Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tumhari Sulu—Main Kar Sakti Hai

Suresh Triveni's Tumhari Sulu is a delightful film about Sulochana, affectionately known as Sulu (Vidya Balan). She is a housewife and is married to Ashok (Manav Kaul). Sulu wants to do something in life, and has many different ideas. Sulu likes to do everything and does not let her lack of academic qualifications deter her. She loves to participate in contests and competitions of all kinds. A win in one such contest lands her a job as a radio jockey (RJ) at Radio Wow. She becomes the host of a late-night show where she becomes the Saree-vali Bhabhi, like Savita Bhabhi, and talks to people (mainly men), giving solutions to their problems.
The consistently repeating theme that we see throughout Tumhari Sulu is that of women, especially, working women. These women are shown everywhere in the film. Initially, in the first few scenes of the film, Sulu watches a woman driving an Ola cab, and gets an idea that she should start her own cab company. Sulu's neighbors are two women, working as air hostesses, whom she often greets when they come back from work. When Sulu is looking for a job, she goes to a gym where the caretaker is a pregnant woman. After Sulu starts working at Radio Wow, the driver assigned to pick-and-drop Sulu from her place is a married woman, who tells Sulu that her husband left her after she started working. At another point in the film, Sulu visits her sisters and one of her sisters tells the maid Kamla to stop cleaning the floor. Her small presence is also mentioned in the film. In another scene in the film, a policewoman is seen driving a two-wheeler, taking her son to school and telling him to not forget to eat his lunch. When Sulu's son Pranav goes missing, the inspector who comes at Sulu's house is again a woman. Sulu's twin sisters are also working women, who are employed at a bank. Radio Wow is led and run primarily by women—there is Maria, Albeli Anjali, and the 'convent-educated' receptionist. The film itself is about Sulu's desire to do something. It also has the grace to include transgender, another underrepresented community of women. In a lovely scene, a transgender woman stands next to Sulu in a bus and seems a little hesitant to sit on the seat, as it is reserved for women. Sulu sees her and gestures her to sit next to her. It is in these moments the film tries to acknowledge women from all walks of life.
The film's song Farrata is a lovely tribute to not just Sulu, but to all the common women, whom we don't see often. We see that Sulu is called a champion quite a few times in the film. When she participates in the lemon-and-spoon race, Ashok calls her a champion. Sulu's sisters Haina-Didi, Haan-Didi also call her a champion all the time. When Sulu visits Maria at her office, the nameplate in her office states that she is a champion. In the end, when Sulu is thinking of quitting, she again tells Maria that she is truly a champion. It is this sense of championship of common women, who are managing their household and professional duties, that the film celebrates. It is no coincidence that the office of Radio Wow is shown to be located at Inspire BKC building. It is these women, inspirational in their own way, who are acknowledged and recognized in the film.
Tumhari Sulu opens with the sequence where Sulu is shown to be participating in a lemon-and-spoon race. When the timer begins, all the women run past her, but Sulu waits to balance the lemon on the spoon. Many other women subsequently drop out as their lemon falls; however, Sulu manages to complete the race without dropping out, even though she does not win the race. In the end, when Sulu is talking to Maria about resigning, she tells her that she never bothered about winning or losing the lemon-and-spoon race as her only focus was that the lemon should not fall. Sulu felt that it was her work that caused a 'daandi gol' in her household responsibilities; hence, she wanted to stop working. The lemon remaining intact symbolized the balance that many married and working women have to maintain between their professional and their household work. This lemon-and-spoon race was pointing to this sense of delicate equilibrium. 
We see a different form of balance at another stage in the film. At one point, Ashok is repairing a bulb, and Sulu is stabilizing the stool on which he stands. Sulu jokingly moves away from the stool causing Ashok to lose his balance, again, highlighting that Sulu is the stabilizing force in her house. The life of her husband and her son falls in disarray when she starts working. Ashok can't even make a cup of tea without Sulu.

The other trope that is present in the film is that of flying. A pigeon, whom Sulu jokingly calls Bhagyashree ki bachchi (because of the pigeon in Maine Pyar Kiya), keeps visiting her house. The pigeon is, actually, present at many other stages in the film. The film's posters also show a pigeon in them. The sound of birds, especially, that of a crow and that of a pigeon, can be heard all through the film. Sulu's ringtone is Koyal Si Teri Boli from Beta, again, quite fitting not just to her voice but also to her desire to fly. The film shows Sulu dancing on Hawa Hawai from Mr. India. She is also shown as superwoman with a red cape, who is trying to fly. After Sulu agrees to do the show, Maria tells her, "So we are ready to fly?" The song Manwa Likes To Fly yet again underscores Sulu's soaring desire to fly and to fulfill her many ideas. Manva pankh phaila ke likes to fly. 
One of my most favorite scenes in Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance is the one where Sona (Konkona Sensharma) comes back to her house and finds out that she has won a refrigerator in a competition. After the refrigerator is kept inside her house, she takes a chair and keeps looking at it with its door open. There is no dialogue in the scene, yet, I find those ten seconds so devastating in what it is trying to say. She remembers the time when she did not even want to fill the form for the participating in the competition. She had dismissed the very idea of it, but it was Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) who filled the competition form for her, telling her that if she filled the form, there is at least some chance of her winning, but if she did not participate, then, there was absolutely no chance of her winning. At a later point, he tells Sona that he does not believe in the concept of luck and destiny as these words are for those who do not have the capability in them to make their own life. Vikram was selfish and manipulative, but he had the hunger and the passion to get he wanted, unlike his friend Abhimanyu (Arjun Mathur), who was content in doing small roles. Woh aag nahi hai usme. In the end, Vikram manages to become a big film star. Sona gets the refrigerator as Vikram's slogan, "No Frost, No Cost," was declared the winner, and she realizes that, perhaps, Vikram was right all along. It is futile to blame your misfortunes on kismat, instead one should focus on making chances to fulfill one's dreams. When Sulu wins a pressure cooker in Prestige 'Sawaal Batao Seeti Bajao' contest, I got reminded of the refrigerator scene from Luck By Chance. At some other point in Tumhari Sulu, Sulu is listening to a show on the radio while grating carrots and the voice on the radio tells her, "Aap ki kismat aapke haath main. Heere ko chamakne me waqt lagta hai. Ghiste ghiste hi woh heera chamakta hai. Aapne me bhi hai woh baat toh sochna kya." Your destiny is in your hands. Diamonds don't shine in a day. But on constant polishing, it starts shining. You have the talent, so, don't think twice. It is to note that the scenes in the two films are, essentially, talking about the same message that one needs to make their own destiny. Sulu participated in all kinds of competitions and managed to win some of those. And, it was her participation in one of the contests that eventually paved the way for her to get a chance to be an RJ. She used to always say, "Main kar sakti hai." I can do it. She was persistent. Maria, in fact, tells Pankaj that Sulu had the hunger in her (like Vikram had) to do something. While Sona gets the refrigerator due to Vikram, Sulu wins a pressure cooker (and many other things), but the larger point that the two films are trying to make using the competitions is the same, that one makes his own destiny. In addition, the two films also share the trope of flying.
I am not entirely sure about the purpose but it must be mentioned that Tumhari Sulu is making some kind of a point by showing the environment of Sulu's son and her husband as all-male spaces. Pranav's school is an all-boys school where the teacher and the principal are men. Ashok's office is also an all-male workplace, that is in the business of making school uniforms, where the kids are replaced with older men. At many points, the film juxtaposes the scenes of boys fighting in the school with the men fighting at Ashok's office. This juxtaposition of scenes was also seen at Sulu's house, where in the morning, Sulu wakes up Pranav, and immediately the next shot cuts to Ashok waking up. Maybe it has to with the influence that women bring to workspaces, as we also see the difference in the behavior of female bosses and male bosses in the film. Ashok's manager displays abhorrent behavior towards him and puts the blame for his own faults on Ashok. He calls Ashok a nincompoop when he did nothing wrong. He tells Ashok to put his eyes down while talking to him. In contrast, we see Maria encourages Sulu to work. She tells Sulu, "Upar chadhte waqt neeche mat dekh." Don't look down while climbing up. One is saying to look down, and the other is saying to not look down.
The film beautifully depicts the marital relationship of Ashok and Sulu, something which we don't see often in films. They sing S.P. Balasubrahmanyam's Batata Wada (from Hifazat) together in bed. She asks him, "Ashok, mere pair daba do," when she feels tired. She lovingly calls him as meek as a cow. In the initial moments of the film, we see him holding her bag while she participates in the race. He is worried about losing his hair due to aging. We see their conversation ends with shots of apartment buildings, perhaps, a signal that this could be a couple in any of these apartments. The song Ban Ja Rani shows them, dancing, flirting, and engaging in foreplay. When Sulu's show becomes a hit, and Ashok is having problems at his job, it felt that the film was going into Abhimaan territory, but it does not completely venture down that path. Ashok was not jealous of Sulu. He started feeling that Sulu was neglecting her household responsibilities.
I was a little confused in the end as I thought that Sulu left her job to start a food delivery business with Ashok. The whole climactic sequence felt rushed. It was only when she goes back to the radio office that I fully got it. Also, like we see it in R.Balki's films, there is a focus on promoting certain brands in the film, such as Boroline, Cheeselings, and Panasonic. The gift card scene also became another opportunity to showcase a jewelry brand. Since Suresh Triveni has been an advertising professional, maybe, it is hard to let go of an opportunity to advertise.
The film will not be what it is if Sulu was played by someone else other than Vidya Balan. She is simply outstanding as Sulu. Tumhari Sulu is her second role where she plays an RJ. Her first role where she played one was in Rajkumar Hirani's Lage Raho Munna Bhai. There is not one false note in her performance. And, her laughter is infectious. She is a gift to all of us. There is a point where Ayushmann Khurrana asks for her autograph. Vidya is so brilliant as Sulu that even I want an autograph of her. Manav Kaul as Ashok is equally fantastic. Neha Dhupia seems to have perfected the roles of urban sophisticated woman. I found her to be very graceful in the film.
My favorite scene in the film was when Sulu talks to an older man, Sudhakar Reddy, whose wife has passed away. His wife's name was also Sulochana, and he used to affectionately call her Sulu. He is reminded of his wife when he hears Sulu's voice on the radio. He lives alone these days, and we see him eating all alone. Sulu sings his favorite song Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi with him, and calls him Sudha, the same way his wife used to call him. When he hears this, he smiles, as if his own wife is talking to him. It is such a heartwarming scene to see how a voice can act as an elixir of life to someone. It is hard to remain unmoved by watching this old lonely man get unbridled joy for a few seconds. Eliza Cook once said, "How cruelly sweet are the echoes that start, when memory plays an old tune on the heart." An old tune on the heart. Truly.
List of contests in which Sulu has participated:
1. Sawaal Batao Seeti Bajao contest
2. Asli Mummy contest
3. Saree fastest tying competition
4. Lata Mangekshar sad song singing contest
5. Main Radio ki fan hun, mere fan me hai radio contest
6. Fastest vegetable cutter
7. Mummy dance contest
8. Antakshari contest

Is Tumhari Sulu (possibly) the first Hindi film to show a fidget spinner?
R. K. Laxman's Common Man
Ashok's cell phone ringtone is the Gayatri Mantra, while Sulu's cell phone ringtone is Koyal Si Teri Boli from Beta. Sulu and Ashok sing Batata Wada from Hifazat. Sulu sings Dheere Dheere Se from Aashiqui. Zindagi Ki Talaash Mein from Saathi can be heard on the radio.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Main kar sakti hai."
—Sulu, Tumhari Sulu

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Omkara—Swinging Between Two Faces

The fact that Vishal Bhardwaj has a special relationship with Shakespeare is well known. He has made three films based on the plays written by Shakespeare—Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkara (based on Othello), and Haider (based on Hamlet). The strong leading women characters in the three films, namely Nimmi (Tabu), Dolly (Kareena Kapoor), and Ghazala (Tabu), are uniquely compelling in their own way. There is a kind of perceived duality in his female characters, and Bhardwaj uses certain symbolic elements, particularly in Omkara and Haider, to accentuate their mysticism and enigma. 
In the early moments of Omkara, there is a scene where Omkara (Ajay Devgn) is walking towards Dolly. Raghunath Mishra (Kamal Tiwari), Dolly's father, comes in his way, and tells him, "Bahubali, aurat ke tariya charitra ko mat bhulna. Jo ladki apne baap ko thag sakti hai, woh kisi aur ki sagi kya hogi." The film's script as well as the subtitles translate this as, "May you never forget the two-faced monster a woman is. She who can dupe her own father will never be anyone’s to claim." It is noteworthy that 'two-faced monster' is used to describe Dolly. When Raghunath says this, he is looking at Dolly, who is seen standing behind the tinted glass of his car. Just like Raghunath comes in the way of Dolly and Omkara in the scene, the same words would later come in the way of Omkara's ability to trust Dolly. Dolly's father germinated the idea of her untrustworthiness in Omkara's mind at that moment. Omkara will later look at Dolly through the tinted views of her father. He would see two faces of Dolly, and is not sure which one is her true one—the one that loves him, or the one that is having an affair with Kesu (Vivek Oberoi) behind his back. In fact, at a later point in the film, Omkara jokes about the two faces of Dolly when he tells her, "Ya toh tu bahut badi lool hai ya bahut badi chudail." Whenever he looks at her, there is a thought that crosses his mind that either she is a fool to fall in love with a man like him, or she is a witch who does black magic beneath the veneer of her beauty. When Omkara kills Dolly, he says the same words, "Tariya charitra."
In addition, we see that Dolly's father uses the word thag to describe her. Thag means to deceive or to dupe someone. This thagna is also used in the song Naina Thag Lenge where the lyrics say that one must never trust his eyes, as they will eventually con him. Looks are often deceptive, and what appears to be true is quite different from what is actually true. At a later stage in the film, Omkara questions Langda (Saif Ali Khan) on the verisimilitude of his account of Dolly's relationship with Kesu. He is suspicious that whatever Langda tells him about the stories of Kesu and Dolly, there is never any third person present to validate Langda's words. He feels doubtful of Langda because whenever he looks into Dolly’s eyes, he only sees the love for him and Langda's account of Dolly and Kesu's affair sounds crooked to him. Teri saari Ramayan kapat lage hai mujhe. Langda plays his cards and manipulates people to convince Omkara of Dolly's infidelity. Omkara was, thus, unable trust the love that he saw for him in Dolly's eyes, and kills her because one must never trust the eyes as naina thag lenge.
Vishal Bhardwaj effectively uses a swing as the symbolic representation of the two faces of Dolly, or more aptly, the two shifting faces of Dolly in Omkara's mind. There is many a scene in the film where Dolly is often found sitting on a swing. After Omkara is angry with Kesu for his violent outburst after getting drunk at a party, Kesu asks Dolly to talk to Omkara for his forgiveness. In the particular scene, Dolly, dressed in pure white, is seen on the swing outside, with Indu on one side and Kesu on the other side. She is happily enjoying herself on the swing, and tells Kesu that she will talk to Omkara so that he can forgive Kesu. In the song Lakad Jal Ke, we see that Dolly, dressed in white, is sitting on a swing again and Omkara is standing beside and watching her. The camera pans the entire view when Dolly is circling on the swing. The lyrics of the song imply Omkara's jealousy and suspicion. Lakad jalke koyla hoye jaaye, koyla hoye jaaye khaak. Jiya jale toh kuch na hoye re. Wood burns and turns into coal, the coal turns into ashes. When the heart burns, nothing happens. The burning of Omkara's heart led to killing the very person he dearly loved.
At a later point, we again see Dolly and Omkara lying next to each other on the swing inside Omkara's house after a night of passionate lovemaking. Dolly is dressed in black and white, while Omkara has his black shawl with the red border draped over his body, and the swing is red. Omkara caresses her and sings a lullaby to her, whose words say that he makes an unbreakable promise, like King Dashratha's, if she wakes up. Dolly opens her eyes, and asks for Kesu's forgiveness. Hearing this, Omkara storms out of the room. The same scene is repeated in the last moments of the film where it takes a much sinister turn, making it one of the most hauntingly memorable endings in films. It is the night after the wedding of Dolly and Omkara. They are again lying on the same swing as before. Dolly is dressed in her bridal red saree and makeup, while Omkara is wearing white. Now convinced of Dolly's infidelity, Omkara puts a cushion on Dolly's face and suffocates her to death. However, only minutes later, he gets to know the truth from Indu (Konkona Sensharma). Realizing his monumental crime, he starts singing the same lullaby, which he sang earlier, to wake her up, but this time, his Misri Ki Pudia will never wake up again. Consumed by guilt, he shoots himself and dies. Dolly's dead body remains swinging on the swing, and Omkara's dead body is seen below her on the floor. The film ends with the shot of the two dead bodies and the unforgettable sound of the creaking swing, in a way, signifying that Omkara's emotional upheaval, swinging and seesawing between trusting and doubting Dolly, eventually, led to the end of their story. The swing, where Omkara sang a lullaby for Dolly's innocence, like that of a little child, becomes the deathbed for Dolly's lies and manipulation, like that of a shrewd woman.
There is another swing-related scene in the film where Dolly and Omkara of them are lying in the swing, and he tells her his life story, and the reason as to why he is known as a half-caste in the village. She replies that even if the crescent moon is half, it is still called as the moon. The swing is their area, and shifts from being a place of trust to being a place of suspicion. It must also be said that the color palette of the above-mentioned swing scenes. Dolly and Omkara are dressed in white, red, and black, the colors that represent emotions, such as love, purity, doubt, and manipulation, among others.
Many notable film scholars have elaborated on the motif of the swing in the film with other interesting interpretations. In Singing to Shakespeare in Omkara, Poonam Trivedi writes, "With the dead lovers laid out on and below a swing, its visual underlines what the song hauntingly echoes—the tragic swings of fate." In Deconstructing the Stereotype: Reconsidering Indian Culture, Literature and Cinema, Kaustav Chakraborty writes, "The fact that the bed is depicted as a swing invokes the interchangeability of child-like vulnerability and sensuality, and the oscillating attitude that her lover shares toward her, as father-figure/protector and killer." In Constrained Women in Omkara: Marriage, Mythology, and Movies, Rebecca Dmello observes a caste subtext in the swing and opines, "In Omkara, however, there is a deliberate and intriguing physical disconnection of the two main characters. On some level, the spatial disorientation is enhanced by a swing in motion. The separation through the use of the swing also has a pronounced effect in representing the disparity between the castes of the two characters. Dolly, who is a Brahmin, is elevated even in death while her halfcaste husband languishes below her. Bringing the caste disparity to the fore in the last scene, Bhardwaj highlights the suppression experienced due to the insecurity that arises as a result of the caste system."
Vishal Bhardwaj makes a similar comparison of this perceived duality of the woman in Haider as well. Like the two faces of Dolly in Omkara, Ghazala was also shown to have two faces. At one point in the film, Ghazala walks into her old house that was destroyed by the Indian Army to meet her son Haider (Shahid Kapoor). When she enters the house, there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that mirror, we can see two faces of her. On seeing her mother, Haider remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke. Yeh baayein vala masoom hai, ye daayein vala chor" She has two faces literally in the scene, and metaphorically in the film. There is something mysterious about Ghazala that throughout the film we are not sure whether she was complicit in the murder of her husband or was she only a victim. In the beginning of the film, she is teaching a poem on house—What is a home? It is brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, it is unselfishly acts (sic) and kindly sharing, and showing your loved ones you are always caring—perhaps, pointing to the unhappiness in her marriage because her husband was always busy and she said that had no wajood in his life, so, sometimes, we wonder if she was a victim as well. We also see that she is sleeping in the same bed with Khurram, and we wonder if she did something terrible, too. 

At an earlier stage in the film, Haider comes back from Aligarh and goes to his uncle's house and he stands behind a translucent purdah listening to the conversation between Ghazala and Khurram. The purdah was what defined Ghazala's mysticism, that we cannot see her clearly. There is something hidden and enigmatic about her, like the view from a purdah. There are quite a few scenes in Omkara as well where Dolly is seen behind the purdah, reflecting Omkara's cloudy vision. However, the difference between the two faces of Ghazala and Dolly is that the audience is well aware of Dolly's innocence all along and the viewer knows that it is Langda's manipulations that are pumping doubts in Omkara's mind (there is literally a hand pump scene in the film where Langda keeps instigating Omkara about Dolly while taking out water from a hand pump), while in the case of Ghazala, it is not only Haider, but even the audience is not able to fully make up its mind about her character till the end. As Ghazala says, "Kuch bhi kar lun, villain to main hi rehne vali hun." Whatever she does, she is going to be called the villain. 
Curtains in Omkara and Haider
We don't see an explicit mention of the two faces of Nimmi in Maqbool. But there are shades of duality in her character, too, as Baradwaj Rangan eloquently puts it here, "When Abbaji begins to shower attention on another coquette, when Nimmi realises her days as mistress are numbered, she garlands herself, like a sacrificial goat, and asks Maqbool to kill her—or kill Abbaji. At times like these, it’s difficult to discern if Nimmi truly loves Maqbool, or if he is, to her, merely a weak-willed instrument of redemption."
Even though Vishal Bhardwaj takes the material from the Bard, he adapts them to an Indian setting with a realism and a rootedness. It never feels fake. The combination of the elements of the Bard and B(h)ardwaj, Hindi cinema's Bard, make these three films as some of the finest films of all time in Hindi cinema, and its characters, especially, the women, as some of the most memorable ones.

Books In Movies:
Godaan by Munshi Premchand
Book Recommendation:
Shakespeare's Othello because a post on Shakespeare will be incomplete without mentioning his writing. 

Other Reading:
1. On HaiderLink
2. On Omkara's scriptLink
3. On the Sacred and the Profane in Omkara—Link
4. On the Constrained Women in Omkara: Marriage, Mythology, and MoviesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Chaand jab aadha ho jaave hai na, toh bhi chaand hi kehlave hai."
Dolly, Omkara

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What I Learnt From The Movies in 2017

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

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

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan—Of Getting It Up

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

Comparison with Dum Laga Ke Haisha

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

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

Movie References

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

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

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

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