Sunday, June 17, 2018

Hichki—No Bad Students

When the trailer of Siddharth P. Malhotra's Hichki was first released, besides the excitement of Rani Mukerji's comeback, the film's subject seemed to be an interesting one. I was a bit apprehensive that the portrayal of Tourette Syndrome in the film could easily become a caricature if not handled properly. After watching it, I can say that the film turned out to be much better than expected. Hichki is adapted from Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky's book Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had. The film is the story of Naina Mathur (Rani Mukerji), who suffers from Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and vocalizations. Naina wants to be a teacher; however, no school is willing to give her a chance because of her condition. After five years, she finally gets an opportunity to teach at St. Notker's School, named after the poet and musician Notker the Stammerer. Naina is assigned class 9F (F for failure, as a subtitle tells us) which comprises students from the lower economic classes who have now become rebellious because of the school's apathy towards them. Naina reforms these students and becomes the guiding light in their lives.
Hichki opens with Naina sitting on a bench in a school where she is waiting to be called for an interview. She is playing with her necklace made up of a five-paise coin as she is nervous. There is a young kid playing with a paper airplane that lands near Naina. She picks it up and gives it back to him. In the first scene itself, the film portrayed the aspect of flying associated with Naina which will go on to become one of the lessons that she imparts to her students after she becomes a teacher. There are quite a few scenes in the film depicting the act of flying. For instance, when her father comes to her house, there are a bunch of birds on the walls that can be seen.
At another stage, Naina calls her students and tells them they love to blame their circumstances in life. She asks them to write about the things they do not like about themselves on the last page of their notebook. Then, she tells them, "Jab tak yeh page kitaab me hai, tumhari zindagi ki kitaab, yahi pe khulegi aur yeh peh ruk jayegi. Lekin agar tum use apna bana loge, toh wohi sach tumhare pankh ban jayenge. " The story of your life is stuck on this page, full of your fears. But if you accept this fear, this truth will become the wind beneath your wings. Then, all of them make planes of that page and fly that away. Naina has given them wings to fly. The song Khol De Par is again about flying. Phoonk marke, dhool jhaar le, chhor-chhaar ke saare chhappar, khol de par. Blow the dust away, leave all the thatched roofs, and open your wings. Later, we see that even the logo of the National Science Fair comprises paper airplanes. 
The film treats Naina's Tourette Syndrome as just one aspect of her personality. It is not about that syndrome. The film is about accepting the things that one is 'lacking'. In an early moment, Naina calls her Tourette's a separate entity in her. At a later moment, she tells her students that even they have Tourette's as they were blaming the school for not giving them prefectship. In the end, Naina says that the students became friends with their own Tourette's. For her, Tourette's is a different way of thinking and accepting that thinking. Instead of blaming life for their circumstances, they should work towards moving past them. It is a metaphor for learning to accept one's flaws.
Early in the film, a young Naina is in her class. She is having phonetic tics which makes other students laugh. The class teacher admonishes Naina and asks her to stop making these noises. The same teacher is narrating Koshish Karne Walon Ki Haar Nahi Hoti, a poem written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, to his students. The poem uses the example of an ant climbing up a wall to argue that, in spite of repeatedly falling, an ant never gives up. It says that the one who tries never fails. It is about perseverance and persistence, which also mirror the driving force in Naina's life in Hichki. She had applied to eighteen schools for a job and was rejected by all of them. St. Notker's school also rejected her application five times. When she was a kid, twelve schools rejected her, and it was St. Notker's that accepted her. Her thirteenth school, a number considered unlucky by many, became lucky for her. For five years, she worked as a part-time animator because she was looking for a job as a teacher. With her condition, many people, including her estranged father, advised her to look for a different kind of a job. But Naina, like the ant in the poem, kept trying. Her dream of becoming a teacher came true only because she never gave up. At one point, she tells a group of teachers that if she can make them teach something new about her condition, then, she can surely manage to teach the students. The passage that the class teacher is this one:-
Nanhi cheenti jab daana lekar chalti hai,
chadhti deewaron par, sau bar phisalti hai.
Man ka vishwas ragon mein saahas bharta hai,
chadhkar girna, girkar chadhna na akharta hai.
Akhir uski mehnat bekar nahin hoti,
koshish karne walon ki haar nahin hoti.

The tiny ant carries a small grain in its mouth,
climbs up on the wall, slips and falls a hundred times,
the determination in the mind fills your body with courage,
then climbing up and falling down does not hurt,
Ultimately, the ant’s efforts do not go waste,
the one who tries never fails.
Naina's parents got separated because of her condition. Her father could not stand her tics. He was never able to accept her condition even though Naina came to terms with it. In a way, he abandoned her. In a similar situation, the film shows that the students of 9F were never accepted by the school, its teachers, and its students. They were never made to belong at St. Notker's. Thus, Naina could easily relate to the students as well. In the end, the students of 9F participate in the science project making Sea Link bridge as if the gulf separating the two sides has been bridged. 
The film's major argument is between two schools of thought related to bad students. Naina believes that there are no bad students. There are only bad teachers. However, Naina's colleague Mr. Wadia believes that there are no bad students. There are only hopeless ones who cannot be taught anything and are beyond redemption. Unsurprisingly, Naina is proved right in this particular instance. The school topper from Mr. Wadia's class indulges in a case of false cheating because he thought his teacher will be happy. Mr. Wadia failed to inculcate the right values in his patron. Like Naina, he takes the blame for the act of his students. Perhaps, there are no bad students. 
In Hichki, Naina also uses unconventional methods to teach her patrons. A lecture on the laws of motion in physics turns into one on the parabolas in mathematics along with a practical demonstration using eggs. She believes in the real world, life does not test us by subjects. In this aspect, Naina is like Vinny Sir (Vinay Pathak), the English teacher from the show Hip Hip Hurray. He used to take classes outside the classroom and inspired his students to think differently. For a moment, I was reminded of Gulzar's Parichay where Ravi (Jeetendra), a private tutor reforms a grandfather's five unruly kids. 
The actors playing the students in Class 9F are wonderful. Ashwin, the rapper, was the coolest. Aatish kept smelling hand sanitizers as he was addicted to its smell. The film does not mention this explicitly but it is a growing problem where teens are increasingly getting addicted to the smell of substances, such as whiteners. The bunch of students in 9A is portrayed as elitist. I am not sure if it appropriate but it is worth observing that how something like the dressing sense, such as wearing a watch and a tucked-in shirt, can bring out the differences between the students in 9A and 9F. Also, as in Secret Superstar, there was a romance brewing between Insia and Chintan who belonged to different religions, here in Hichki, a love story riddled with conflicts is in the offing as two students, belonging to different classes, start romancing each other. I also really liked the relationship between Naina and her brother Vinay (played by Hussain Dalal, who has also written dialogues for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and 2 States). He is very supportive of Naina. 
Hichki is not without flaws. The issue with the film is that it does not delve deeper into the problems of the children. In addition, two particular segments did not work for me. First, when Naina tells her students that each of them is special in their own way. A student with an ability to do quick mental calculations might be one. However, someone knowing that putting salt in bhindi after it is cooked is not really a clue that they should pursue chemistry. The film's thinking is naïve here. Second, the purpose of Naina's visit to the families of the students is not clear. She had always been sympathetic to her students. Rather she should have taken Mr. Wadia to visit these families. Naina is shown to be surprised when the families start jostling to collect water from a tanker. This segment seemed like an episode of poverty tourism. Thankfully, the film does not go further into this territory, unlike Hindi Medium, which was a bit silly in its premise and its treatment.
Hichki is a reversal of sorts for Rani Mukerji. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, she played Michelle McNally who is blind and mute. Her teacher Debraj Sahai (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes the guiding light in her life. In one particular scene, when she is being interviewed for the admission to the university, she is asked, "What is knowledge?" She says, "Knowledge is everything. It is spirit, wisdom, courage, light, sound. Knowledge is my Bible, God. Knowledge is my teacher." She graduates after twelve years and wears the graduation robe only in front of her teacher. In Hichki, Rani Mukerji as Naina becomes that teacher. She is the pole star for her students that guides them in the right direction. Michelle and Naina overcome their disabilities with patience and persistence. They never give up. In the end, when the students came to visit Naina on the day of her retirement, I teared up. It was deeply poignant. I did not feel this while watching Secret Superstar or Nil Battey Sannata, but here, I was moved. I don't have many good memories of school, but I remembered one of my teachers who was not my favorite, but some of the things she told I follow till this day. 
The film would not have been what it is without Rani Mukerji's fine performance. It is not surprising as she has always been a brilliant actor. She is just so natural. In an interview before the release of the film, she said that the box office success of the film is important for her to do more films as it would indicate her that the audience still wants to see her. She is right that it is one benchmark, but it is not the only benchmark. Given that the film has done well, perhaps, she will continue to do more films. But even if the film did not, there is something to look up something from this film. Kyun aur kyun nahi mein, ek soch bar ka faasla hai. Ek hichki bhar ka.

The students perform a play on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. 
Based on the book Front of the Class by Brad Cohen and Lisa Wysocky
Lectures in school
Sylvia Plath's quote on the poster

Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai on the difference between a film about children for adults and a children's film—Link
2. Priyanka Krishna on the many things Hichki ignores—Link
3. Livemint on the problems with the Right to Education—Link
4. Livemint on the choice between government or private schools—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"There are no bad students. Only bad teachers."
—Naina, Hichki

"School ke bahar jab zindagi imtihaan leti hai, toh subject wise nahi leti."
—Naina, Hichki

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mukkabaaz—Of Bahut Hua Samman

Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz is the story of two star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of boxing. Shravan Kumar Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh), who calls himself the Mike Tyson of Uttar Pradesh, wants to be a boxer. He trains under an upper caste coach named Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Sheirgill) who holds enormous power in selecting players for the state- and the national-level boxing championships. Bhagwan Das has a niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain) who cannot speak. Shravan falls in love with Sunaina and marries her. Shravan has a confrontation with Bhagwan Das who then uses all his power to thwart his dreams of becoming a boxer and also tries to separate him from Sunaina. 

Mukkabaaz has some influences from the story of Ramayana. The character of Shravan in Mukkabaaz is named after Shravan Kumar from the Ramayana who was mistakenly killed by Prince Dashratha, father of Lord Ram. In the story, Shravan had come to collect water for his aged parents, who were both blind and whom he had been carrying on a sling for a pilgrimage. When Shravan's parents learned about Shravan's death, they are unable to bear the shock and curse Dashratha that he will also experience grief due to loss of his son. In another Ramayana influence in Mukkabaaz, after Sunaina is abducted by Bhagwan Das, Shravan tells his friend, "Agar Sita ko khojna hai toh Lanka me ghusna padega." If they have to find Sita, they will have to enter Lanka. When Shravan and his friends reach the place where Sunaina was kept, there is again a mention of the Ramayana. Shravan's friend Gopal compares Shravan with Ram, and Sunaina with Sita. He also talks about Ashok Vatika and Pushpak Viman. Thus, Bhagwan Das is likened to Ravan. Just as Ravan was a Brahmin, Bhagwan Das is also a Brahmin here. 
In Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0 as well, there was the theme of the Ramayana. When Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is being interrogated by the police, he points to a picture of Hanuman at the back of the wall. His sister's husband says that his brothers are in Sri Lanka, another place associated with the Ramayana. The man (Mukesh Chhabra) who had lent money to Raman tells Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) that Raman calls himself Ravan at times. Raghav's car also had a Hanuman in it. Later, Raman meets Simmy in a grocery store, and tells her that it was Dussehra. Later, there are shots of Ravan's effigy burning. When in the end, Raman is arrested he says that a pure Brahmin like Ravan turned into a villain because of women. Ravan invented the airplane just because he wanted to abduct Sita. The film's premise was also that there are a Ram and a Ravan in inside each of us, the good and the evil, and they are only mirror images of each other. 
In addition to the Ramayana, Mukkabaaz also has a mention of the Mahabharata. Bhagwan Das tells one of his boxers that it is written in Gita that if one is friends with the enemy, then, it is not easy to win the war. He says, "Dushman se dosti karoge toh Mahabharata kaise jeetoge." In an earlier instance, Shravan writes to Sunaina where he mentions that ever since he has seen her, there is a Mahabharata going on in his heart. 

One of the central themes in the film is that it repudiates the concept of respect. It gives a call for rebellion when it says, "Bahut hua samman." Enough of this respect. In India, we are told to respect the people in authority and to never question them. This authority could vest in someone just by virtue of their age. Mukkabaaz tries to question this notion and says to hell with this obedience. It is no surprise then that the film's villain is named Bhagwan—God—who runs an organization called Bharatiya Sanskriti Sena but is impotent. It is making a point to even question God. Additionally, the film's theme of boxing is giving a punch to the rigid sanskriti and the traditions that are creating barriers between people. In the film, Shravan refuses to massage Bhagwan Das' back (and his ego) but has to pay a price for it. Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking also dealt with the theme of authority and totalitarianism. Baba Bengali (Paresh Rawal) was the representation of the dictatorial government. Many thought that the film advocated the cause of no smoking, but in reality, it championed the cause of freedom, which is the basic right of every individual, even if that person is not really a good human being. Like smoking was used in that film, here boxing is used to make a point.
Bhagwan Das Mishra uses his influence to stop Shravan from playing in the district championship. Shravan meets Bhagwan and requests him to let him play. Bhagwan, then, urinates in a bottle and asks Shravan to drink his urine thinking of it as nectar. Amrit hai, gatak jao. Jeevan daan de denge. It is nectar. Gulp it down. I will give you a new lease of life. Shravan is not the one who believes in following the principles of Morarji Desai; therefore, he does not drink it. The film shows many such instances involving pissing. At some point, Shravan is put in jail as he broke the car lights of the man who had come to see Sunaina for marriage. While Shravan is in jail, Bhagwan sends his goons to beat him up. When the hired goons arrive, Shravan is urinating in the jail's toilet. They beat him when he is doing the act. Shravan pays them back in kind by hitting them. Moments later, the police inspector questions Shravan when he is sitting on the toilet seat. He tells the inspector that he will not take a beating from anyone. During another stage in the film, Shravan gets a government job after he wins the district championship. However, his boss keeps giving menial personal tasks to him. After a point, Shravan loses his cool and gets into a physical confrontation with his boss who pisses in his pants out of fear. Shravan makes a video and threatens to leak it if he continues to behave the way he does. Finally, we again see the act of pissing in the last few moments of the film after Shravan rescues Sunaina from Bhagwan. He is asked to take a leak for a fitness test, and it is shown that his urine has blood in it. Shravan then says, "Jeet to hum chuke hain, sirf ladna baki hai." He has already won the battle; he just needs to fight. The blood in his urine was the symbol of his victory. The same element is used at different stages to get back at someone. The references to urine are in line with the film's premise of pissing off people.
Mukkabaaz's milieu is depicted with authenticity as Anurag Kashyap knows the place and the system out-and-out. The prevalence of caste, the nexus between politicians and sports, the cow slaughter-related lynchings, the issue of unemployment of shikshit berozgaar, and the rustic language spoken by the characters are rooted in the setting. Shravan describes the impotency of Bhagwan Das by saying, "Unki beedi me tambhakoo nahi hai." His beedi does not have tobacco in it. At another instance, the boxing competition had to be shifted because a politician's relative was getting married in the boxing stadium. This is pretty common. When a politician gives a speech about boxing, he mentions that the great boxing legend Muhammad Ali was from Uttar Pradesh and then apologizes after someone tells him that he was from Kerala. This politician could well compete with the Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Deb in giving the most outrageous statement. At another instance, Shravan's father sits near an electricity pole and talks about putting a katiya, a common phenomenon in that part of the country, as was also depicted in Deepti Kakkar's Katiyabaaz. Shravan's father gets another hilarious scene when he confuses the word passion with fashion. All these instances bring a layer of reality to the film. 
One of the most interesting scenes in the film is when Bhagwan Das calls Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan) to warn him from coaching Shravan. In the meeting, Bhagwan asks Sanjay's caste. Sanjay replies that he is a Harijan. Immediately, Bhagwan calls the waiter and asks him to bring a separate jug of water for Sanjay. When we look at the waiter, we see that he also has a stone eye, just like Bhagwan's. I felt this particular scene acted as a mirror to Bhagwan, who cannot 'see' that there is no difference between him and the other man. They both have the same flaws, so, why this caste supremacy over another man. This one-second scene felt so powerful as compared to some other scenes. There are many other caste-based references in the film as well. At some point, Sanjay tells Shravan that he got inspired by Pele's story and wanted to be a boxer when he was growing up. However, the upper caste kids did not let him play. He practiced by himself alone, but never got a chance to play. In another depiction of caste discrimination, Shravan's boss who is a Yadav (Other Backward Classes) makes a video of Shravan doing cleaning tasks. He tells Shravan that there was a time when his father used to work as a servant in the house of Bhumihar (Upper Caste) and now the time has reversed. Later, Shravan would turn the tables and record a video of his boss wetting his pants. Then, in another scene, Shravan tells the office peon that he is not a Chaprasi, and the peon shoots back that aren't they human. Also, we never get a confirmation about Shravan's caste. It remains ambiguous. Bhagwan Das tells Sunaina's father Gopal (Sukhesh Mishra) that there is no proof of Shravan being a Rajput. Gopal replies that he also brought the Bedaag Detergent guy, who was an Aggarwal. Bhagwan counters that he was rich. Gopal says that if having money makes someone a Brahmin, then, he is too poor to be called one. Sociologists have cited that capitalism and wealth can help bring down the caste barriers but class barriers are coming up in its place. The film shows how being rich and proficient in English are becoming the new class barriers. Shravan's boss asks him to take permission in English by saying, "May I come in." Even Sunaina is reading a book on learning the English language.
One can always count on Anurag Kashyap to include a film-related reference in his films. In Shravan's house, there is a poster of Tatineni Rama Rao's Main Intequam Loonga (1982). The film is the story of Kumar (Dharmendra) who likes boxing, but his mother Janki (Nirupa Roy) does not want him to be a boxer. Kumar gets to know that his biological father (also a boxer) was killed by G.D. (Amrish Puri), who trains boxers and only wants his trainee to win the boxing championship. Kumar takes revenge for his father's death by winning the boxing championship against his father's killers. It is easy to discern the similarities between Mukkabaaz and Main Intequam Loonga. Additionally, there are other films that can be seen in the film. At one stage, the song Elo Ji Sanam Hum Aa Gaye from Rajkumar Santoshi's Andaz Apna Apna is playing on the television in a shop. The name of the Wi-Fi for Shravan's internet connection is Bajrangi Bhaijaan and the password is Dabangg. During Gopal's wedding, a remix version of Mere Pairon Mein Ghunghroo from Harnam Singh Rawail's Sunghursh (1968) is played. Interestingly, this song has often been played in Lalu Prasad Yadav's election rallies. In one scene, we also see the remix version of Dheere Dheere Se starring Sonam Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. The film's characters also mention Bruce Lee and the romance between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
Main Intequam Loonga
Andaz Apna Apna

I must add that anyone interested in the art of subtitling must watch how Mukkabaaz has subtitled the lyrics of the songs. It is excellently done. It retains the flavor of the song without losing the context. The film credits the subtitling of songs to Neeraj Ghaywan. No wonder that the subtitling is great as the director of Masaan knows the importance of the same. Most films subtitle the dialogues but often ignore the songs. Even the subtitles of the film's dialogue are done with an attention to detail. In some scenes, the subtitles mention OS that stands for Overlapping Dialogue where two characters speak over each other.
In Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha, the monotonous daily routine of Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) is depicted using some repeated scenes. He is shown brushing his teeth, eating his breakfast, cleaning his car, and taking the elevator to his office. I was reminded of these repeated scenes when Mukkabaaz shows Shravan following a similar template. There are repeated scenes of Shravan waking up, washing his clothes, ironing them, doing the pooja, and tying the laces of his shoes. Mukkabaaz could well be called as Tamasha in some form. While Tamasha is based in an urban and a caste-neutral setting, Mukkabaaz belongs to a small town where caste decides one's entire existence. Ved deals with his inner demon to be what he wants to be. Shravan has to fight the system (and many other things) to do what he wants to do. In Tamasha, Ved meets an autorickshaw driver from Allahabad who had wanted to be a singer but circumstances forced him to do something else. He tells him, "Andar se kuch aur hi hain hum, aur bahar se majboor." He is something else from inside, but he is helpless from the outside. Who knows if Shravan had not been able to get a government job, he could have been saying the same words. As Shravan's father tells him, "Aadmi ka dushman aadmi nahi, uski apni paristithi hoti hai." A man's enemy is his own circumstances. 
In Madhur Bhandarkar's Indu Sarkar, the lead protagonist Indu (Kirti Kulhari) stammers while speaking. The film is set in the time when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the rule of emergency in India, which led to severe curtailing of the fundamental rights of the citizens. Indu's stammering pointed to a restriction on some of these rights, most notably, the right to freedom of speech. Indu rises up against her husband, also interestingly named as, Navin Sarkar. Indu Sarkar was a decent film. Anurag Kashyap's political views lie on the other end of the spectrum as compared with Madhur Bhandarkar's; however, both of them have shown this curtailing of speech using the metaphor of voice. In Mukkabaaz, Bhagwan's brother cannot assert any authority over Bhagwan even though he is the elder one. Bhagwan's wife does not say anything to him. They cannot speak in front of Bhagwan—God. It is actually Sunaina, who has no voice, speaks through her actions. She refuses to be called a takiya (a pillow) or an apaahij (a disabled). She calls herself a cow in a letter to Shravan. Ironically, the very act of her chewing gum, like a cow all the time, even at the time of her wedding showed that she is no cow.
During the final competition in the film, a lady's voice can be heard that says, "Bachchon se kabhi yeh mat kehna ki woh kuch ban nahi sakte kyunki sabse zyada chot tabhi lagti hai." Do not tell the kids that they cannot become anything because that is what hurts them the most. I was curious by this product placement of Savlon in the film. It is rare to see something like this in an Anurag Kashyap film. I cannot find the original advertisement, so, I am not entirely sure if this particular slogan was created only for the movie to fit with its narrative. Also, I must mention that I rarely use the word organic in the context of films. However, when Shravan starts chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai while hitting Bhagwan, it did not feel organic to me. It felt gratuitous and forced without any strong reason to include it in that situation. Some other political references in the film also felt forced.

Mukkabaaz begins and ends with similar scenes. In one of the early moments in the film, Shravan fights with Bhagwan Das and his goons to impress Sunaina. A bloodied Shravan smiles at Sunaina who was watching him from the roof of her house. The scene is repeated in the end when Shravan is in the boxing ring and his opponent knocks him down. Shravan again smiles and looks up at Sunaina. He might have lost the fight but he won the battle against Bhagwan Das. As he had said, "Jeet toh hum chuke hain, bas ladna baki hai." In his defeat was his victory. Here in lies the film's unconventional ending. The hero does not get up and fight back to win the championship because he has already won. He had promised Sunaina that he can even give up boxing for her. And, he does to live his other dream.
Vineet Kumar Singh has given an excellent and a memorable performance as Shravan in the film. He struggled for years to become an actor. One can see the real-life parallels between his story and Shravan's. They even share similar names—Vineet Kumar Singh and Shravan Kumar Singh. In an earlier scene in the film, Sanjay Kumar tells Shravan that people used to call him mukkabaaz (the brawler), but he could never be mukkebaaz (the boxer). It is Shravan who has to now decide whether he wants to be the brawler or the boxer. After watching this film, one can say that Vineet Kumar Singh has crossed a similar barrier of acting where he has transitioned from a mukkabaaz (a good actor) to a mukkebaaz (a great actor).

The song Mushkil Hai Apna Mel Priye is inspired by a poem written by Dr. Sunil Jogi. It is picturized on Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the film and is reminiscent of Emotional Attyachar from DevD in which he had played Patna Ke Presley. My favorite line in the song—Tum Kohli ka virat shatak, main follow-on ki paari hoon.
Books In Movies:
Sunaina reads English Grammar and Composition
Other Reading:
1. On No SmokingLink
2. On Raman Raghav 2.0Link

Dialogue(s) of the Day:
"Are destiny bhi koi cheez hota hai."
—Shravan Kumar Singh, Mukkabaaz

"Boxing pe picture banti hai to 40 crore kamati hai, tournament rakho to 40 jan dekhne nahi aate."
—Bhagwan Das Mishra, Mukkabaaz

"Jo sabko lagta hai wahi sach hota hai."
—Inspector, Mukkabaaz

"Aadmi ka dushman aadmi nahi, uski apni paristithi hoti hai."
—Shravan's Father, Mukkabaaz

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Turning 31

As is the customary tradition of this blog, every year, I put a post on my birthday. It is my thirty-first birthday today. Turning thirty-one does not feel as bad turning thirty felt. From last year to this year, I have tried to be more positive in life and learned to be happy for myself. Of course, there are days when the uncertain future makes one feel like the world is ending, but I try to get through those days by focusing on the things that make me feel happy. One thing I really want to develop now is the feeling of self-confidence in me, the lack of which is starting to hamper my personal growth. I hate it that I am this introverted person who is not comfortable speaking. The brilliant thinker, Naval Ravikant, says,  "The greatest superpower is the ability to change yourself." It is extremely hard, but I have to do it. I don't know if I will be able to do it. 

Today, I saw this little house below which it was written that it is the 'Tree of Hope'. On this tree, anyone can tie a card, on which he/she can write the things one hopes for in life. Some of the cards that were on the tree were beautiful. Humans can fight with each other but, essentially, all the cards had the theme of love, happiness, and prosperity. I did not have a pen to write but I spoke a little prayer in my heart and put a blank card, hoping that the things I hope for also come true. Someone has said, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." After all, umeed par duniya kayam hai.

Anyway, I will write more later.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Log burre thodi na hote hai, achche logon par bas burra waqt aa jaata hai."
—Rhea, Hum Tum

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pari: Not A Fairytale—Of the Inner Demons

Salman Rushdie's Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights told the story of Dunia, a female genie living in Peristan, who falls in love with a human, the historical philosopher Ibn Rushd. Dunia gives birth to a tribe of semi-human, semi-djinns whom she calls Dunyazát. These half-human descendants, who have no ear-lobes, fight a battle with the four dark djinns—the Grand Ifrits Zummurud Shah, Zabardast, Shining Ruby, and Ra’im Blood-Drinker—who wreak havoc and unleash monsters upon the human world in a bid to instill fear into their heart. Prosit Roy's Pari: Not A Fairytale also takes elements from a similar folklore and depicts the story of Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma), a pari who is the daughter of the evil djinn Ifrit. According to legend, Ifrit is the evilest djinn whose purpose was to spread his own bloodline. Due to some turn of events, Rukhsana meets and falls in love with a human Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee). A professor Qasim Ali (Rajat Kapoor) had eliminated all the offsprings of Ifrit and is looking for the last remaining one, Rukhsana, so that he can kill her.
At an early point in the film, the car that Arnab's father drives has a toy fairy hanging inside it. It is as if it was giving us a hint of the things that are about to hit them. The film's title explicitly mentions that it is about fairies but it is not a fairy tale. Rukhsana is a pari—a fairy—but she is also someone who turns into an evil monster once a month. The film underscores that there is a demon in all of us. Rukhsana's own poison has to be taken out monthly else it will kill her. At the time of the month when Rukhsana becomes a monster, she sees a spirit who is her mirror image. At another early instance, Qasim Ali explains djinns to his grandson. He tells him that the naughty and the evil thoughts that we get are the work of the djinn inside us. The djinn is our inner shaitan—the devil. Towards the end of the film, Arnab leaves Rukhsana in the captivity of Qasim Ali who wants to kill her. While speaking to Piyali, he says that Rukhsana is pregnant with his child and he left her to die. Does that not make him a monster, too? Piyali consoles him by saying, "Rakshasa hum sab ke andar hai." There is a monster in all of us. She remembers the time when she aborted her child, and felt like a monster as well. 
Rukhsana might be a monster but she is not dissimilar to the humans. She is shown to be just like Arnab. As a kid, Arnab used to hide under the bed when guests came at his home. He had no friends. He used to speak so little that his mother got worried that he might lose his voice. He used to play with various cartoon characters. He used to like sketching. The same qualities are shown in Rukhsana. She hides under the bed when she feels scared. She has no friends. She was kept isolated from everyone while growing up. She is fascinated by cartoons as well. She also likes to sketch portraits. When Arnab sees Rukhsana's sketches, he remembers his own sketches. If Rukhsana sketches the Ifrit (a ghost), then Arnab also sketches the Phantom (also a ghost). The film focuses on these details and shows us their underlying similarity. At a later point, Arnab leaves Rukhsana at his apartment to die, and goes to his parents' house. He leans down on the floor and turns his body into the fetal position. Immediately in the next scene, Rukhsana is lying in the exact same state. Thus, they are not really different. Perhaps, that is why he was able to form a connection with her. Later, Piyali was about to kill Rukhsana but she stops as she empathizes with Rukhsana, not only because she is a nurse, but also because she remembered the time when she had aborted her own child. She could not make herself do it. One can understand others even better when the person has experienced the similar pain himself. Maybe that was what the film was trying to say. We might box ourselves into separate identities, but we share the same emotions. 
The film is set in rainy Kolkata and shows the usual Bengali touches. As we know, every Bengali household is likely to have the signature green-colored tube of Boroline. The same can be seen in Pari. The scenes with Boroline in the film also have a subtext of sexual consent. After Rukhsana runs from her village to Arnab's house in Kolkata, he sees her injured feet and offers to apply Boroline on them. Rukhsana is intimidated by any touch and puts her feet away from him. Seeing her hesitation, Arnab gives the tube to her and tells her to put it on her own. Later, this scene is repeated when Rukhsana cannot find a nail cutter, and she uses the knife to cut her nails, bruising her feet in the process. Arnab, again, observes her feet, and gives her Boroline to apply it on her feet. This time, she puts her feet away initially, then brings them forward, and signals to him that he can apply the ointment on her. This is a depiction of the dynamics of sexual consent in a way. He touches her only if she wants him to do so. Moments later, Rukhsana tells him, "I love you, too." She learned these words when she was watching Waqt: The Race Against Time where Pooja (Priyanka Chopra) proclaims her love to Aditya (Akshay Kumar). The words I love you are significant, but the fourth word too is equally important as it conveys the idea of consent. It is also important to have the consent of both the people engaging in any sexual activity. At a later instance, when Piyali kisses Arnab, he moves away from her. She immediately stops and apologizes to him. Even if they are engaged, she respects his consent.
At some stage in the film, Rukhsana felt immense pain in her body. On seeing her in this state, Arnab worries about her. She tells him that it happens to her once a month. Later, it is shown that Rukhsana turns into a monster every month. In the last scene of the film, when she is dying, she explains about this state and says that she has to take out her poison once a month. Rukhsana's mother used to tie her in chains at that time of the month and kept her away from everyone. Rukhsana tells Arnab that the dogs near her house know everything, yet they do not abandon her at that time when she has to take out the poison. It is a common belief in many cultures that menstruating women are 'unclean' and must be isolated from others. After all these scenes, it seemed that, perhaps, this zeher was only an allegory for menstruation and the menstrual taboo. 
Although Pari is marketed as a horror film, it is, essentially, a love story with some supernatural elements. Some of the scenes are uncomfortable to watch. I was aghast at the scene where the men in the morgue extract a tooth from the dead bodies and put in their mouths to chew the leftover food. My favorite scene in the film was the one when Rukshana and Arnab make love in the shadows. It is a lovely scene.
All the three films produced by Anushka Sharma till now have been set in different geographical regions. The common theme in the films has been the presence of interesting women characters. In NH-10, Meera single-handedly takes revenge for the death of her husband from a bunch of men in the badlands of Haryana. In Phillauri, Shashi feels no hesitation in having premarital sex in a conservative time and in an equally conservative place, while the contemporary youth in the film were hesitant to talk about sex. In Pari, Rukhsana is a fairy and a monster. She falls in love with a man, and it was that very love that makes her baby human. She is able to overcome Ifrit's hatred and her desire to bite the person she loves. Love can conquer it all. It will be exciting to see what Anushka Sharma does next. I know I will be waiting. 

The cartoon show that Rukhsana watches is the episode Wolf! Wolf! of the cartoon show Mighty Mouse. In the particular episode, a little lamb is captured by a pack of wolves, and Mighty Mouse rescues and brings her back to her mother. Was it a statement that Rukhsana is some kind of a lamb as well?
Books In Movies:

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Kalpabigyan Samagra by Premendra Mitra
Mysteries by Colin Wilson

The Evil Child by Qasim Ali (fictitious)

The Streets by Anthony Quinn
Dialogue of the Day:
"Rakshasa hum sab ke andar hai."
—Piyali, Pari: Not A Fairytale