Saturday, December 30, 2017

What I Learnt From The Movies in 2017

Every year, I try to note down some moments and learnings that the films of the year gone by gave me. The year 2017 was the year of small films, but as always, there is a lot to learn from the characters in the movies. Here are few moments from the films of the year 2017 that have stayed with me. 
  • The last few minutes of Meri Pyaari Bindu, perhaps, my favorite movie of the year, where Bubla makes his pyaari Bindu read his story, his love story, that he had been writing for more than three years, have stayed with me months after watching the movie. Bubla was Bindu's Chatth Wala Kamra (the room in the attic), where she used to go hide when she was feeling emotional. It is only fitting that Bindu and Bubla have their last meeting in the attic. Meri Pyaari Bindu taught us that love stories are much difficult to write as compared to horror stories. Life does not give us the option to write our own ending but we can always do that in the stories we write. Bubla did not get the ending he wanted with his Bindu. He is heartbroken, but at the same time, I got the feeling that he will be fine. I have always wanted to be a writer, which is why there is so much to relate to Bubla. I cannot fully express in words the impact of the movie because the movie has to be felt personally. At some point in the film, Bubla tells Bindu that he tends to grow on people slowly. I hope the film will grow on other people, too, but it will definitely stay with me for a long time. And, yes, Bubla is now on my list of favorite characters in films, some of whom include Sid (Dil Chahta Hai), Rahul (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), and Rahul (Kapoor & Sons). 
  • The absolutely lovely A Death in the Gunj showed us how inhumanely we treat some men who don't fit into the mold of an alpha male. It is as if they do not matter, so, they can be insulted, mocked, and bullied leading to their alienation and estrangement. Shutu, a pure soul who would not even touch a piece of cake meant for someone else, struggles to come to terms with the death of his father, trying to be a man in a society that does not understand his sensitive side. The ignominy of being forgotten—how could he face it? By leaving his mark using his blood on the family tree that carried everyone's name except his. 
  • There is a beautiful scene in Lipstick Under My Burkha where Buaji goes to the city mall for the first time and is struggling to get on to the escalator. A little girl offers her hand to Buaji to help her. It is this tiny little moment I still remember from the film. The film makes us realize that even our elders have desires. I don't know if the movies will ever show us a scene similar to the one where Buaji touches herself in the bathroom. 
  • Jagga Jasoos showed us we can solve murder cases using oversoaked rajma beans, fly a plane after reading a book, and survive in Africa with no money by simply dancing on the streets. Additionally, the film tells us that people with a bad luck are equally important contributors to any mission. It might be funny to witness the things that happen to such people, but somehow, their bad luck brings in good luck to others. Instead of mocking and ridiculing her, Jagga convinces Shruti to be his partner in his quest to find his father. People who succeed despite having a bad luck have no other factor except their own hard work as a reason for their success. And, the other beautiful learning that the film tells us is the philosophy of the song Khaana Khaake. Everyone dies, so eat, drink, and be merry. "Banerjee, Ahuja, aur Khambata. Okay, Tata keh gaye, keh gaye. Dekho sab chale gaye, chale gaye. Life ki simple si philosophy yeh jaan lo, hum yahan do din ke mehmaan hain, yeh maan lo, nonstop ek party hai, jahaan sab ko aana hai, aur khaana kha ke daaru pi ke chale jaana hai." It is deeply poignant that in the same song they are celebrating the birthday of a dead person.
  • In Jab Harry Met Sejal, Harry tells Sejal that in life there should be someone whom we should miss. He, then, starts calling out her name to the waves and does that Sejal wave action with his hands. It is a beautiful moment in the film where a man is calling out to the water wherein the meaning of his lover's name is also water. When Aditya sings, he remembers Geet because she brings music to his life, and she becomes his song—geet. When Ved is missing Tara, he looks at the stars—tara, and screams Tara. When Heer goes away from Jordan's life, he becomes a Ranjha to his Heer. The name Janardhan itself is an anagram of Raanjhad. The time that Ali's characters spend together becomes the best time of their lives. Here, Sejal calls it a dream that is too good to be true. Harry never felt as good in his life as he did when he was with Sejal. Isse accha toh life me nahi hua mere saath. So, why should he forget that beautiful time? Even if he does not meet Sejal again, there is the acknowledgment that the time was a special moment in his life. And, nothing comes close to the sheer beauty of the songs Safar and Hawayein this year in films.
  • At an early point in Newton, an election supervisor asks Newton if he knows his own character flaw. Newton replies that he is far too honest. The supervisor refutes him by saying it is not his honesty, but his arrogance about being honest, that is his problem. Imaandari ka ghamand. He is not doing anyone a favor by being honest. He wants people to thank him for doing his own duty. This is a relevant learning for our times. In the Indian discourse, we have seen many examples of bureaucrats being raised on a pedestal for simply doing their job. Additionally, this is also relevant in the wake of the recent #MeToo campaign, where a section of men considered themselves good because they did not harass women. Not harassing someone is nothing to boast about when the behavior is only expected from a human being who belongs to the society. Additionally, Newton reiterates that expecting rapid change is foolishness. Koi bhi bada kaam ek din me nahi hota. Saalon lag jaate hain jungle banane me.
  • Simran showed us that one can learn to rob a bank by watching YouTube videos. If a thief brandishes a weapon during the time of the robbery, it carries more punishment than a robbery conducted without one. More importantly, Simran gave us some pearls of wisdom about relationships through Sameer, one of the most sorted men this year in films. Unlike many other characters, Sameer is no man-child; rather, he is someone who is working hard to reach where he wants to be. During his chat with Praful, he tells her that if a person is given too many responsibilities from a young age, he becomes a little hollow from inside, but when he looks at her, he feels how can anyone be so complete in oneself. Koi apne aap me itna sampoorn kaise ho sakta hai. He adds, "Insaan ko kabhi bhi puri tarah se samjha nahi ja sakta. Kyunki badalate rehna hi insaan ki fitrat hai. Change is the only constant. Aur mujhe lagta hai ki rishton ko samajhna nahi chahiye, unhe sirf nibhaana chahiye." One can never fully understand someone else because it is human nature to change. One should not try to understand relationships, instead, one should fulfill them and be true to them. Sameer, truly, did that when it came to giving all to his relationships, which is why he gave his entire money to Praful to help her, without even her asking him to do such.
  • Rangoon taught us about love and loyalty. There is a point when the Japanese soldier Hiromichi tells his background story and says he wanted to become a singer, but due to war, he had to join the army. 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 has to because a Japanese soldier cannot go back in defeat as no one will understand. Nawab says to just 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. 
  • Apart from teaching us about Ali Baba needing to enter the gufaShubh Mangal Saavdhan tells us that running away is not going to help solve the problem. It underscores that a woman's sexual pleasure is also important. Marriage is a union of two adults, and requires the two people to lift each other up (no pun intended). Masculinity is not just about the sexual performance in bed. Mard woh nahi hota jise dard nahi hota, mard woh hota hai jo na kisi ko dard deta hai, na dene deta hai. The film also showed us two mascots of emasculation, Jimmy Shergill and Ayushmann Khurrana, together. 
  • There is a stage in Trapped where Shaurya kills a pigeon and starts eating it. He also manages to catch the rat that was troubling him. While eating the pigeon, Shaurya talks to the rat to ward off his extreme loneliness. Whether one is an introvert or an extrovert does not matter, as essentially, humans require companionship. As an introvert, I always believed I can be happy by myself; however, over the last year or so, I have learned that having a friend to talk to is almost therapeutic. Some days, the only human interaction I have is a two-minute call with my mother. Shaurya's efforts to talk to the rat underscores the desire to talk, to build relationships, and to feel human. It's only after we lose the things, that we realize their significance.

  • In Phillauri, Shashi finds out that she is pregnant and her friend Amrit asks her, "Sharam nahi aayi." Shashi initially nods yes, but then says no and starts smiling. A woman in the early 1900s has no qualms in admitting that she had premarital sex. As they say, "Jisne ki sharam, uske phoote karam."
  • Anaarkali of Aarah reminded us of Dushyant Kumar's anguished poetry by opening with these lines from one of his poems, "Ye saara jism jhuk kar bojh se dohra huya hoga, main sajde mein nahi thaaapko dhoka huya hoga." Hiraman, a manager at a music company in Delhi, also played the autorickshaw driver in Tamasha. He had wanted to be a singer in Tamasha, but maybe he worked hard to at least become the manager of a music company here. He is truly a hira to others around him.
  • Hindi Medium taught us yet again that English is the language of upward mobility. And, yes, any Delhi party is incomplete without dancing on Sukhbir's Ishq Tera Tadpaave. It also showed how some wives can be obnoxious to their husbands. 
  • Bareilly Ki Barfi showed us that people are like chameleons, and they have many sides in them. Whether it is Chirag or Pritam, both had an alternate ego that came out at different points in the film. But the most important thing that the film showed us was a father who raised his daughter with full freedom, and let her live her life as per her choices. 
  • We also learnt that a woman should always marry only after checking that the man's house has a toilet. We also saw that building a toilet is like building the Taj Mahal, as Keshav built one for Jaya with a picture of Taj Mahal outside in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. The movies also taught us that men can cook for their wives, as seen in Raees, Jolly LLB 2 and Chef. Men are also good salesmen and can quickly drape a saree for their customers as we saw in Hindi Medium and Bareilly Ki Barfi. They are also good at knowing the size of the women's bodies, like the swimming costume salesman in Lipstick Under My Burkha and the lingerie shopkeeper in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Ghosts will always come back for closure as was seen in Phillauri, A Death in the Gunj and Golmaal Again!!! People love to eat apples as in Newton and MOM. And, finally, we saw that there is absolutely no pleasure greater than savoring the delicious paav-bhaaji of Bombay (Trapped) and the mouth-watering chhole bhature of Delhi (Chef). 
Other Reading:
1. On Meri Pyaari BinduLink
2. On A Death in the GunjLink
3. On Jab Harry Met SejalLink
4. On Shubh Mangal SaavdhanLink
5. On Jagga JasoosLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Raaste mein jo milo toh,
Haath milaane ruk jaana,
Saath mein koi ho tumhare.
Door se hi tum muskaana.
Meri Pyaari Bindu

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan—Of Getting It Up

R.S. Prasanna's Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is one of the finest and one of the funniest films of 2017. It is the story of Mudit (Ayushmann Khurrana) who wants to do a love-cum-arranged-cum-love marriage with Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar). During their courtship, Mudit and Sugandha try to have sex, but it turns out Mudit has a gents' problem. The film portrays how the two of them and their families deal with such a situation. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is the remake of R.S. Prasanna's own Tamil film Kalyana Samayal Saadham but adapted to the world of Anand L. Rai.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is ostensibly about Mudit's erectile dysfunction, but I felt the film is using this to also make a point on the notion of masculinity in society. It is about a man who can't get it up. Mudit is trying to not just increase his libido but also learning to stand up to be a man. It is about him trying to rise up to this challenge, and Sugandha helps him change from being a phattu to being a man. We see this rising up play out at different points and in varied forms throughout the film. At one point, Mudit and Sugandha meet in a café, where he tells her that they should cancel their wedding. Sugandha tells him that if there was a problem with her after their wedding, would he have left her? He is not trying to understand her viewpoint. After this scene, Mudit joins his family members who are traveling in a bus to Haridwar, and he and his friends sit on the top of the bus. Bas ki chhath par baith kar aya hun. At a later stage, an angry Sugandha goes and sits in an Udan Khatola (a flying trolley) on the day of their wedding. Mudit follows her and jumps from his trolley to Sugandha's, but does not make it fully inside. He is left hanging (again) and holds on to her trolley. The commentary by the reporter and Mudit's own words in the scene again point to him trying to rise up. At that stage, Mudit repeatedly tells Sugandha, "Mujhe upar uthaao." He wants her to lift him up. She has helped him become a man in the real sense of the world. In earlier scenes, he calls out his family members for their patriarchal views on mardaangi (masculinity). He fights with them saying that it is Sugandha who is trying to make him a man. "Inki beti ki vajah se na mard ban raha hun. Woh koshish kar rahi hai. Jitna bacha kucha confidence hai na, inki beti ki vajah se hai." Much to the consternation of his family members, he also has no hesitation in becoming a cook at his own wedding. He tells Sugandha that he would learn to cook after their wedding because he loves her. The film's title Shubh Mangal Saavdhan has the word saavdhan, a word also commonly used in military parlance to refer to standing in attention. 
In addition, the film never really delves deeper into the causes and solutions for Mudit's gents' problem. The veterinarian simply dismissed Mudit's problem as a case of performance anxiety, which, in reality, is a serious issue affecting millions of men worldwide. There is anxiety in Mudit but of a different kind. Mudit tells Sugandha there is a lot of pressure on him. His relatives are constantly asking him about Sugandha's income and whether she earns more than him. He has doubts if he could be a good husband to her. The news reporter also comments that Mudit is burdened by the weight of masculinity, perhaps, that is why he cannot get it up. His sexual problem (as depicted) is symptomatic of this burden. The film underscores the notion of rising up again by comparing Mudit with a rocket. Rocket humare saiyyan. In the climax (pun intended), a rocket ascending into the sky plays out on the television screen, again, a symbolic representation of Mudit rising up to become a man. 
At the same time, Sugandha is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl for Mudit. Mudit is the first man who has liked her, otherwise, all the men prefer girls from M-Block over Sugandha (Greater Kailash M-Block market is one of the trendiest spots in Delhi). She waited all her life for a hero, who never came, but it was Mudit who came to her, who even fought a bear to talk to her. When Mudit hears this, he thanks her, but she says that she is not giving a compliment to him. Later, she tells him that he is the compliment which life gave her. Although the subtitles write it as compliment (with an 'i'), I think it could also mean complement (with an 'e'), which fits more. Mudit and Sugandha complete each other in different ways. The reporter's comment, in the end, reiterates that in this war of better halves, the two halves have to join to become one complete union, which perfectly describes the meaning of marriage, too.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan portrays its women characters much better than its men and gives them a voice. The film opens with Sugandha's voiceover. Sugandha tells Mudit that marrying him was the first independent decision that she took in her life. We have often seen in films when the characters are about to have sex, it is the man who waits on the bed, and it is the woman who usually goes out from the scene to get ready. But here, it is Mudit who goes to the bathroom and it is Sugandha who is waiting for him on her bed. Sugandha's mother takes her to a lingerie shop because it is more important than the lehenga. Her mother talks to her about sexual intercourse using the innuendos of Ali Baba and his gufa. On the other hand, Sugandha's father becomes an anonymous caller to give advice to Mudit. Even though Sugandha's father takes Mudit to the veterinarian, his behavior in front of the doctor is too hypocritical giving him fake lessons on 'Sharam aani chahiye'. In the end, Mudit says that the two fathers would have abused and cursed them, but their mothers remained calm and did not go into depression. At some stage, Sugandha's father repeatedly tells her to run away, while it is she who refutes him that she will not because she stands by her choice. She is willing to solve a problem rather than run away from it. 
There is a point in the film where Jimmy Shergill is shooting an advertisement for family planning. It is hilarious of the film that it uses someone who is a mascot of KLPD in Hindi cinema to endorse a condom advertisement. Jimmy asks Mudit if his fiancée loves him, and advises him that he should let her go if she does not, and placate her to come back if she does. It is as if he is remembering the events of his story from Tanu Weds Manu. The films of Jimmy Shergill and Ayushmann Khurrana represent the two forms of emasculation and unfulfilled male desire. One is often cheated and left with a standing dick, while the other cannot get his dick to stand. One has the power (for lack of a better word) but no woman, while the other has the woman but no power. But they are respectful of the choices of the women in their respective lives.
I have no hesitation in admitting I enjoyed the many double entendres in the film. In fact, I kept looking for them. I felt the song Kanha is full of double meanings. Jo bhi kare, kare sab, quick, quick quick, quick. When Mudit and Sugandha are trying to have sex, the song Ram Chahe Leela from Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela plays in the background and the words, "Rakh pocket me ghoda, de ghode ko lagaam," can be heard, which is another innuendo. Sugandha tells Mudit that everyone was waiting for the groom the come, and he came but was totally phuss. And, of course, the limp biscuit and the Ali Baba references were outrageously funny. 

Comparison with Dum Laga Ke Haisha

There is a looming shadow of Sharat Katariya's Dum Laga Ke Haisha in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, not only because the lead actors in the two films are played by the same set of actors, but also because of the similarity in the milieu and the situational aspects of the two films. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a remake of R.S. Prasanna's own Tamil film Kalyana Samayal Saadham which released in 2013, a couple of years before Dum Laga Ke Haisha. It is not to suggest that the films are the same, but on an academic level, it is always interesting to find connections between films.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha is the story of Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana), who is forced by his family to get married to Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar). Prem suffers from an inferiority complex where he cannot accept that his wife is more educated than him. He is a school dropout. He is jealous that his friends' wives are prettier than his. He has always been living under the shadow of his authoritarian father who mocks and, often, beats him. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is about Mudit's anxiety of living up to the standards of being a man. Like Prem, Mudit has a confrontational relationship with his father, where he even tells his father that he never had time for him. His father, at one point in the film, tells his relatives that Mudit is taking revenge for the time when he beat him up. 
In both the films, there is the concept of arranged marriage and the parents of the lead characters play an active part in the sexual lives of their children. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Prem's father asks one of his relatives to give condoms to Prem to consummate his marriage with Sandhya. After learning that Prem and Sandhya did not have sex on their first night, Sandhya's mother advises her to make Prem watch erotic films so that he can get aroused. In Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Sugandha's parents are concerned about their daughter's sexual fulfillment after her wedding. Her father takes Mudit to a doctor to get his erectile dysfunction treated. Sugandha's mother gives her own version of sex education to her using the innuendo of Ali Baba needing to enter the gufa. Sugandha's mother tells Mudit's mother that she made Sugandha wear a low-cut blouse so that their children can do it. There is also talk of erotic movies in the film where Sugandha's friend Ginny brings a pornographic movie for her. 
In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Sandhya goes to buy lingerie from a shop hoping to entice Prem while wearing it. In Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Sugandha's mother takes her to buy lingerie for her as she says a lehenga is only required for a day, but a lingerie is something she would need more often. The two films also have a scene on eating onions. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Sandhya tells Prem that everyone in her family eats onions, and she is surprised to learn that Prem also eats them because his family does not. In Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, the situation is reversed where Sugandha tells Mudit that no one in her family eats onions, while Mudit's does. The two films are set in Haridwar. The minor characters in the two films also share similar characteristics, like the younger brothers of Sandhya and Sugandha. I found Sugandha's brother as one of the coolest characters in the film. Chaalu kids are the best.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha takes its title from a competition in which married couples were put through an obstacle course where the husband has to carry the wife on his back. Prem and Sandhya participate in the competition, which becomes a metaphor for marriage itself. Like the race, marriage is also full of obstacles where the husband and the wife have to support each other to reach the finish line. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan also makes a similar point on marriage being a complementary union of two better halves, wherein the husband and the wife complete each other. They both need each other's support. 
In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, at one stage, Prem talks with his shakha teacher, and says, "Kal raat ko apni na sun saka. Yeh grahasth jeevan ka gurutvakarshan daldal me mujhe kheench ke rahega." This is the scene sequence where Prem tells his teacher that was not able to control himself, and he consummated his marriage with Sandhya. Gurutvakarshan is the word that he uses to describe his attraction. Actually, the word is also used to describe gravity in Hindi. Immediately after this discourse, we see Sandhya walking to an empty classroom, and practicing to take a lecture. Interestingly, the topic that she chooses to describe is nothing but again the law of gravity. She says, "Prithvi ki har vastu, har dusri vastu ki aur aakarshit hoti hai. Gurutvakarshan ka pehla niyam, lekin kyun vo ek dusre ki aur aage nahi badte, kyun thame rehte hai apni hi jagah, kyunki dono ek dusre ko apni aur kheenchne ki koshish me vahi ke vahi khade reh jate hai." All objects on earth are attracted to one other due to the law of gravity. But why do objects not move towards each other, and stay at the same place? Because in trying to attract one other, they remain in the same place. There is a possible explanation for gravity in the film, but in short, the gravity reference is about the attraction between Prem and Sandhya. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan also talks about gravity but of a different kind. It refers rockets that have to fight gravity to rise and escape. Mudit of Rocket Hamare Saiyyan has to fight the force of gravity to get it up. In the final scene of the film, there is a television screen in which a rocket is rising up in the sky as if it has escaped the gravitational pull. 
I remember reading Sumana Roy's insightful piece on Dum Laga Ke Haisha in Scroll where she elaborated on the leitmotif of the woman on top in the film. She writes that the film repeatedly shows Sandhya on top as compared to Prem. There is only one particular scene in the film where Prem is shown on top in the film. She explains, "There is only one scene where the man is on top, and such is the failure of this position that it leads immediately to the crisis in the marriage. Prem is with his friends on the terrace, his wife is dancing with the womenfolk below. A couple of drinks bring out Prem’s frustration with his wife’s size–imagine sleeping with a woman like that, he tells his friend. The result is a slap from his wife who’s climbed up the stairs and overheard the conversation. A show of equality follows: it is in the ethic of tit-for-tat, a slap for a slap." As mentioned earlier, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan also used some interesting scenarios, such as the Udan Khatola scene in the climax, to depict the state of a man trying to rise up and reach the top. In almost a reversal of the scene in Dum Laga Ke Haisha where Mudit is shown at the top and Sandhya is below, in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, the entry of Mudit's baaraat depicts Sugandha perched at the top, while Mudit looks at her from below. After their conversation when she calls him a phuss, Mudit renters and brings his baaraat for the second time, and again, we see Sugandha standing all alone at the top, while everyone is below. The conversation with Sugandha prompted him to do something to make her happy. 
In the early 2000s, there was a television show called Thodi Si Bewafai that used to come on Sony. The plot revolved around a married couple Neha and Vikram. They were happily living together till they found out that they cannot have a child. The show initially portrayed that Neha was infertile, but it was later found that out that it was her husband who was impotent and he had lied to her. Since the desire for an heir was so strong, the husband would have to make some sacrifice. Somehow, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan brought back the memories of the show. The film's outlook towards female sexual pleasure is noteworthy. It portrays serious issues with humor without giving any vibes of crassness and vulgarity. And, sometimes, innuendos can be a lot of fun. Like Sugandha's friend Ginny says to her that she will never be able to eat a biscuit again, I wouldn't not think of this movie, when I hear about Ali Baba and the treasure gufa

Movie References

Books In Movies
Village Matters by Rebecca Shaw
The Invisible Friend by Louise Arnold
Behti Nadi and Legal Problem Solver
Truth About Erectile Dysfunction, WhyMarried Couples Don't Have Sex, Sexual Impotence

Book Recommendation:
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, a graphic memoir of growing up in Iran.

Other Reading:
1. Why the woman is actually not on top in Dum Laga Ke HaishaLink
2. On Dum Laga Ke Haisha and the force of Gravity—Link
3. On AiyyaaLink
4. On Tanu Weds Manu ReturnsLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Is education ki zaroorat Ali Baba ko hai, gufa ko nahi."
—Sugandha, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Simran—Of The Other Simran, And Independence

Hansal Mehta's Simran is about Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut), who works as a housekeeper in a hotel in Atlanta. She stays with her parents, Mohan (Hiten Kumar) and Kumud (Kishori Shahane). Her parents are trying to set her up with Sameer (Sohum Shah). During a trip to Las Vegas, Praful loses not just her own financial savings in gambling, but also a significant amount that she had borrowed from a usurious money lender. Desperate circumstances force her to take desperate measures, and she resorts to looting small banks to pay back her debt. 

The film takes its title from the character Simran, played by Kajol, from Aditya Chopra's iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. At some point in Simran, Praful is about to leave her house to rob yet another bank to pay back the money she borrowed from Mr. Bugs. Praful's mother is watching the climax scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge where Simran is begging her Bauji to let her go with Raj. Bauji relents and tells her, "Ja, Simran, Ja. Jee le apni zindagi." It is as if Bauji's words are a direction to Praful who is also waiting to go and do her task of stealing from the bank. Moments later, when Praful leaves the house, her mother mistakenly calls her Simran. Later, when Praful reaches the bank, an employee asks her to open a bank account with them. On being asked her name, Praful can only think of Simran as her fake name. The name eventually reaches the police, who inform the public at large, that the lipstick bandit's name is Simran.
In addition to the name, there is also a larger context to the connection between Praful from Simran and Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. They share a few other things, too. They belong to Non-Resident Indian (NRI) families. Simran's father owns a department store in London; Praful's father owns a store where he sells Gujarati snacks. Simran and Praful have a frigid relationship with their respective fathers, but have a friendly and a frank relationship with their respective mothers. Simran and Praful feel trapped and restricted in some way in their homes. Simran is bound by the strict rules that her father has imposed upon her. She had to literally pray to the Gods to get her father's permission to go on a trip to Europe. On the trip, she falls in love with a philandering Raj. When her father gets to know about Raj, he immediately sells off all his possessions and moves to Punjab, where he wants to marry Simran off to his friend's son. Praful's father keeps reminding her that she is a divorced woman and constantly nags her to get married again. He likes to find faults in Praful, which makes her want to move out and have a house of her own. Early in the film, Praful's daily life is shown with the background song that talks about this freedom. It says, "Pinjra tod ke tod ke, udd jaana hai. Baahein khol ke, khol ke, udd jaana hai." The cages have to be broken to fly away; the arms have to be opened to fly away. 
In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, there is a scene where Simran's grandmother tells Bauji that she has seen some sadness in Simran's eyes. She is worried that there is a certain hesitation even in Simran's laughter as if something is bothering her from inside. Not wanting to reveal the full details of Simran's unhappiness, Bauji dismisses her concerns and tells her that Simran is fine. There is a similar scene in Simran that happens between Praful and her grandmother. She meets her grandmother at her cousin's wedding, who asks Praful that why does she have a half smile. Praful responds that it is a full smile. Her grandmother, then, asks that if her smile is full, why does it not reach her eyes. Aankhon tak toh nahi pahunchi. Thus, the film shows another connection between the two films. In Simran's script, which was released by Apurva Asrani, the first scene of the film is written at a train station that is again quite reminiscent of the first time Raj meets Simran in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, where Simran almost missed her train to Europe. A cheeky Raj had offered his hand to Simran so that she can enter the train. An almost similar sequence is present in the Simran's script. Hearing an announcement on the train station, Praful takes off her shoes, holds them in her hand, and runs towards a train. Praful runs, sticks her foot in the closing door and barely makes it inside before the train door is closed. 

Even though Simran and Praful have quite a few things in common, the one major difference is Praful has no Raj with her, and after a bitter divorce, she feels she does not even need any Raj in her life. The film Simran repeatedly stresses on the independence of Praful and her comfort in being alone (not to be confused with being lonely). Early in the film, Praful, and her cousin Amber go on a trip to Las Vegas. Amber had invited her ex-boyfriend as well, due to which Praful leaves the two of them, and roams around Las Vegas all by herself. Praful is completely fine doing that, in fact, she enjoys being by herself. Later, Amber tells Praful that she is getting married because we cannot spend our life all alone. Praful replies that she herself is also single but she is doing absolutely fine in life. Amber, then, tells her that she is different and independent. Praful responds to her that she is a thirty-year-old divorced woman, who works as a housekeeper, while Amber is twenty-five-year-old jewelry designer; how is it that she is more independent than her? Praful is struggling to make ends meet, yet, she feels independent. Her cousin, blessed with money and a good career, does not feel like that. Independence is not only financial independence, but also emotional independence. Later, we again see Praful enjoying the state of being happily unmarried. After she wins money at a casino, she buys a red dress (like Simran did in Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main). She eats at fancy restaurants all alone. She goes to the top floor of the hotel and admires the bird's eye view of the city with a glass of champagne in her hand. She is truly content. In the latter parts of the film, she never shares her problems with anyone. She plans everything on her own. 
Praful meets Sameer, who is interested in getting married to her. In their meeting, Praful asks him the reasons for getting married. He tells her that he wants to get married because he is alone and he wants a life partner to spend his life with. Praful snarkily replies that marriage is not the solution for his problems. In one of the most beautiful scenes in the film, Sameer and Praful again talk about life and love. During their chat, Sameer says that if a person is given too many responsibilities from a young age, he becomes a little hollow from inside, but when he looks at Praful, he feels how can anyone be so complete in oneself. Koi apne aap me itna sampoorn kaise ho sakta hai. He is again bringing out the same aspect of Praful's contentment in being alone, without needing anyone. At some later stage, Praful takes Sameer to her favorite place, near a lake, where she tells him that she comes there alone. The place makes her feel that she has tiny wings, like those of a butterfly, which makes her believe that she can fly. The air there is totally free, and no obstacle can bind the air there. Like the song's lyrics earlier, "Pinjra tod ke tod ke, udd jaana hai. Baahein khol ke, khol ke, udd jaana hai," Praful wants to be completely free, like a bird, and live life independently on her own terms. 
Sameer was undoubtedly my favorite character in the film. He understands people and relationships. It seems that he has gone through a lot in life, too. And, then, he completely surprises by his selfless act of transferring his hard-earned money that he saved for his studies to Praful's account even though she did even not ask him to do so. I am always stunned by these selfless acts, where people do these gestures and expect nothing in return. He had said earlier to Praful, "Rishton ko samajhna nahi chahiye, unhe sirf nibhaana chahiye." One should not try to understand relationships, instead one should fulfill them. Sameer, truly, did that when it came to giving all to his relationships. 
The film falters in the second half where it is unable to decide whether it should be serious, or it should be funny. The robberies become repetitive and some proceedings become silly. But the film does show well the suburban America, which is a lot different from New York and San Francisco as seen in other films. It touches on the challenges minority communities face in America. Also, the film is, perhaps, a rare case in Hindi cinema where the Patels in Simran are not financially well-off as compared to the other Patel families in films. 

There are many scenes where it becomes harder to separate the character Praful from the actor Kangana. At one point, Praful says, "Karti hun main galtiyaan, aur maanti bhi hun. Aap logon ke tarah, khud se jhooth nahi bolti." She says that she makes mistakes, but she also has the courage to accept them; something that Kangana has also spoken about in her interviews. Whatever be the other issues (external and internal) with the film, it has yet another splendid performance by Kangana. She is a truly a Queen.

Other references in the script:
Salman Khan

 Nahin toh picture itni badi hit nahi hoti
 I love that movie
Kajol meri favorite thee

Books In Movies:
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Book Recommendation: 
Jane Austen's Emma for its character Emma. 

Other Reading:
1. Simran's scriptLink
2. On QueenLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Mujhe lagta hai ki kabhi insaan ko puri tarah se samjha nahi ka sakta. Kyunki badalte rehna hi inssan ki fidrat hai. Change is the only constant. Aur mujhe lagta hai, rishton ko samajhna nahi chahiye, unhe sirf nibhaana chahiye."
—Sameer, Simran

Sunday, November 26, 2017

MOM—Of Revenge and the Mahabharata

Ravi Udyawar's MOM is a revenge-themed drama based in Delhi. It is the story of Devki (Sridevi), who is a teacher and the second wife of a businessman named Anand (Adnan Siddiqui). One night, her stepdaughter Arya (Sajal Ali) is sexually assaulted by a gang of four men, one of whom was Arya's classmate in school. The men are apprehended but the prosecution is unable to convict them in court, which leads to the four of them walking away free. Devki plans to inflict punishment on the men with the help of a detective Dayashankar Kapoor, also known as DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Matthew Francis (Akshaye Khanna) is the police inspector who is assigned to Arya's case.

Devki teaches biology in the same class and at the same school where Arya also studies. She is the kind of teacher who uses pictures of Salman Khan's abs in her lectures, and asks her patrons to watch science-fiction movies. The relationship between Arya and Devki is a frosted one. Arya has not been able to accept Devki as her mother and calls her Ma'am. For Arya, her mother is her birth mom and not the second wife of his father. She tells her father that it is a daughter who comes in a mother's life, and not the other way round, thus, she will never be able to accept Devki. The film, then, becomes a story that depicts how and why Arya moves away from calling Devki as Ma'am to calling her as Mom.
There is a point in the film when Devki meets DK at an art exhibition. The exposition is titled Yada Yada and is shown that it is by an artist named Ravi Udyawar, who, not surprisingly, is also the director of MOM. The modern-art exhibition is based on the theme of the Mahabharata. The exhibition poster states that all of Ravi's exhibitions have hidden mythological themes in them and 'Nothing lives longer than mythology.' The poster also has the full shloka of Yada Yada from the Mahabharata written on it

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata,
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.

Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is an exaltation of unrighteousness, then, I Myself come forth.

The description on the poster holds true for the film MOM as well. Like the exhibition, the film is directed by Ravi Udyawar. There is a hidden mythological theme in the film's story. Additionally, the verse of Yada Yada describes the motivations of the characters in MOM, too. Yada Yada was given as a sermon to Arjun by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna explained to him that whenever there is a rise of injustice and unfairness in the world, God reincarnates to make things right. This is what happens in the film. Devki and her family lose the court case which leads to the acquittal of the criminals who assaulted Arya. Losing her trust in the institutional methods, Devki decides to get justice on her own. She visits DK who tells her, "Court se galti nahi hui, bahut bada paap hua hai." The court has not committed a mistake, rather it has sinned. Later, Devki tells DK that God cannot be present everywhere, and he replies to her that it is why he created mothers. He is calling a mother as a reincarnation or an equivalent of God who fights for justice. It is also noteworthy that he usually addresses Devki as Devi Ji. Devki is, thus, like a Goddess reincarnated, fighting against the evil for the dispensation of justice.
Then, in the exhibition, Devki stands in front of a red Mahabharata-inspired painting which symbolized the washing of Draupadi's hair in Dushasana's blood. Draupadi was disrobed by Dushasana after Yudhishthira bet her in a game of dice which he, subsequently, lost. Draupadi vowed that she will not tie her hair until she washed it in Dushasana's blood. It is again discernible to observe the parallels between the story of Draupadi and Arya. Both are victims of men harassing and assaulting them. Krishna comes to the rescue of Draupadi in the Mahabharata; here, Devki (Krishna's mother) comes to get justice for Arya. It is also no coincidence that Arya is named similar to the Aryans. The Pandavas were often addressed as Arya Putras, as was also seen in B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat series. As Devki says, the Mahabharata is the world's oldest story of revenge. The film, too, is a story of revenge. Like the painting, there is also a running theme of red color in MOM. The film's title is written in red. Devki's glasses are red. She drives a red car. When she goes and meets her transgender students, she walks among a bunch of red drapes. Red apples play another important role in the film. Red is the color of love, but it is also the color of blood. The color of passion. The color of revenge. As Draupadi washes her hair in Dushasana's blood in the painting, Devki has the blood of her daughter's assaulters on her hands. Draupadi tied her hair back after the death of Dushasana; Arya is shown to be fully healed after the death of her assaulters. 
The exhibition was my favorite part of the film. I will definitely want to view the Mahabharata represented in contemporary art. In the film, there are other related exhibits that can be seen. There are structures at the exhibition's entrance that represented the game of dice, which became the turning point in the life of the Pandavas. There are also sculptures of Eklavya's thumb, and of the fish whose eye Arjun aimed to shoot with his bow at Draupadi's swayamwara. There is the painting of Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows, and another one of a red dot surrounded by Cs, which represented Abhimanyu trapped in the Chakravyuha. The only painting I could not be absolutely sure of what it represented was one that has five diagonal divisions, which is probably referring to the five Pandavas. As MOM underscores the subtext of Mahabharata quite prominently, the transgender Niranjana, who was Devki's student, was, perhaps, a representation of Shikhandi, who was responsible for Bhishma's death. Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani (2012) had a similar overarching theme as MOM in the sense that a vulnerable woman whom no one suspects of anything goes on to surprise everyone by her vengeance. Even that film had a connection with the Mahabharata. There is a point in the film when Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) asks Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee) the meaning of his formal name Satyoki. He tells her that Satyoki was Krishna's saarthi (charioteer).
There is a little subversive element in the film where, maybe, for the first time in a Hindi film, a stepmother is named Devki, after Krishna's real-mother who gave birth to him. It has been a common trope in films to name the nurturing mother after Yashoda, Krishna's foster-mother who brought him up. However, MOM does not adhere to this convention and names the stepmother's character after Devki. A mother is after all a mother, notwithstanding the route of nature or nurture. Devki did not differentiate at all between her birth daughter and her stepdaughter. She has a stature equivalent to a birth mom. It is often said that blood is thicker than water, but for Devki, both water and blood are equivalent. She is both Devki and Yashoda. 

Talking about water, there is an interesting motif of water associated with Devki in the film. She is often seen near water. When Arya angrily leaves the dinner table after speaking rudely with her father, Devki offers him water to drink. Devki is often seen filling the water bottles from the water filter in the kitchen. The night when Arya does not come back from the party, Devki checks on her while she is filling water bottles. When Devki visits the police station, the woman constable brings her a glass of water. After the assault, when Arya regains consciousness in the hospital, the first thing Devki asks her was if she needed water. Later, in a moment of rage, Devki follows Mohit in her car and has a small accident. When she comes back home, she drinks a glass of water. Finally, when the prosecution team loses the case and the accused go scot-free, Devki is again seen filling water bottles. She is lost in deep thought about the state of affairs, which leads to the overflowing and the spilling of water from the bottles. The water symbolized her patience, which now seems to have run out. Thereafter, she decides to take matters into her own hands. There is a saying in Hindi that eventually the paap ka ghada (the pot of sins) will overflow and burst. The evil has risen too much, thus, Goddess will reincarnate as Krishna said in Yada Yada sermon in the Mahabharata
I was intrigued by the presence of water near other characters as well. Unlike in the case of Devki, in their case, it is primarily situational, but still quite a noteworthy presence, especially, in the case of the four accused. When Baburam is picked up from his house, he spills a water drum. Later, death comes to him in the toilet near a water tap. Charles Diwan gets paralyzed before he picks up a glass of water. Mohit is trapped at the moment when he is sitting on a toilet seat and smoking pot. Devki puts apple seeds submerged in water in his kitchen sink. Jagan dies on snow, which is nothing but frozen water. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Death comes to Jagan in a cold place over the snow. 
Water, Water, Everywhere
There is the presence of water in Arya's life, too. After she is sexually assaulted, she is dumped in a gutter, from which she barely makes out alive. She has recurring nightmares of the assault, and she sits under the flowing water of the shower to cleanse the memories of the incident. When they all go to Kufri, Arya feels calm in the gorgeous mountainous landscape. She is enthralled by the beauty of nature. And, then, it rains, and a resplendent rainbow appears. She gets drenched in the rain, finally, feeling clean. Her healing is complete, and she has been blessed by the angels. Her healing process was also represented by the curtains in her room. When she is initially assaulted, her room is dark with the curtains closed. When she first hears the news of Baburam's death, she walks towards the window, opens the curtains slightly letting the light come in the room, and then, watches the birds fly in the sky. After Charles' death, she again walks towards the window curtains, and then, sends a message to her father that she wants to go to the hill station. 
MOM is a well-made film and it is quite visible that there is a lot of deep thought that has gone into building its screenplay. It is some kind of an inexplicable dark statement that Baburam, a man, gets death by castration where his sexual organ is presumably cut by a transgender woman as if she is making him lose his gender, too. In the scene, where a drunk Baburam sees the mysterious woman, the background lights of the Vishwakarma board are specifically lit showing Karma as if giving us an indication of what is to happen to him. One can escape but karma will catch up sooner or later. When the news of his death is shown on the television, Devki is cutting carrots on a chopping board, suggesting the act of castration. Later, Mohit is sent to prison, and it is suggested that he, too, gets raped by the prison bully. There is Devki's revenge but also his own karma. In another visually thoughtful scene in the film, Devki gets an idea to kill Charles when she takes a bite out of an apple while she is herself working on an Apple laptop, that has its own 'bite in an apple' logo prominently displayed. In another scene, when Matthew visits Charles in the hospital, the television in the room is playing a show that has a leopard looking to hunt its prey, as if mirroring the events of the film. Finally, in the ending moments of the film, Arya is seen reading The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher, again foreshadowing not just the literal storm outside, but the metaphorical storm as well, that will soon hit her and change everyone's life forever.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, like always, brings certain quirks to his character DK. He plays the role of a matchmaker when he is not solving criminal cases. He is a Shiv Bhakt, his name had Shankar in it, which is why, like Shiva, he had a hidden third eye, that recorded everything in his sunglasses. There is a hilarious moment when he is singing Duniya Me Logon Ko and tells Devki that he also wanted to be a singer, like his mother. Devki asks him if his mother was a singer, and then, he replies that his mother was not but she also wanted to be one. I laughed the most here. He flirts with his wife, and even after so many years of their marriage, he can still make her blush. DK empathized with Devki as he also had a daughter similar to Arya's age, and was able to convince Devki to hire him. A little bit of empathy can go a long way. In another beautiful moment in the film, we see that Akshaye Khanna's character Matthew comes to the place where DK is found dead. When Matthew sees DK's dead body, he does a sign of the cross prayer. Here is a cop, who deals with death and violent crimes on a daily basis, and still has not lost belief in his God.
There are quite a few things in the film that made me a little uncomfortable. There is this whole sequence where Devki tells her husband that there could be nothing worse for Arya than living life with an incident such as this. This is the conventional societal view that silos and pities the victim, ignoring the aspect that life could be rebuilt and pain can be healed, even without revenge. At another point in the film, Matthew tells Devki that he does not like it when someone else does his work for him. Everyone is equal before the law. But, then, in the end, he is the one who hands over the gun to Devki to shoot Jagan. It is understood that he was frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape that let criminals walk away free. It would still be understood if he only shot Jagan, but an officer entrusted with protecting law asks a civilian to break law made it quite unconvincing. I did not find vigilantism in the film as problematic because Devki knew what she was doing was wrong. Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge. She and her family bear some consequences of her (wrong) actions. But I can see how the vigilantism in the film, and its similarity with the political events under the current Indian dispensation can cause discomfort to a large section of the audience.
Regardless, I enjoyed watching MOM. Sridevi, who stars in her three-hundredth film in MOM, is splendid as always. There is a deep emotional connection and empathy that she brings to Devki. She made us wait nearly five years after her last film English Vinglish. After Shashi and Devki, let's see how she surprises us in her next adventure. 

Spacebound film that Devki told her students to watch. 
The film's music is by A.R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil. There is a self-reference when at one point, Arya is listening to the songs from Highway
Foo Fighters
Vincent van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background
Casting director of the film Mukesh Chhabra gets a guest appearance.
Books In Movies:
Books by Greg Dyke and John Grisham
Mortal Prey by John Sandford
A book by Bill Bryson
Why Do I Say These Things? by Johnathan Ross

The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
Change Beings With Me
Book Recommendation:
A friend on Twitter suggested to add book recommendations that have similar theme as in the movies. So, I will try to do add that based on what I have read or what others recommend. Since the Mahabharata is a theme in the movie, there is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which tells the story of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective. At one point, we read that Draupadi wished to marry Karna. It is a really interesting book with a new outlook.

Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai on the recklessness of revenge cinemaLink
2. Jai Arjun Singh on mothers and vigilantesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge."
—Devki, MOM