, suffers from agoraphobia—fear of open spaces. Her friend Shaan (Satyadeep Mishra) makes her move to a new apartment so that she can get treated. The apartment building is full of weird and creepy people. Mehak starts seeing an apparition, which she thinks is of Jiah, the earlier tenant who used to stay there. However, the reality is far more complicated, and nothing seems to be what is expected.
Phobia opens with a quote by the great writer Franz Kafka—A cage went in search of a bird. The quote is from Zürau Aphorisms, a collection of aphorisms of Kafka, published by his friend Max Brod, after Kafka's death. Philosophers have interpreted the quote to be related to the themes of freedom and existentialism. In Phobia, Mehak is suffering from agoraphobia where she feels a fear of open spaces, and prefers to stay indoors. She is like a bird trapped in a cage, unable to fly out. Once she moves to the new apartment, she has become caged. Thus, Kafka's quote is befitting to some events in Mehak's life. Not only the quote, all through the film, there are bird-related symbols. At one point, we see that the tattoo on Mehak's nape is that of a bird. The door of the apartment has a statue of a black bird on it. Mehak's entire apartment is filled with decorative items with birds on them. Whether it is the paintings on the wall, or the plates in the kitchen, or the showpieces in her bedroom, everything has birds, giving a clear indication of the state of Mehak as a caged bird. At some point during the end, Shaan tells her that her fight is with herself, "Tumhari ladai khud se hai." The film, thus, is the story of Mehak where she has to fight her inner demons to get freedom from this cage. It is no coincidence that the film ends on Diwali, a festival that celebrates the victory of Ram over Ravan, the king of demons.
Birds in Mehak's Apartment
In an unrelated context, Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance had a similar thing with everything in Sona Mishra's apartment related to birds as well. The shelf contained birds, pigeons, and parrots. The walls had paintings of birds. In a scene before the Baaware song, Sona and Nikki Walia are sitting together, with shiny birds in front of them. At some other point, Vikram comes to Sona's apartment and picks up a bird that had fallen off. He is also wearing a shirt with a bird on it. When Vikram meets Shah Rukh Khan later, he is again wearing a shirt with flying birds on it. Though the context in Luck By Chance is entirely different from Phobia, the underlying theme of flying away from your struggles is there in both the films.
Birds in Luck By Chance
At some stage in the film, the psychotherapist tells Mehak, "Tumne jo kuch bhi dekha, sirf tumhara bhram hai. Tumhare andar reality aur imagination ke beech jee tod ladai chal rahi hai." Whatever she has seen, it is an illusion. There is a fight between reality and imagination in Mehak's mind. The thing to note about this conversation is that that the psychotherapist is herself using a technique related to imaginary reality—virtual reality— to treat Mehak; a method in which the person imagines that she is in a different world. It is this part for which I am struggling to come up with a rational explanation. For instance, note the scene when Mehak wears the virtual reality headset for the first time. When she is at the grocery store, the first thing we see is a poster of Spiderman. When she takes off the headset, her sister's son Joey is also wearing a Spiderman mask. When Mehak is asked to wear the headset for the second time, she visits a mall. In this second time, too, the first thing we see in the mall is a boy walking away with a Spiderman balloon. Clearly, the appearance of Spiderman in both the instances is not a coincidence. At other moments in the film, there are spiders creeping up the paintings in Mehak's apartments. When Nikki comes back from Manu's place, she says there were too many spiders under his bed. Perhaps, the film is trying to blur the boundaries between reality and imagination by using the same elements in both the cases. Someone could have a more lucid explanation but there is some implicit point that the film is trying to make by using virtual reality. Mehak does not need any virtual reality therapy because she can already experience another virtual reality in which she can see the future.
Spiderman and Spiders
There are a lot of other details for trivia collectors in the film. The apartment where Mehak stays has the nameplate belonging to Kripalani; no surprises there as the film's director is Pavan Kripalani. The apartment building is called the Overlook Apartments, a tribute to the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. When Nikki comes to meet Mehak, she is wearing a shirt that has Bhoot Raja Bahar Aaja written on it. The paintings in Mehak's apartments are, actually, famous paintings. There is Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. The opening scene of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was a tribute to this painting. Other notable paintings in her apartment include paintings by artists Vilhelm Hammershoi and Roy Lichtenstein. At some other point, Shaan mentions a list of notable celebrities suffering from agoraphobia, which includes people, such as Woody Allen, Sigmund Freud, and Paula Dean. He is about to mention an Indian name but we never get to hear it. I could not find any Indian celebrity suffering from agoraphobia, except possibly Parveen Babi, who locked herself in her last days; though to be fair, she was suffering from schizophrenia. Another interesting thing was the film opens with an exhibition of Mehak's paintings and there is a biography of her. In that she says, her husband asked her to try painting, though we never get to hear any background about him in the film.
Bhoot Raja Bahar Aaja
Paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Vilhelm Hammershoi, and Roy Lichtenstein
Phobia has some genuine chilling moments. It combines conventional tropes of the horror genre with certain new elements, with a strong feminist subtext. It is also quite futuristic in the sense that some of the concepts in it were used later in films, such as Arrival (the ability to see the future), and House of Cards (virtual reality therapy). It deserves to be seen, if nothing, then, for the exceptional performance of its lead actress, Radhika Apte, who is brilliant in every scene.
1. The feminist subtext in Phobia—Link
2. Phobia's script for some deleted scenes—Link
Dialogue of the Day:"Tumhare andar reality aur imagination ke beech jee tod ladai chal rahi hai. Please remember, agar tumne apne dar ko confront nahin kiya, to wo aise hi badhta jaayega."
—Dr. Khanna, Phobia
Saturday, June 10, 2017
At an early stage in the film, when Shaurya is moving to his new apartment, he tells his roommates that he is going home for a few days. His disinterested roommates are watching World of the Wild on a channel called Wild TV. The host of the show, a man inspired by Steve Irwin, is explaining ways to survive a difficult situation. He can be heard saying, "Never give up. Adventure is not about what happens out there. It is about what happens in here. The brave survive. The weak, they die." These lines effectively capture the film's theme and will ultimately become the motto that helps Shaurya survive his ordeal. His entrapment in the apartment is just like an adventurous encounter, as if it is another episode of Man Vs. Wild. The wilderness, though, is his own apartment which turns out to be as intimidating as a wild creation of nature. At a later stage in the film, the host again shows up in a hallucination of Shaurya. The host tells him about Charles Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest—the principle of natural selection, postulating that those who are eliminated in the struggle for existence are the unfit. During the last few scenes, Shaurya is again watching the same TV show when he is eating paav-bhaaji. The host tells him the famous Nietzschean quote about the abyss and gives his own version of it. He says, "When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. But what I say is when the abyss looks at you funny, punch the abyss in the face." The TV host's sayings become a guiding force for survival. And, as he advised that the brave survive by never giving up, Shaurya never gave up and survived. Even the film's poster says, "Freedom lies beyond fear."
What is also noteworthy is the film's portrayal of irony. The word shaurya means courage, and ironically, the character Shaurya gets scared by hearing the squeaks of a rat. Perhaps, that is why we see a cat drawn on the door of his room. The building where Shaurya moves is named Swarg Apartments. Swarg means heaven, and ironically, his stay at the apartment will turn out to be not a heavenly experience, but something closer to hell. When Shaurya enters the apartment, there is a 'Welcome' sign written using decorative paper strips. As it turns out, this welcome would be so nightmarish that he won't even be able to get out. At a later stage, when Shaurya is hungry, he eats the remaining few pieces from the pack of biscuits he had brought along with him. We see that it is Good Day; as if there could be any other brand so befitting to ironically depict how his day was going.
There is another moment in the film when Shaurya is lying beside a cockroach. The cockroach has turned upside down and is struggling to get back on its feet. He tries to help the cockroach, but somehow, it manages to turn itself back on its own. Shaurya keeps watching the cockroach's struggle, and then, he also decides to get up on his own feet; perhaps, getting some inspiration from it. At a later point, he sees the cockroach at the same place but it has died. It is seeing the cockroach in that state that he realizes that he, too, will die there. But he does not want to die, so, he gets pumped up to get out of the building.
Trapped also reminds us of other survivor dramas, such as 127 Hours and Life of Pi. But, somehow, the one film that kept coming to my mind was Room. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, Room is the story of Joy and her five-year-old son Jack who live in a shed they call the Room. Joy and Jack are captives of a man they call Old Nick, Jack's biological father, who abducted Joy seven years prior and routinely rapes her. Once a day, Joy and Jack scream as loud as they can, hoping that someone can hear them. In Trapped, Shaurya, too, tries every trick to make his voice heard, but as he says, no one can hear him, or pretends to not hear even if they can. In Room, after Joy and Jack are released, they go for a visit for one last time to the room where they had spent seven years of their life. When Shaurya manages to escape from the building, he also visits the same apartment where he was trapped. Perhaps, as a way to gain some closure or as a reminder of something that changed the course of his life forever.
Suketu Mehta, in his book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, writes, "All great cities are schizophrenic said Victor Hugo. Mumbai has multiple personality disorder." There is a certain romanticism associated with the city of Mumbai, and it is often called as the city of dreams. But there is a darker underbelly associated with the city, too. Trapped shows this other side of Mumbai—harsh, uncaring, and aloof. People don't listen to you. People try to scam you. Since every inch of horizontal space has been occupied, it can only grow vertically. And, as it moves up vertically, it becomes even more and more distant.
The scenes about the food choices and beef ban seem a little out of place in the film. It was making a political point as well given the recent news regarding bans on certain food items. The sequence where it starts rain raining, and where Shaurya talks to the rat are some of my favorite portions in the film. I was also intrigued by the relationship of Shaurya and God. Shaurya was a God-fearing person. He took the picture of Hanuman with him to his new place. He does not eat non-vegetarian food because he feels it is not right. In the end, he keeps staring at the picture of Radha-Krishna when he is about to eat paav-bhaaji. I kept thinking what was going on in his mind. Did he believe in God anymore given the ordeal he went through? He never ate non-vegetarian food and still this happened to him, so, did this change his belief in having a moral code? Or, was he just thanking God for getting out.
Vikramaditya Motwane's earlier films—Udaan and Lootera—also exhibited the theme of entrapment, both literal and metaphorical. The word udaan, which means flight, can be described as the antonym of the word trapped. In Lootera, Pakhi thinks that her life is trapped in the last leaf of a tree as if it is a tota (parrot) from the Bheel Raja ki Kahaani that her father used to tell her. At a surface level, Trapped is about a man getting trapped in an apartment, but the film is also about other entrapments. Five minutes in the film, Noorie tells Shaurya that she is getting married to some other guy. Immediately after this, the film's title Trapped appears on a black screen as if hinting that this is the beginning of some kind of entrapment. I remember reading a piece by Priya Ramani on Tanu Weds Manu Returns where she had written about Tanu. She had explained, "When she (Tanu) leaves him (Manu), her relief is palpable. Her curly hair, tied in a bun, comes undone. The film-maker probably meant it to symbolize her return to her wild former self but as a fellow curly-haired person, I can guarantee it was as much about the respite of not being around Manu." Interestingly, we see a version of it in Trapped as well. Noorie has her hair always untied when she and Shaurya are seeing each other. However, in the last few scenes, when she comes back, her hair is tied in a bun, not only as a mark of her being married but also as another symbol of being trapped in relationships, like the film's theme. The end credits say that the property dealer's name was Hawk McNab as if this another kind of entrapment where the dealer was like a hawk waiting to trap Shaurya as his prey.
Trapped is also about our entrapments and the loneliness of the modern day city life. We have become slaves of technology, living in our own cocoons. In the wonderful opening lines of Lage Raho Munnabhai, RJ Jhanvi summarizes it beautifully. "Internet se duniya me toh touche me hai, lekin pados me kaun rehta hai, jaante tak nahi. Agar yahi jeena hai, toh phir marna kya hai." We are trapped in relationships; trapped in the daily mundane routine; trapped in the struggle to make a living; trapped in the rules of the society; trapped in something we are not (as we saw in Tamasha). In the film's very last scene, Shaurya revisits the apartment where he had been trapped. He is looking out of the window from where he escaped and the shadow of the railings falls on his face, giving an illusion of being trapped. He goes away and the film ends with the shadows as if telling us that we may think we are free, but it is an illusion and we are still trapped in something or the other.
Dialogue of the Day:
"When the abyss looks at you funny, punch the abyss in the face."
Monday, May 29, 2017
—My heart is wounded, O Lord. Rangoon is set in the 1940s; thus, it refers to the music of that era. In addition, this is also one of the early references in the film about a chot, or a wound. This symbol of a wound is repeated quite a few times later as well. After Julia comes back to India from the other side, Rusi gives her a ring, but on seeing a wound on her ring finger, he says, "Zakhm hai; bhar jaaye to pehen lena." Julia replies that it will not heal anytime soon, and she forcefully wears the ring, even if it pains her because it will remind her that it is not a dream. The wound is nothing but a symbol for Nawab's love, which is not going to heal anytime soon. Later, in one of her shows, she blindfolds herself and aims to throw some knives at Nawab. One of the knives misses Nawab only by a few inches, and he is wounded on his arm. Julia realizes that she hurt him and she wanted to apologize to him for it. In another related scene, Julia and Rusi engage in a sword fight during one of her shows. Rusi figured out that she was in love with Nawab. Rusi also wounds Julia by the sword. On being asked if she was hurt, Julia replies that being wounded is a part of the game. Rusi adds, "Kabhi kabhi chot kahi lagti hai, aur zakhm kahi aur." Sometimes, the wound is in one place, and the pain at some other place, as if he was conveying that he was hurt by Julia. All the three of them talk and bear the pain of wounds—external or internal—and these wounds are a symbol for love.
There is also a contrast that the film establishes in the nature of relationships of Julia-Rusi, and Julia-Nawab. Nawab treats Julia as a woman. At one point, he calls her simply an aurat, a woman. On the other hand, Rusi calls Julia as 'Kiddo' as if she is a kid. He used to pat his thigh and asks her to come and sit on it, as if she is a small kid whom he tries to pamper. At some stage, he tells her he did not even realize that she has grown up. When Nawab and Julia are in Burma, they play in the mud [bringing back memories from that song from Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi]. Even after they are in India, Nawab and Julia often lie together in the sand, which is how Rusi gets to know about their affair—by the sand particles on their bodies. They get dirty together. In a contrast, after Julia comes back from the other side, Rusi and Julia instead of getting dirty, they clean up together. They lie in the bathtub taking a bath together. At an earlier point, Nawab sees the scar on Julia's back. He tells her it is beautiful. Just a few moments later, Rusi also looks at the scar on her back, and remarks that it is ugly. He recommends that a new cosmetic surgeon is coming to town and she should get it removed. While Nawab accepts Julia with all her scars and flaws, Rusi tries to change her into something of a more refined character. He even gave her a new name and a new identity. While Rusi uses Julia for his benefit, Nawab removes leeches from Julia's body, again a symbol of the contrast in the two relationships.
—Rusi and Nawab; like India has to decide the path to follow—the non-violence of Gandhi, or the armed struggle of Subhas Chandra Bose. Earlier, Julia used to apply fairness creams, which is why Nawab said that India is a slave of white people, again, a subtle hint of comparing Julia to India.
There are a few other touches from Haider as well. At some point in Haider, Gazala walks into her old house that was destroyed by the Indian Army to meet her son. When she enters the house, there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that broken mirror, we see two faces of her. On seeing her, Haider remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke." There is a similar scene in Rangoon when Julia, Nawab and the Japanese soldier find a church. We see Julia in the broken mirror in the church. In fact, all throughout the film, Julia is found near the mirrors. In her first scene in the film, she is seen in front of a mirror. Later, in many a scene, she is often found near a mirror. Perhaps, it was again a symbol of her trying to find her own identity. As at some later point, she says to Rusi, sometimes, she is Miss Julia, sometimes she is Mrs. Billimoria; he calls her whatever she wants. At some stage, she looks at Nawab through the mirror and realizes that she hurt his left arm; but he tells her that it was the right arm, which is a sign of the film's intelligence that it thought about this subtle difference. There is also the signature scene that is present in almost all of Vishal Bhardwaj's films where the lovers are seen together in the mirror. Here, in Rangoon, too, a similar shot is present. It is fascinating to note these touches that the filmmakers try to bring in all their films.
Mirrors in Vishal Bhardwaj's Films
Julia's character is ostensibly inspired from Fearless Nadia, one of the earliest female-leads in Indian films. The film opens with the people, who play an important part in the making of a film, singing about the star Julia. It is noteworthy that all of them are men. They are shooting the film Toofan Ki Beti. A few moments later, Julia appears. She performs some stunts and helps rescue another woman character, like a hero. Later, one of the commentators, actually, calls her the hero of the film. During the second half, she performs some real stunts from a train; the same song Julia again plays but this time, she saves a man, Nawab, from the English forces. This is not a part of any of her films, but she does it for someone important in her life. She has become the savior. Later, she tells Nawab that she will join the Jhansi Ki Rani Regiment (which coincidentally is also one of Kangana's upcoming films; talk about art imitating life). In an old piece in The Caravan magazine, Baradwaj Rangan had written on the female characters in Vishal Bhardwaj's films. He had written, "Vishal Bhardwaj's ultra-strong female characters are united by loss, manipulation and a haunting trace of vulnerability." The same description could, in some ways, aptly describe Julia, too. But the difference is Julia's character arc progresses through these different characteristics. From silently acquiescing to the British rule to rebelling against them; from being called as Rusi's parrot to calling herself God who can do anything; from a vulnerable kiddo to a strong woman, Julia comes on her own in the film.
Since the film is set in the early 1940s, there are other references to that era. When Rusi tells Julia she will not work after their wedding, she tells him that Himanshu also let Devika work. Himanshu was one of the founders of Bombay Talkies studio, and Devika is widely believed to be the first lady of Indian cinema. At some places in the film, there are film posters of that time, such as Pukar (1939) and King Kong (1933). There is a hat tip to All the world's a stage line by Bhardwaj's favorite Shakespeare. It is also noteworthy that there is a song Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon from Patanga (1949), and in this film, there is a song Mere Miya Gaye England, as if making some point with the expectations of the listener.
PukarAt the heart of it, Rangoon is about loyalty—loyalty to the cause. Is there anything more precious than your life? Yes, something for which you can die for. This is the premise of Rangoon. There is a lovely moment in the song Yeh Ishq Hai where Nawab collects the melted wax from the candle. Like a candle burns itself to death for giving light to others, his own cause is worth dying for him. As the lyrics say, "Jalte hi rehna hai, baaki na main na tu." Nawab knew he is not going to survive after the Britishers capture him, so, he got himself killed. I was a little irritated by Julia coming back to the bridge when it is obvious that Nawab is going to get killed. Does not she know that they killed Zulfi and Mema in front of her own eyes when they told her they won't? But I guess for her, something she could die for was Nawab, and as she said to Rusi, she already died with Nawab.
The time when Julia, Nawab, and Hiromichi are traversing through the wilderness of Burma forms some of the most beautiful moments in the film. Hiromichi tells his background story, where he wanted to become a singer, but due to war, he had to join the army. He graduated from the music school. He wants to eat his favorite dish prepared by his mother, and he wants to go home. He plays the mouth organ and Julia sings Tippa, and we realize the futility of war in dividing us and the power of music in uniting us. When Hiromichi is about to escape, he does not want to shoot Nawab and Julia, but he said a Japanese soldier cannot go back in defeat as no one will understand. Nawab says to go because his mother will understand. As Washington Irving once wrote, "There is an endearing tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart." At that point, Hiromichi bows down in front of Nawab, and then, leaves. Sometimes, a small moment as this becomes the most powerful moment of it all.
Other Reading:1. On Haider—Link
2. On Detective Byomkesh Bakshi—Link
3. Baradjwaj Rangan on female characters—Link
4. Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy books for opium wars
Dialogue of the Day
"Vo aatish hai jo aashiq hai."
"Mohabbat jaan boojh ke toh nahi ki jaati. Bas ho gayi."