Saturday, April 22, 2017

Raees—Of Dhandha And Gandhian Vision

Raees is the story of Raees Alam (Shah Rukh Khan), who trades in liquor in the perennially dry state of Gujarat, where selling alcohol is prohibited. An upright police officer Jaideep Ambalal Majmoodar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is determined to stop Raees' trade. Directed by Rahul Dholakia, Raees is alleged to be based on the story of Abdul Latif, a notorious gangster of Gujarat, though the film-makers have denied it, and called it a work of fiction. 
At an early point in Raees, a young Raees goes to an eye doctor to get a pair of spectacles. The doctor asks for a payment of two rupees; however, Raees' mother cannot pay and delays the purchase for a few days. She also refuses to borrow money for the glasses as she does not want to give Raees a borrowed vision, rather she wants him to have a clear vision of his own. She says, "Main use udhaar ka nazariya nahi, chokas nazar dena chahti hun." The ingenious Raees thinks of an innovative idea to get the spectacles. He goes to the nearby statue of Mahatma Gandhi, steals the glasses from his bust, and gives it to the doctor. The doctor asks him to put the stolen glasses back on Gandhi as they suit him better. This is a lovely scene in the film that also makes a point about Raees. Raees does not believe, as his mother says, in the 'borrowed vision' and this vision points to that of Gandhi. Gandhi believed that alcohol consumption was hindering the upliftment of the masses, and he strongly advocated a policy of total prohibition. The state of Gandhi's birth, Gujarat, had implemented a policy of prohibition after Gandhi's death, which continues to exist till today. Raees does not care about the prohibition, rather, he makes alcohol as his business, even though it was illegal. While Gandhi had his own ideas of being dependent on swadesi goods, Raees trades in foreign liquor. For Raees, no business is bad, and there is no greater religion than a business until it causes harm to people. Raees, like Gandhi, wears his own set of glasses throughout the film. When Raees meets Musa for the first time, Musa gives him a new pair of glasses and tells him that it will help him see better. This, again, subtly points to the type of vision that Raees is going to adopt, which is certainly non-Gandhian. There is a running gag in the film where Raees hates being called 'battery' because of shortsightedness. Raees even tries to become a father-figure of his community, like Gandhi was called Bapu, which makes Majmoodar, at one point, to say, "Bacche ka baap bana hai, Gujarat ka nahi." He is his child's father, not the father of Gujarat, which subtitles changed it to the father of the nation—another hint for Gandhi. This is why the scene was fascinating, as an interview with Rahul Dholakia also said, "The scene becomes a metaphor for the changing vision of a generation."
It is interesting to contrast Raees with Swades. While the former subverts aspects of Gandhi's vision, Swades promotes his vision. Coincidentally, Swades also begins with a quote related to vision by Gandhi. It says, "Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress." In another related scene, a villager tells Mohan that he should not make them wear the glasses (Gandhian views) that he is wearing. In Swades, Shah Rukh is named Mohan that was also Gandhi's first name—Mohandas. Later, in Swades, at some stage, Mohan's desk has the book Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi by Rajni Bakshi, which was also the book credited in the beginning of the film. A description of the book elaborates that it is 'a story of twelve individuals who search for the solutions to the many problems of modern India and these activists find themselves coming to the same conclusions as had Gandhi.' Mohan's views and philosophy mirror some of Gandhi's own beliefs, such as the one on girl's education. Mohan gives a spiel to the villagers when he sees that they have become comfortable with living in darkness and then inspires them to do something themselves.This was a reference to one of Gandhi's famous quotes—"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Swades is Mohan's journey of the rediscovery of Gandhi and India. Raees and Mohan are two opposite ends of this spectrum of Gandhian vision. 
There is another connection between the two films. At some point in Swades, Mohan helps Haridas, a debt-ridden farmer struggling to make ends meet. Meeting with Haridas changed Mohan after which he embraced India's water, literally and metaphorically. In Raees, the same actor who played Haridas becomes a mill-worker, who is also struggling to make ends meet after the mill is closed and the owner refused to pay compensation to the workers. Raees helps him and other mill-workers get back their dues from the owner, for which the workers are grateful to him. In both cases, the man is helped monetarily.  
We also see other films of Shah Rukh Khan with some elements in Raees. Raees often quotes his ammi's sayings, like Rizwaan Khan used to repeat his mother's quotes in My Name Is Khan. Raees wants to construct his own housing project, which he calls it Apni Duniya. He tells his wife his dream of how Apni Duniya would be like. This was also quite like the advertising company that Rahul wanted to have in Yes Boss. In both the cases, Raees and Rahul are willing to bend law and ethics to make their dream fulfill, and in both the films, the dream is never fulfilled, perhaps, as a consequence of their actions. In another coincidence, Raees is the second film where Shah Rukh Khan is seen putting eye drops, like he did in Dear Zindagi
After his business is established, Raees becomes a father-figure to his community. Raees might not have his own wealth, but as his name suggests, he is raees—wealthy—because he has a heart of gold. He tries to help everyone. The first time Raees' love interest Asiya appears on the screen, she is dancing on Kaante Nahi Kat Te from Mr. India, another film about a man, who is trying to become the father of the nation. In another throwback to the cinema of the '70s and the '80s, Raees goes to meet the owner of the mill, who is watching Kala Patthar at a drive-in theater. The particular scene is playing where Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) confronts Seth Dhanraj (Prem Chopra) after the accident in the mine, that had killed many workers. Raees confronts the owner of the miller in an almost replica of the scene from Kala Patthar with the scene playing in the background. In addition, the Laila Maina Laila is a remixed version of the song Laila O Laila from another '80s film Qurbaani. In a lovely small touch, the playing cards of Jairaj have Dream Girl written on them with a picture of Hema Malini. 
At some early stage in the film, Raees is called a tiger by the doctor. A few moments later, Raees and Sadiq go to Bombay to sell goat meat. Their plan to make money does not prove to be fruitful as the existing shopkeepers refuse to accommodate them. There is an engrossing sequence where Raees fights others with flesh and meat in the market. When Musa comes, he compares Raees to a lion and tells him that a goat is a lion's prey, not his business. Bakri sher ka khuraak hoti hai, karobaar nahi. Raees is again compared to a lion in the film, when Majmoodar comes to visit him at the site of his construction project. Raees tells him, "Din aur raat logon ke hote hai. Sheron ka zamana hota hai." Days and nights are for humans, lions have their era. Interestingly, in the film's final moments, Raees is shot and left dead in the wilderness of cacti and sand, as if he was a lion preyed by a human for his hunting expedition, and left to die in the jungle.
Raees lives by the words, "Koi dhandha chhota nahi hota, aur dhandhe se bada koi dharm nahi hota." The last time a dialogue on business that became quite popular was from Band Baajaa Baaraat—Jiske saath vyaapar karo usse kabhi na pyaar karoRaees is set in Gujarat, and as Raees says, business is in the blood of Gujaratis. It might be tad simplistic, but since the film praises Raees' baniye ka dimaag, it is worth exploring some of the business concepts in the film. When Raees decides that he will do his own business, he has no plan at all. He has no investment fund to start a business, and it was naïve of him to expect Jairaj to help him with funding. When it comes to money, even father-figures want guarantees, and hence, it is crucial to have someone back a business. Then, Raees and Sadiq go to Bombay to sell meat. They have no permission to set up a shop. Innocently, they tell the other shopkeepers to give them some space. Naturally, no shrewd businessman will do so. However, Raees become smarter in business later. Raees talks about removing the middleman and going to the supplier directly to get the product, similar to backward integration. After the alcohol business is threatened by Majmoodar, all the players form a cartel to save a business—another common business concept. Raees' baniye ka dimaag takes inspiration from the simplest of things. All his great ideas come to him not from any book or some inspirational leader, but from his observation of common objects. For instance, he gets the idea of selling goats when he bumped into someone. The guy told Raees how much people are willing to pay for goats. Then, he gets another idea by looking at the tea being poured into two glasses at the police station. He gets his idea of home delivery when he sees a postman carrying a bag and delivering letters to people. The most interesting one was the one where he was playing with a matchbox, and he gets the idea of sending his consignment through the sea. It is worth remembering Ship was one of the famous brands of matchboxes, and Raees is playing with the same matchbox, and gets the idea from there.  
Raees is another example of the state's own actions in encouraging crime. The establishment is as much a criminal as Raees. The government has so much power that it can actually screw anyone, if it wants. Note how Raees' Apni Duniya project was stopped by the state by arbitrarily declaring the land area as a green zone. In 2016, Alex Tabarrok had written an exceptional piece on Mani Ratnam's Guru, which he called the most important free market movie ever made. He writes, "The movie is powerful not because it opposes virtue and corruption but because it opposes two ideas of virtue. Is it virtuous to follow the law when the law itself is corrupt? Other artists have explored this question when the lawbreaker opposes social injustice, ala Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but what about when the lawbreaker opposes economic injustice? The question the movie asks is a classic question from Ayn Rand, how can an honest (business)-man live in a corrupt world?" Like Guru, a similar argument can be made for Raees. Is it virtuous to follow the law when the law itself is corrupt? Raees begins with the lines, "Paabandi hi bagawat ki shuraat hai." It is prohibition that begets rebellion. When someone tries to impose a ban on something, the market for it moves underground. I still remember a quote from one of my economics classes which said that the black markets are the actual free markets; it is the government-controlled markets that are the real black markets. There is no doubt that Gandhi is responsible for the mushrooming of this alcohol-black market. Raees does his business to meet this unfulfilled need of alcohol by fighting this economic injustice. Like Guru did in Guru, Raees also bribes the state officials. He sings about it as well. Tedhi jab kar di, ungli to seedhi chali. When I twisted my ways, the world acted in the correct manner. The state was an active consumer of his business as well, so, does making it illegal help anyone at all?
The problem with Raees' actions comes in the second half of the film, where he uses violence. One can understand that he killed all the crooks like Jairaj who tried to harm him, but during the latter half, he becomes an extortionist. He takes money to remove people forcibly from their land. He says that he does not do the business of communalism, but he has no qualms in instigating a riot and putting lives of many people in danger when a politician wants to do rath yatra in his community. He throws a crude bomb to start a riot to protect his business. His actions cannot be defended using the garb of economic injustice; these actions of his are immoral, illegal, and criminal. He feels no pangs of guilt at this point, but, strangely, in the end, he is guilt-ridden when there are multiple bomb blasts in the country, leading to the death of many people. It is here that Raees become less clear about Raees' philosophy towards life.  
Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the cop Jaideep Ambalal Majmoodar is another example of this amazing man's acting prowess. He seems to be genuinely having a lot of fun in the movie. The first time that he appears on the screen, he is dancing dressed as Michael Jackson in a costume party. It is a hilarious scene and he arrests the organizer of the party calling him aakhri Mughal. After reprising Elvis Presley as Patna Ke Presley in DevD, Nawazuddin gets to dance like Michael Jackson in Raees. His other scenes are also too funny, such as the one where he tells the Chief Minister (CM) that he cannot leave his dog, or another one, where he asks the dulha to qubool his conditions before letting him go. Majmoodar and Raees have an unexplained relationship, where they can neither stay together nor stay apart. Raees ka aur mera rishta bada ajeeb hai, paas reh nahi sakta, dur jane nahi deta. They play a cat-and-mouse game, where the other is trying to put himself in control. Interestingly, Raees and Majmoodar deal a lot with alcohol, but neither of them drinks it. Both of them drink tea a lot. Tea is a running gag in the film. When the first time Raees comes to meet Majmoodar at the police station, he tells Raees that he should get used to tea of the police station. Raees, however, uses this tea advice to come up with a trick to get his consignment delivered to the city. When Majmoodar gets hold of one of Raees' truck, he finds a tea glass inside. In later scenes as well, there are constant references to tea. Raees and Majmoodar are often shown to be drinking tea. When Raees is held up in jail, he kicks the tea glass. The constant reference to tea is some sort of indicator of their confrontation (chai pe charcha?) or a unifying bond between them. 

Though billed as a fictional film, Raees has political symbols in the film. These include not just the political characters in the film, but also elements hinting towards the activities of the real-life characters. The character of Pasha brings out a rath yatra, quite similar to the infamous rath yatra of L.K. Advani. The other political subtext was the role of Majmoodar's actions. At one point, he is transferred to the control room, where he finds a goldmine of sorts as he gets an opportunity to phone tap all the conversations between Raees and his associates. Those familiar with politics will be aware of the case of snooping of a woman involving the top two political personalities of the country, which made headlines only a few years ago. In the final moments of the film, Raees is arrested by the police. He knows that he will not be sent to the jail, but will be killed before. Majmoodar says he cannot trust the system, so he shoots him in an isolated place. Again, a reminder of the highly controversial encounter killings of Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin Shaikh by the Gujarat top cop D.G. Vanzara. Raees is allegedly rumored to be based on the story on Abdul Latif, a famous gangster of Gujarat. While the film tries to show that Raees was a secularist, Latif actually was a communal man, who had engineered several riots. Raees also shows communal riots and the bomb blasts the rocked the country. All these events have a link, intentional or unintentional, to the current political leadership of India. Raees is set much before the current political leadership came into force, however, the point remains that the state machinery of that time as shown in the film has some parallels with the real-life events and characters. The politics is not surprising as Rahul Dholakia's last two films Lamhaa and Parzania also had political undertones, where the latter was also set in Gujarat during the 2002 riots. Besides the political connection, the whole purpose of banning finds a resonance with the current political debate of banning various food items associated with religion. In another scene, Majmoodar mocks a junior policeman for his secularism when he thinks the policeman gave his new-born son a Muslim name. Secularism has become a dirty word in the current political climate, and the film makes a joke of it. 
 
Raees has some splendid moments in its first half. The shootout at Jairaj's place during Laila Main Laila is a powerful moment in the film. After that scene, Raees walks with blood on his face, and he sees himself in the mirror, coming to terms what he did. There are some pulpy seeti-maar dialogues in the first half, too. Talwar ki dhaar ko kya chahiye—gardan. It is in second half, the film loses some of its momentum with needless songs, and a slightly predictable end. Besides this, a lot has been written on the assertion of Muslim identity in the film. I, personally, did not see it as an assertion. Raees comes from a certain socioreligious identity, and it is only par for the course that he embraced that identity. The version that I watched did not have any Muharram scenes. Shah Rukh's first scene was on a bike instead of him mourning and slashing his back as shown in the theatrical version. It seems that those scenes were cut. Not to forget, but Raees' wife Asiya is also an active participant in his business. She never questions his actions. Rather, she helps him run his business and goes along with it. Maira Khan is, perhaps, one of the rare actresses, and that too from Pakistan, whose name appears first in the title credits of a film with a superstar. Of course, Shah Rukh Khan's name comes in the end and is written in bold, which leaves no doubt as who is the real power centre of the film. However, given the controversy, it is worth mentioning this fact. They could have shown Nawazuddin the first, but the film shows Maira.  
As an admirer of Shah Rukh Khan, it feels happy to see him try different roles. It is disappointing that 2016's most interesting film Fan did not work at the box office. Shah Rukh is in fine form in Raees, and delivers a great performance. Raees is an enjoyable film with some masala moments, and a throwback to the villainous Shah Rukh of the nineties before he became Rahul and Raj. Call it a coincidence or a cosmic connection, this is brought about by another Rahul—Rahul Dholakia. At one point, Sadiq says about Raees, "Neeyat baandh ke khada hai, sajdha karke hi manega." Given the recent choices of his films, Shah Rukh has tied his neeyat, the audience is ever-willing to do the sajdha

Trivia:
Books In Movies
Raees has a book by Omar Khayyam, most likely it is Rubaiyat
Other Reading:
1. On FanLink
2. On SwadesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pabandi hi bagawat ki shuraat hai."
Majmoodar, Raees

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Haraamkhor—Of Aag And Shakti

Shlok Sharma's Haraamkhor is the story of a teacher Shyam (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) who has an illicit relationship with one of his students Sandhya (Shweta Tripathi). Shyam has two more students, Kamal (Irfan Khan) and Mintu (Mohammad Samad), who suspect that Shyam and Shweta are in a relationship. To complicate matters, Kamal is also in love with Sandhya. The story, thus, becomes a love triangle between the characters of different ages. 
There is an early moment in the film when Mintu tells Kamal, "Aag ke liye pani ka santulan bane rehna chahiye." Fire must fear water. Mintu says this in the context where he wants to tell Shyam's wife that his husband is having an affair with his student. By doing this, it would instill a fear in Shyam to not see Sandhya anymore. Throughout the film, the characters fear, or are trying to hide something. Interestingly, there is a similar dialogue in Vishal Bharadwaj's Maqbool. At some point in the film, Inspector Pandit and Inspector Purohit say to their boss, "Shakti ka santulan bahut zaroori hai sansaar mein, aag ke liye paani ka darr bane rehna chahiye." It is important that there is a balance of power in the world; fire must fear water. It is a thought-provoking concept. Thus, in Haraamkhor, this darr manifests in different ways. There is a fear of societal judgement and punishment given the illicit nature of the relationship between Shyam and Sandhya because of their age difference. Even when they are able to get away from the society to indulge in their activities, there is the fear that Sandhya could become pregnant, another form of 'fire must fear water'. In an interview with the Indian Express, Shlok Sharma, actually, said that he was inspired from Maqbool. He says, "Originally, the story had only three key characters—Shyam, Sandhya and Kamal, who holds a candle for the older girl. But inspired by the characters of Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool—based on Macbeth’s witches—it was decided to tap into the camaraderie between two boys to add humour to the otherwise serious story. I have borrowed a few dialogues from the film too, as an ode to Maqbool."
Related to the above, there is also something related to power—shakti. There is a character in the film named Shaktimaan. He is a friend of Kamal and Mintu. More than often, he wears only one set of clothes—the costume of Shaktimaan, the Indian superhero who caught the imagination of the masses during the nineties. The word shaktimaan means someone who is powerful. Further, Mintu and Kamal wear a Superman-type cape while plundering Shyam's house. Later, they enact that shirt-tearing scene from another powerful-hero film Dabanng. The film has many shots of windmills rotating due to wind power, hinting at another source of power. It is near the windmills that Sandhya and Shyam meet, and during their love-making, the wind is shown quite prominently. In addition, there are many scenes where Sandhya goes on to switch on the generator when there is a power-cut at home. Shyam, however, manages with an emergency light. In another source related to a different kind of power, Shyam has to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Sandhya's powerful policeman father. Even though Shyam might be a powerful person in his school, where he could hit any child at his discretion, he still needs to fear someone. Kamal is so powerless that his hands are fractured and he has to find someone to wipe his own bottom. All these are different manifestations of power. I am not sure if they are tied to the point that the film makes about power—Shakti ka santulan bahut zaroori hai sansaar mein, aag ke liye paani ka darr bane rehna chahiye—or, do they relate to some other context
Wind Power
In addition to the Shakespearean Maqbool-Macbeth references that the director talked about, at some point in the film, there is another ode to the Bard. At some stage, Shyam is teaching the kids about Shakespeare. He says, "Shakespeare has said the god of love is blind; he sees from the heart not mind." This is a rephrasing of the line from Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind." The change that will fit with Shyam is the that it is not love, but lust. He is a philanderer who flirts with everyone, like the time he flirted with a female colleague and invited himself to her home. Shlok Sharma has worked with Vishal Bharadwaj on Omkara as well. Perhaps, that is why the Shakespearean references, like Vishal who is inspired by Shakespeare a lot. 
It is never clear in the film if the lack of fatherly attention was one of the reasons that drove Sandhya to have a relationship with an older man. Her father is having his own affair. He is often inebriated. In one of the film's scenes, Shyam is massaging Sandhya's head in front of the mirror. Sandhya chides him that he is not doing it the way her father does. At that point, Shyam is also wearing the cap of her father, which gives some sort of a feeling of an Electra complex in Sandhya.

The children in the film often talk about being mature. Mintu jokes with Kamal that he is not mature, and he is still a kid. The kids want to grow up faster. Sandhya has a relationship with a much older man. Kamal likes Sandhya who is much senior to him. He and Mintu have their own thoughts on what constitutes marriage. At an early point in the film, Sandhya's shoes are lost, and Kamal offers his shoes to her, but she refuses. A few moments later, Shyam offers his shoes to her, but by that time, she had found hers. During the climax, Kamal and Mintu steal Shyam's shirt, and they go to a field where Kamal wears it. When Kamal is caught by Shyam for stealing his shirt, he hits him, and runs naked to Sandhya, where she offers him her clothes. It is this that shows how the kids are behaving much older than their age, trying to fit in clothes and shoes much larger than their size. 
There is no role that Nawazuddin Siddiqui cannot do. He is brilliant like always. He just gets into the skin of the character. Shweta Tripathi looks really young than her real age. The kids Irfan Khan (Kamal) and Mohammad Samad (Mintu) are wonderful, though Samad's demeanor comes across a little urban for the character. I was surprised by Shreya Shah as Neelu. She was lovely in the film, and her character is so heartwarming, trying to break the strereotypes.
Both the names Shyam and Sandhya mean the evening. Shyam is another name for Lord Krishna. Kamal and Mintu used to call Shyam with a derogatory term for dark-colored people in Hindi and they made fun that how could a dark man get a girl like Sandhya. Their derision of dark color is so casual that one wonders from where they got it. And, then, in one scene, Shaktimaan sings the lines of a song from the film Geraftaar. He sings, "Dhoop mein nikala na karo Roop ki Raani, gora rang kaala na pad jaaye," which clears the doubts from where the impressionable kids learn such notions. 
Dialogue of the Day:
"Aag ke liye pani ka santulan bane rehna chahiye."
Mintu, Haraamkhor

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Oedipus Complex In Hindi Films

The great Sigmund Freud, considered to be the father of modern psychology, had proposed a highly controversial theory called the Oedipus complex. Although he had mentioned this theory in his book The Interpretation of Dreams and in his other early works, he completely articulated his ideas about the Oedipus complex in a case study. In 1909, Freud wrote a paper Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy, where he tried to understand the fear of horses of a boy named Little Hans. He believed the boy's terror was due to feelings of anger for his parents that he had internalized. Freud's theory states that all small boys select their mother as their primary object of desire. They subconsciously wish to usurp their father and become their mother's lover. The child suspects that acting on these feelings would lead to danger, therefore, his desires are repressed, which leads to anxiety. He called it the Oedipal complex, named after the Greek tragedy play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, which is the story of the king Oedipus, who murders his father and marries his mother. Carl Jung had postulated a female equivalent, known as the Electra complex; however, the term never caught on, and Oedipus complex is now largely used to denote the relationship between three parties (one child and two parents) where the child competes with one parent for the love and affection of the other. Although Freud believed the complex in a sexual way, over the years, some have considered that the relationship doesn’t need to be sexual to be considered Oedipal, and includes any inter-generational conflict.

Indian psychologists have also hypothesized a different version of the Oedipus complex called as the Indian Oedipus complex. In this model, instead of sons desiring mothers and overcoming fathers, and daughters loving fathers and hating mothers, most often, we have fathers (or father-figures) suppressing their sons and desiring their daughters, and mothers desiring their sons and ill-treating their daughters. The structure is same as that of the Freudian model but the relationship of desire is reverse in the Indian model.

There have been a few Hindi films that have explored the Oedipal complex, but by and large, the controversial theory is present as an understated subtext with non-sexual tones. One of the recurring themes in Hindi cinema has been the role of mother-son relationships, but not many films have dared to cross the boundary. The familial relationships are treated reverentially, and any deviation is frowned upon in the conservative Indian society. However, it is still an interesting exercise to explore where themes related to Oedipal complex are present in Hindi cinema.

One of the earliest films where there was an Oedipal context is Mother India (1957). Directed by Mehboob Khan, the film is the story of a poverty-stricken village woman named Radha who, in the absence of her husband, struggles to raise her two sons Ram and Birju. She has to also learn to survive against a usurious moneylender. In the film, there are clear signs of Oedipal feelings between Radha and her son Birju. In National Identity In Indian Popular Cinema, 1947-1987, Sumita S. Chakravarty writes, "Birju who takes gambling, thieving, and ultimately to highway robbery, is actually indulging in a form of self-aggression, to protest what he sees as the withdrawal of his mother's affections. His nostalgia for her softer and nurturing side, as also his Oedipal longings, is expressed by his obsessive attachment to her bracelets. The film sublimates Birju's incestuous longings for the mother by presenting the motivations for Birju's actions as anger that his mother's bracelets have been pawned to the moneylender." In Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema, Rachel Dwyer notes that Radha's husband was named Shyam (a name for Krishna), and her rebellious son was named Birju (another name for Krishna) which also could be read as a symbol of an Oedipal relation. It was also the case the actors playing Radha and Birju actually got married in real life.
In Khamoshi (1969), there is actually a description of the Oedipal complex, perhaps, the first Hindi film to mention it. Directed by Asit Sen, Khamoshi is the story of a nurse Radha who works in the psychiatry ward in a hospital. She is asked to take care of Arun, a writer who lost his mind after his lover rejected him. Radha starts taking care of him and, eventually, falls in love with him. In the early moments of the film, Colonel Saab, the head doctor, explains the treatment for Arun, and he talks about the Oedipal complex. He says that in childhood, when a man opens his eyes, he moves around and becomes familiar with his surroundings. This is called the auto-erratic state. After that, he looks at himself in the mirror and feels happy and for the first time, he falls in love with himself. This is called the narcissist state. After this, he learns to love his mother or father; if it’s a girl then her father and if it’s a guy then his mother. This is called the Oedipus or the Electra complex. When he realizes that it is not acceptable to love one’s mother then he reluctantly removes her from this place and looks for this kind of faith for the face, of this motherly affection. He, then, adds that the nurse will have to play a role so that Arun finds that his mother and his lover's face is the same. This is called establishing the rapport with the patient, which will help him in being treated. Radha, after some reluctance, agrees to treat Arun. At some point in the film, the mother of Radha's ex-lover Dev, who was also treated by Radha using the same treatment, invites Radha to her place. Dev's mother tells her that she might have given him birth, but it was Radha who gave her another life, again, highlighting the Oedipal theme in the film. In his book Mad Tales from Bollywood: Portrayal of Mental Illness in Conventional Hindi Cinema, Dinesh Bhugra writes, "That Radha, as a nurse and a therapist, is a representation of the sacrificing mother, who has nurtured her sons in an erotic-nurturant manner in the Indian Oedipal complex style is clear."
 
In the 1970s, Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan wrote many scripts that had Oedipal overtones. Directed by Yash Chopra, Deewar (1975) is the story of a mother and her two sons. One of them becomes a policeman, and the other becomes a criminal. The two sons, Ravi and Vijay, follow different principles in life. At one point, the two of them compare their assets, and Ravi wins simply because he has their mother with him—Mere paas maa hai. There are Oedipal feelings in both Ravi and Vijay. In the end, Vijay dies with his head in his mother's lap. The mother had chosen Ravi over Vijay, and she is the one who hands the gun to Ravi to kill Vijay; however, in Vijay's last moments, he remembers the time when he used to sleep in his mother's arms. He says he never slept since he separated from her. This is a deeply Oedipal moment. At some other point, Vijay risks his life to meet his mother at the promised place. It is also worth noting that the film's English title was called I'll Die For Mama. In Cinema As Family Romance, Priya Joshi writes, "In this, Deewar presents a notably authoritarian—and eventually unstable—version of the Oedipal drama in which neither generation ultimately prevails. Both father and child are demolished, and power resides in absolutist fashion with a ruthless central authority that is unwilling to cede or share it." In another Oedipal reading from Ravi's viewpoint, he is the one who gets to keep his mother with him, and it is he who informs his mother of her husband's demise. He is also the one who kills her other son whom she loves, eliminating all competition, thus, demonstrating the Oedipal complex.
In Trishul (1978), which was also directed by Yash Chopra and written by Salim-Javed, the story revolves around a son Vijay who is born out of wedlock. His mother Shanti was in love with Raj Kumar who ditched her and married a rich girl as wished by his mother. Shanti leaves the town but is pregnant. She raises the child on her own. On her deathbed, she reminds her son Vijay of her father's abandonment and asks her son to never forget her life. Vijay comes to Delhi and plots the destruction of his father's business. Unlike Deewar, where the Oedipal conflict was complicated by the absence of a father, the conflict in Trishul is conventional where the child takes revenge for her mother by killing his father. In Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema, Maithili Rao calls Trishul 'the most overtly Oedipal film in mainstream cinema, where the illegitimate son not only ruins his father's business but also alienates his legitimate children from him.' Salim-Javed wrote yet another film Shakti (1982), directed by Ramesh Sippy, that portrayed another version of the Oedipal conflict. The film revolves around yet another character named Vijay, and his animosity towards his police-officer father who was willing to let his own son die when he was kidnapped.
In the 1990s, Yash Chopra made Lamhe (1991) that became one of the first films that portrayed an Electra complex (Oedipal complex from a female point of view). Lamhe is the story of Viren Pratap Singh, a prince belonging to Marwar, He falls in love with the girl next door, Pallavi. She is elder to him in age though this does not bother him. Pallavi loves someone else and gets married to him. Unable to bear his heartbreak, Viren goes to London. Meanwhile, Pallavi dies in an accident and leaves behind a daughter Pooja, under the care of Viren's Daijaan. Viren does not see Pooja till she becomes an adult; however, she grows up to become an exact replica of her mother. This time, Pooja falls in love with Viren, who is obviously much elder to him. Viren has to decide whether he is still in love with Pallavi, or he is deliberately trying to stop himself from falling in love with Pooja. Viren and Pooja might not be related by blood, but Viren is a fatherly-figure to Pooja, fitting the definition of the Electra complex. The film was a box office failure and was called too far ahead of its time. Perhaps, one of the reasons it did not work was the audience could not accept that Pooja as a daughter falling in love with a much older fatherly-figure man. Their relationship would become sexual after their wedding, and as such, it could be debated if their relationship was incestuous or not (personally, I love the film).
Many commentators called Lamhe to be an example of Indian Oedipal complex, a different version of the Freudian model. The Indian model has been seen in a few other films, too. In Rakesh Roshan's Karan Arjun (1995), a revengeful mother's desire for her two sons is so strong that they take another birth to meet her. In a particular song sequence, the two sons and their mother sing Yeh Bandhan Toh Pyaar Kai Bandhan. Shot in the mustard field, they sing about how their relationship will last ages, a concept usually reserved for lovers. Inspired by the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Priyadarshan made Kyon Ki (2005). The film is the story of a mental patient Anand who is kept in a mental hospital, as he lost his sanity after he accidentally kills the girl he loves. In the asylum, there is Dr. Tanvi who falls in love with Anand. When Tanvi's father Dr. Khurana finds out that she likes Anand, he is enragedEavesdropping: The Psychotherapist in Film and Television, Dinesh Bhugra and Gurvinder Kalra write that this is another symptom of the Indian Oedipal/Electra complex. They write, "When Dr. Khurana realizes that Tanvi is in love with Anand, he cannot bear it because he has given all his love to her, and cannot conceive of her leaving him. This is one reflection of the Indian Oedipal complex, where a relationship between father and daughter is close, and the father is not prepared to deal with competition." There were similar instances in Shoojit Sircar's Piku (2015) where a perennially-constipated father Bhashkor Banerjee wants his daughter Piku to stay with him forever. He does not want her to get married, and he scares away Piku's potential suitors by telling them that she is not a virgin.
In Imtiaz Ali's Highway (2014), a Delhi girl Veera is kidnapped by a group of men, and taken for a ride all over the country. During her journey, she tastes freedom in her entrapment and falls in love with one of the kidnappers Mahabir. At many stages in the film, Mahabir is shown reminiscing about his mother. When he was a kid, he used to hate the way his father treated his mother. He remembers the lullaby his mother used to sing for him, and he cannot help but cry when he hears Veera singing the same lullaby. At one stage, she pats his head like his mother used to do. In the end, when they reach Kashmir, Veera almost becomes his mother. When they find a small hut, she tells him to not come inside the house till she cleans it. She cooks for him. Seeing all this, Mahabir cannot hold himself, and cries, "Amma." Veera consoles him like a child. Like in Khamoshi, the hero sees his mother in the woman he is falling in love with, underscoring the Oedipal elements in the film.
Vishal Bharadwaj made Haider (2014), inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet. Based in politically-charged Kashmir, Haider narrates the story of a Kashmiri boy Haider, who finds out that his mother was having an affair with his uncle who might have been behind the murder of his father. In Hamlet, Hamlet had subconsciously desired to kill his father and marry his mother. Similarly, in Haider, Haider's mother Gazala tells him that when he was a child he used to say that he wanted to marry her. He used to sleep between her mother and her father so that her father could not touch her. Haider, also, perhaps, is the first movie that portrayed sexual undertones between the mother and the son. In a brilliant scene, when Gazala is getting ready for her wedding to Khurram, Haider comes and kisses her neck. In the final moments of the film, Gazala kisses Haider on his lips. In an interview, Vishal Bharadwaj said that he tried to explore the Oedipal complex as much he could within the constraints of the society. He said, "I have explored whatever can be within the parameters of our society. The moment you know about the [Oedipal] feeling, the feeling goes away. It is a complex as long as you are not aware of it." Like Haider's relationship with his mother Gazala, there was something special about the relationship between the police offer Parvez and his daughter Arshia. At one point, when Parvez gets to know Arshia delivered Roohdar's message to Haider, he cooks food for her and puts it in her mouth with his own fingers. There was some chilling quality about that scene as if he was trying to entice her and threaten her into submission to divulge information about Haider. His act of giving food to his daughter after licking his own fingers pointed to some kind of Electra complex. The film touched upon both the Oedipal and the Electra complex.
Heartless (2014), starring Adhyayan Suman, is a medical thriller film directed by Shekhar Suman. In the film, Adhyayan plays Aditya, who requires a heart transplant. He is caught in a mix of deceit and lies by his girlfriend and his doctor who want to kill him to make money from his insurance. Aditya's mother Gayatri sacrifices herself and commits suicide so that her heart can be used by another doctor to save Aditya. In the film's final moments, there are touches of an Oedipal complex between Aditya and his mother, like it was in Haider. In a scene where the two of them are out of the conscious real world, they talk to each other where the Oedipal touches are quite discernible.
Ajay Devgn's Shivaay (2016) is about a mountaineer Shivaay who takes his daughter to Bulgaria so that she can meet her mother. One of the supporting characters in the film is Anushka, an officer at the Indian embassy in Bulgaria. During the song Tera Naal Ishqa in the film, Anushka is in a strange dream sequence in a bathtub. She sees her father in his youth; she goes on to hug him, and the image turns into that of Shivaay. At some point, she also tells Shivaay that women who have good fathers find it difficult to find love. There was a similar setting in Shlok Sharma's Haraamkhor (2017). The film is the story of an illicit relationship between a teacher Shyam and his student Sandhya. In one of the film's scenes, Shyam is massaging Sandhya's head in front of the mirror. Sandhya chides him that he is not doing it the way her father does. At that point, Shyam is also wearing the cap of her father. It is never clear in the film if the lack of fatherly attention was one of the reasons that drove Sandhya to have a relationship with an older man. However, like it is in Shivaay, the film hints that the woman sees the father in her lover in Haraamkhor.
The Oedipal complex has been touched upon in a few Indian regional films as well. Films, such as Devi (1960), Ranganayaki (1981), Vimukhti (2008), Gandu (2010), and Elektra (2010) have explored this complex. The above instances are in no way an exhaustive source but provide few instances where the complex is present. 

In Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), there is a scene in the film where an eight-year-old Anjali inadvertently tells her father Rahul that she cannot do everything for him as she is not his wife. In another scene, in the same film, when Tina's father finds out she is in love with Rahul, he tells her that even if it was someone other than Rahul, he would have felt bad. Since she is in love with another man, her love will get divided. These are pretty harmless dialogues, and nowhere does the film suggest any kind of Oedipal complex. But, somehow, this film came to my mind while exploring this topic. It will be interesting to see if a mainstream film, such as Lamhe, would work today, given that it was called 'ahead of its time', and now more than two decades have passed since its release. Indian society is largely conservative in familial aspects, and parents are often compared to godly figures. Any deviation is frowned upon. However, the fascinating thing is that one of the most common words for abuse in India suggests sexual relationships between a son and a mother. Its use is so pervasive, and somehow, we frown upon the Oedipal complex. Sigmund Freud must be smiling from heaven or, perhaps, hell. 

Dialogue of the Day:
"Tu abhi itna amir nahi hua ki apni maa ko khareed sake."
—Maa, Deewar

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kahaani 2—Of Vidya Sinha And Rajnigandha

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

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

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