Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe—Song of A New Generation

Sixteen years ago, on this day, Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai was released. Over the last sixteen years, I have watched and rewatched this film, and every time I watch it, I still get excited like crazy. It is one of those films that instilled in me the love of the films. From Deepa's persistence to Sid's compassion to Shalini's grace, the film has taught me a lot about relationships. I have written the maximum number of posts on this film in the last ten years of this blog, and still, learn something new from it. It is one of those films that I feel like I own it, and no one else can like it as if it is my toy.  As they say in the film, there are some relationships that have no name. Kuch rishtey hote hai jinka koi naam nahi hota. It is that kind of relationship that I have with the film. I wanted to write something on one of my favorite songs from the film. 
Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe is the first song that appears in the film. The setting is the graduation party of Akash, Sameer and Sid at a nightclub. Before the song begins, Akash cracks some of his typical Akash-esque jokes and then he dismisses the idea of having a career by saying, "Who cares where the hell we land up!"  He believes that they should all just celebrate the present moment. Thereafter, the song begins. Sung wonderfully by Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, and KK, the song helps us understand the personalities and the worldview of the people in the film. The lyrics say that they do not care if someone calls them crazy. If the world fights, let it fight, and they won’t bother much. They do not have any reverence even for relationships. If a relationship breaks, let it break, they say. The signature dance step of the song is the one where all of them jump with their arms wide open, giving an impression that they want to reach the stars in the sky as they sing, "Sitare bhi hum tod lenge, hamein hai yakeen.

Our culture usually extols others' happiness over our own; however, the people in song tell us to think about yourself first, and in a way, be selfish. They sing that they belong to a new world, so why should their style be old. Befittingly, the same can be said about the film as well. Dil Chahta Hai was a game-changing film that brought in a completely new style to the language of cinema. It was the first film of a new director. It, thus, behooves well when they sing, “Hum hai naye, andaaz kyun ho purana.” The film’s andaaz was something that the Hindi film industry had never seen before. The song also has a few psychedelic choreographic sequences in blue-and-flouorescent color with techno music beats, again, giving the impression that this generation thinks its own mind, and about itself.

There is a particular stanza in the song where the lines sung by the three of them fit perfectly with their character. Sid, the dreamer and the thinker, sings, "Sapnon ka jo des hai, haan hum vahin hain pale." We have grown up in the land of dreams. Sameer, who wears his heart on his sleeve, sings, "Thode se dil phenk hai, thode se hai mann chale." We are a bit of heart-throwers and also a little shy. Akash, who mesmerizes with his charm wherever he goes, sings, "Jahan bhi gaye apna jaadu dikhaate rahe." Wherever we went, we spread our magic. Akash had said a similar line to Sameer earlier in the film, "Uncle Sam ye Akash ka jadu hai, kabhi fail nahi hota." 
Aamir Khan’s first acting appearance was in a 1984 film called Holi. However, his first role as a lead actor was in Mansoor’s Khan Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The film, released in 1988, was a tragic love story inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The film became a major box office hit. The first scene of Aamir in the film is the one where he sings the iconic Papa Kehte Hain song during his college farewell. Based on the hopes and the aspiration of youth, the song became a college anthem giving India a new superstar who would go down to become one of India’s finest actors. Thirteen years later in 2001, it is noteworthy that Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, again starring Aamir, became an anthem of the youth. Both the songs are picturized at the time of college graduation. In Papa Kehte Hain, Aamir’s character Raj sings, “Papa kehte hain bada naam karega, beta hamara aisa kaam karega..Koi engineer ka kaam karega, business mein koi apna naam karega.” He sings that his father tells him that his son will earn success. He does not know what his final destination will be but most likely, he and his friends would go on to become engineers and businessmen. On the other hand, in Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, Akash does not care whatever anyone says, in contrast to a certain reverence for what his father had said in 'Papa Kehte Hain'. He has no regard for traditional vocations, such as engineers and businessmen, and says, "Who cares where the hell we land up!" He even jokes on finding jobs where he tells them he is going to sing a song on hundred ways to find a job. Naukri milne ke sau tareeke. In a scene later with Shalini, when the two of them go to watch an emotional film, Akash also mocks films based on Shakespearean tragedies.  
Indian economy was liberalized in 1991, and the changes it spawned began to bore fruit after a few years. The youth who were earlier limited to becoming an engineer, a businessman, or a doctor, started to broaden their horizons. India changed drastically from 1988 to 2001. The economy started growing faster; people started getting richer; a new wave had come even in films. It is fascinating that films become a tool to document that change. From Papa Kehte Hai to Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, somewhere we changed, perhaps, for the better. 

In Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Aamir’s first wife Reena Dutta made a special appearance in Papa Kehte Hain. By 2001, Aamir’s relationship with Reena was not going too well and seemed to have hit the rocks. He met Kiran Rao on the sets of Lagaan in 2001 and married her in 2002. Call it a case of cosmic coincidence that in Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir’s second wife Kiran Rao also makes a cameo. In one of the Goa scenes, Kiran Rao appears on the screen with Deepa (Samantha Tremayne).  
I love everything about the songthe excellent choreography by Farah Khan (one of Farah's best works), the foot-tapping music of Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, and the meaningful lyrics of Javed Akhtar. Also, Akshaye Khanna, who is not known to be a great dancer, matches his steps skilfully with the other two. And, not to forget those super cool shiny leather pants that the three of them wear and that too in a nightclub. I wish I could carry them off like the way they did. Maybe someday I will, after all, they tell us, "Jab saaz hai, aawaaz hai, phir kis liye hichkichaana.

Other Reading:
1. Dil Chahta Hai—Of The Subtext Of Fear—Link
2. Dil Chahta Hai—Of Life Like A Ship—Link
3. Dil Chahta Hai and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le JayengeLink
4. Dil Chahta Hai: The Love Continues—Link
5. Of Deepa from Dil Chahta HaiLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Jab saaz hai, aawaaz hai, phir kis liye hichkichana,
Oh, gaayenge hum apne dilon ka taraana.
"
Dil Chahta Hai

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Death in the Gunj—Of Sensitive Souls

Konkona Sen Sharma's maiden directorial venture A Death in the Gunj is based on a story by her father Mukul Sharma which was inspired by true events. Set in 1979, the film is the story of a family in the quaint old town of McCluskieganj in erstwhile Bihar. Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), their eight-year-old daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), Bonnie's friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin), and Nandu's cousin Shyamal, also called Shutu (Vikrant Massey) are visiting Nandu's parents, Anupama (Tanuja) and O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri), in McCluskieganj. Nandu's friends, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh), also come to visit them. The story spans over a period of seven days to reach a point where a death of one of the family members takes place. The film also tells the story of how we ignore and forget certain family members, and the impact our actions and our words can have on them. 
As the title of the film suggests, there is a lot of 'death' in the film. The film opens with Brian and Nandu talking about putting a dead body in a fetal position in the trunk of their car. At another stage, Shutu finds a sweater of his dead father in the cupboard. He smells and wears it as it reminds him of his father. In another scene, Shutu shows Tani a dead moth that he carries in his journal. Shutu also shows Tani a list of his favorite words starting with the letter E, and the first word on the list is eulogy, defined as a speech or piece of writing that praises someone who has just died. Later, Shutu uses a magnifying glass to focus light on a bug, as a result of it, the bug dies. Then, Shutu and Tani bury the bug. In another scene later, Mimi and Shutu visit a graveyard. In the final moments of the film, a family member dies. Thus, there are numerous references to death in the film.
In addition to death, there is an eerie post-death feeling related to spirits and ghosts that pervades the film. Early in the film, the family members talk about Vikram's dead neighbor Uncle Harris. Vikram tells them that Uncle Harris established contact with the living world using a wooden table. Harris' wife thinks he is alive. She had even invited Vikram to have a cup of tea with 'them'. Then, Brian tells them that sometimes, spirits inhabit people and objects, and they never leave. After that, the group starts planning to play planchette. They joke about calling Elvis Presley or Nehru (whose name was censored even in the online version of the film). Shutu is hesitant to join them because he feels that doing something like this would cause the spirits a lot of pain. Brian replies to him that spirits cannot feel pain as they are already dead. This is quite a telling scene as it expands Shutu's perception of pain. For him, pain manifests not just in the physical human body, but it is also experienced mentally, and it could be experienced either by a human or by an apparition existing in a post-death abstract space. The others can only see the physical aspect of pain, perhaps, that is why it is so hard for them to understand the melancholic state of Shutu, and they keep telling him to man up. 
 
The feeling of spirits and ghosts continues when they actually play the planchette. No spirits really come and they take it as another opportunity to have some fun at the expense of Shutu by telling him that he is going to be the first among them to die. After their game, they join a group of tribal people in their dance. The tribals are singing another ghost-themed song in which people are asking a young bride as to where will she sleep because a ghost is lurking in the mulberry tree. A spirit dances on the mulberry tree, prancing about with ghostly glee. The house servant Maniya tells his wife Manjari that the family members are drinking spirits and calling spirits. In another instance of ghosts and spirits, Mimi and Shutu ride a bike to a graveyard where they see Mrs. Curney putting some flowers and sponge cake on the grave of her daughter Elizabeth who died when she was six. Mimi picks up the cake and forces Shutu to eat some of it. He does not like it because he feels that the cake is meant for someone else, even if the person is dead. In another related scene, Bonnie tells them that all their now dead pets are probably living together in heaven. Finally, Shutu himself had appeared as a spirit in the initial moments of the film. He was the one who had died; though at that stage in the movie, it was not clear who died, but when the movie finishes, it becomes clear that it was Shutu's spirit who was seen in the car with Nandu and Brian, like Rosie's in Talaash. Shutu had earlier asked as to why would spirits come back, and Brian tells him that that spirits come back as they have some unfinished business. Shutu's spirit also came back, perhaps, looking for some closure. 
A Death in the Gunj also shows us two shades of masculinity and how the society treats men who are not able to mould themselves into a traditional masculine role. There is Vikram, the testosterone-loaded man, who is on one end of the spectrum, and there is Shutu, the sensitive man, on the other end. We see a contrast between the two of them in the film. Vikram is a charmer. He knows how to talk to everyone based on his/her interest. The first time he comes to the house, he brings a gift for Anupama prompting Brian and Nandu to remark that he is always 'buttering up' people. He barges into Mimi's room, and starts kissing her, despite being married recently to someone else. He cheats not only in his marriage, but in sports as well. He cheated in the game of Kabaddi that they were playing, and could not withstand that he could be defeated by someone like Shutu, going to the extent of injuring him to prevent him from crossing the winning line. At some other point, Mimi tells O.P. that Vikram goes on hunting―one of the most masculine activities―of wild boars. He hunts his prey not only in the jungles, but also among the people who cannot match his strength. In another telling scene of his obnoxious masculinity, after having dinner, he uses his wife's saree as a towel to dry his hands. It really tells that how he probably uses people and, then, throws them away. His wife refers to him as royalty and calls him Hazur, a term, typically, used for masters. When the laborers are not doing their work properly, Anupama asks Vikram for help and he says he will talk to the contractor. When Tani gets lost, he is the one who brings her back. He is the rescuer. At some other point, Vikram chides Nandu's masculinity when he refuses to go on a ride with him on a cold night, calling him 'old'. Vikram also carries a gun which he loves to show it to everyone. 
Shutu, on the other hand, is the very opposite of Vikram. He is the dreamer. He is often seen near books. He keeps a journal in which he writes passages from his favorite books. He re-reads Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which is often described as a tale of modern alienation, focusing on an individual’s repeated failures to integrate into societies to which he does not belong―an apt description for Shutu as well. He has a Rubik's Cube, again a symbol of trying to fit the different colors to where they belong. All the people around keep telling him to grow up. He does not fit well with people of his age group, and his only true friend is Tani, his eight-year-old niece. He draws frogs in his diary. He likes to play indoor games, such as Chess, as opposed to Kabaddi, and seeks knowledge from history. He can't stay awake till midnight. At some point, Mimi tells him that he is so pretty that he could be a girl. After their lunch at Brian's place, Shutu, Mimi and Bonnie walk back to the house, and Shutu carries Bonnie's handbag with him. While Vikram is the rescuer, Bonnie and Nandu blame Shutu for Tani getting lost. He silently watches his crush Mimi and is unable to start any conversation with her. He apologizes just for touching Mimi's ankles when he is trying to help her. Later, it is Mimi who leads him to her room, and they have sex where she is on the top. Unlike Vikram who goes for hunting, the family members think that they will ask Shutu to take care of Fluffy when they go back to Cal. While one kills animals, the other cares for them. Shutu cannot drive a car (like Rahul in Kapoor & Sons), while Vikram drives a jeep. Anupama asks for Vikram's help to talk to the laborers, but she (and everyone else) treats Shutu like another laborer in the house doing their chores. Vikram is a Hazur, Shutu is a laborer. At some stage, Anupama even asks Shutu as to why has he not shaved as if he needs to be reminded of it. Vikram is a man, Shutu is still the twenty-three-year-old kid. All of these qualities are the very opposite of Vikram. Going by the traditional definition of masculinity, having some of these characteristics could make someone think that Shutu is possibly gay, but he is not. Hence, it might be even more difficult for him because there is nothing that he can really fight for. In addition, Shutu is battling depression. At one point in the film, he falls in a ditch in the jungle and has to be rescued. He is stuck in a hole, literally and metaphorically. And, the thing is no one realizes how terribly they are behaving with Shutu. Only Bonnie shows some sympathy for his state, but to everyone else, especially, to the other men, he does not matter. 
I remember reading a story in the English language course from Class Tenth in school. The story is Anita Desai's Games At Twilight. The story is about a young boy Ravi. An older boy named Raghu often used to intimidate and bully Ravi. During a game of hide-and-seek, Ravi hides in a place where no one is able to find him. He stays there for hours hoping someone will find him. He realizes that to win he has to go out and touch the seeker. He is so excited that he is going to win as no one was able to find him. He runs towards the other children screaming that he won. However, the other children simply look at him awkwardly. The children had already moved on and were playing a different game. Ravi realized that he had been forgotten. Instead of being a winner, he was completely ignored as if he did not even exist. The story ends with these words, "The ignominy of being forgotten—how could he face it? He felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably. He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance." I was reminded of this story by looking at Shutu's plight. Other family members treated him as if he did not even exist. After Tani comes back, none of them even realized that Shutu is missing. It was Manjari who tells Anupama that Shutu is not at home. Maniya rescues Shutu, and he comes back and sees everyone smiling and enjoying, as if his existence had no bearing on their life. In earlier scenes, Bonnie tells Anupama how they had forgotten about their pet tortoise Haridas. They forgot to bring him back and he got lost. Also, there is the dog Fluffy who Tani wanted to keep as a pet, but in another scene, it is Manjari who feeds the dog, forgetting that he existed. Like the family members forget their pets, they even forgot Shutu, because, for them, he is nothing more than a pet.  
There is a lot of detailing in the film that perfectly depicts a bygone era. The ten-paisa coins, the blue glue box at the post office, the ambassador car, the homeopathic medicines, Vicks Vaporub bottle, Salil Chowdhury's Dhitang Dhitang Bole and Elvis Presley's You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog, the poems Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne and A.A.Milne's Now We Are Six, the costumes, calling Kolkata 'Cal'—there is a feeling of nostalgia of the 1970s that the film evokes. As Konkona says, the film was a journey into her own childhood. The film has some really beautiful shots. I really liked the one where Shutu is touching tiny sugar cubes, and also, the one where Shutu is standing in a graveyard. The film lets the audience make sense of some things without explaining everything. For instance, on the day Tani gets lost, Manjari comes and knocks at the room of Nandu and Bonnie, it is hinted that they are having oral sex. There are also a lot of animals in the film, such as frogs, moths, ants, dogs, tortoise; even a wolf makes an appearance. I got a distinct feeling that this was another hint at the predator-prey relationship between Vikram and Shutu. 
 
The film opens with a board welcoming people to McCluskieganj that says, "Your visit will surprise you." There is nothing much surprising about the final twist as it is quite discernible after a certain point as to what is likely to happen. It is also not surprising the Konkona Sen Sharma, in her debut as a director, makes a great film that has fine performances from everyone. There is not a single false note in any performance. Tanuja and Tillotama Shome are brilliant. It is funny though that I kept imagining Bonnie as Konkona because her voice was dubbed by her. But the film rests on the shoulders of Vikrant Massey's exceptional performance as Shutu. He has come a long way from playing Shyam in Balika Vadhu. Sagar Desai's fantastic musical score also deserves a special mention. 
Trivia alert—The help at Brian's house Kitty who was shown licking the custard from the serving dish is actually quite a famous person in McCluskieganj. Her real name is also Kitty Texeira and is described by the locals as the face of McCluskieganj. She has featured on the cover of a book on the town, as well as in several documentaries and newspaper stories on the Gunj.  
Kitty
Books In Movies
1.Shutu reads Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
2.Shutu has a copy of the Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton. 
 3. Mimi reads Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour
4. Nandu solves a book on puzzles
5. Shutu has a book by Arthur C. Clarke
A Death in the Gunj is about alienation and estrangement. Shutu is struggling not only to come to terms with the death of his father, but also trying to be an adult in a society that does not accept his sensitive side. The only two people who were kind of his friends, Tani and Mimi, turned him away, and he was left all alone. In an earlier scene, Tani had asked Shutu as to why his name is not on the family tree. They had even put Mimi's name, who was a friend, on the tree, but Shutu's name is not there. In the final moments, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance, he kills himself, leaving his blood marks on on his tormentor and a tree as a symbol of his existence. 
Dialogue of the Day:
"You are so pretty. You could be a girl."
—Mimi, A Death in the Gunj

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jagga Jasoos And The Magical World Of Anurag Basu

Anurag Basu's Jagga Jasoos is a delightful musical film. It is the story of a young detective Jagga (Ranbir Kapoor) who is in the search of his father. He is joined by a journalist Shruti (Katrina Kaif) who is also the narrator of the film. Saswata Chatterjee (Bob Biswas of Kahaani fame) plays Badal Bagchi/Tutti-Futti who had adopted Jagga as his child. The film is told as three stories of a comic book series named after Jagga Jasoos. The first part introduces Jagga and his detective skills where he solves the murder of one of his school teachers. In the second part, he meets Shruti and helps uncover an illegal arms-smuggling racket along the India-Myanmar border. Finally, in the third part, he goes on a search to find his father who has disappeared after getting involved in a related global arms-smuggling racket. Basu takes inspiration from the characters that influenced his childhood to create a beautiful mélange of a film that speaks to the inner child in all of us. 

There is a lot of Anurag Basu's previous film Barfi! in Jagga Jasoos. While Barfi!'s protagonist was a deaf and a mute boy, Jagga Jasoos' stutters while he speaks; in a way, there is some speech-related defect in the lead character of both the films. There is a close relationship between the father and the son in the two films (also, the film begins by paying homage to Anurag Basu's father Subrat Bose). The female lead characters in the two films share the exact same name―Shruti Sengupta. There is a funny cop in both the films. There was Barfi, named similar to a sweet in Barfi!, and there is Tutti-Futti, named similar to an ice-cream in Jagga Jasoos. The two films have a similar setting, Darjeeling in Barfi! and Ukhrul in Jagga Jasoos, and look a lot like each other. In addition, there is a heightened color palette with gorgeous cinematography in the two films which makes them look magical as if the films are set in some fairy tale.
In addition to the above overarching themes, there are quite a few other similarities in certain scenes of the two films. There is a heartbreaking moment in Barfi! when Barfi goes to meet Shruti's parents and realizes that he is never going to be good enough for Shruti. Through his silent gestures, he communicates it to Shruti, wishes her the best, and then leaves. There is a similar scene in Jagga Jasoos when Jagga cries in front of the policeman who brings him the news about his father's death. Jagga tries to say something, but his emotions get the better of him, quite reminiscent of the scene from Barfi!. In Barfi!, Jhilmil and Barfi use the reflection of the mirrors to communicate with each other. Likewise, at an early point in Jagga Jasoos, Jagga uses the reflection of the sunlight on his window to wake up the caged birds of the policeman who stays nearby. In Barfi!, there is a song titled Aashiyan; in Jagga Jasoos, the hotel where Shruti stays when she comes to Ukhrul is also called Aashiyana. In Barfi!, at some stage, Barfi, after going through an emotional day, comes and sleeps along with his father on his bed. There is a replica of the same scene in Jagga Jasoos when the young Jagga comes and sleeps along with Tutti-Futti on his hospital bed, signifying the close relationship between the father and the son in both the films. In both Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos, Barfi and Jagga get to climb the top of a clock tower. In addition, falling lamp posts play a small part in both the films. There are a few other scenes of Jagga and Shruti in Jagga Jasoos that are quite reminiscent of Barfi and Jhilmil of Barfi!, such as the scene where the two of them cross the waters of a river, and the scene where they are sleeping together. The scene where Jagga and Shruti go into the tunnel on a raft using wooden oars is like the one where Barfi and Jhilmil escape from the policeman on a train trolley where Barfi uses a wooden pole to move forward. Even some locations in the two films are the same, such as the place where Barfi lives in Barfi! is the exact same one where the injured brother of the smuggler is being treated in Jagga Jasoos

Jagga Jasoos and Barfi!
At some point in the film, Shruti tells the kids that we are all like comic characters and our stories are written by God. He adds in certain unpredictable plot twists if he wants to make two characters meet. This is like when Shakespeare had said that all the world's a stage and we are merely the players, playing our own parts. The film presents Jagga as a comic book character and his story is narrated in three comic books. Jagga is also inspired by other famous comic characters. Tutti-Futti makes a tuft of hair on Jagga, giving him a look like Hergé's famous character Tintin, who also had a similar tuft of hair. Jagga shares his love for solving mysteries and going on adventures with Tintin. There is a little bit of Indiana Jones in Jagga. There is also a little bit of Harry Potter in Jagga, when the film tells us that Jagga used to sleep under the stairs, just like Harry's room at the Dursleys. Additionally, Jagga and Harry wear similar eye glasses. The film also has references to other fictional characters, such as Feluda and Sherlock Holmes. Shundi, the place where Jagga and Shruti go to in Mombaca, was also the name of the kingdom where Goopy and Bagha go in Satyajit Ray's Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne. In that film, as it happens here where cakes are dropped from the sky, Goopy and Bagha drop sweets perched from the top of a temple's tomb after which people assume that they are Gods. 
Hindi films are often called musicals, however, the concept of a musical film genre is quite different. Although in fairness, over the years, the definition of a musical has become more subjective but still it is worthwhile to elucidate on the concept of a musical film. There have been very few true musical films in Hindi cinema, such as Shirish Kunder's Jaan-E-Mann (2006) and, perhaps, some parts of Shaad Ali's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007). In a musical film, the music helps advance the plot. As Lee Hamilton writes, "A writer is going to have to use the same techniques to write a musical that they would a drama, horror or comedy. The most crucial difference is, of course, the use of musical numbers. Numbers function, not as light relief from the storyline, but like any other element, the dialogue or the scene, it must be active, advance the or develop the character." We saw a little bit of it in Barfi! which opens with a lovely song Ala Barfi that narrates the events of Barfi's life―Radio on hua, Amma off hui, toota har sapnaJagga Jasoos has a similar template but it uses the entire film as a musical to propel the story forward and which is what makes it a film truly belonging to the musical genre. The songs are not added as Hindi films, usually, have songs, but because they take the narrative forward. A song is reciting what the character might have said in words; however, since it is narrated in the form of song, the result becomes a thrilling musical expression like an opera. 
In the beginning moments of the film, Tutti-Futti tells Jagga that the human brain is like a walnut. There are two sides of the brain―the left and the right. The left side is systematic and organized, while the right side is creative and a little nutty (quite opposite to what is seen in political ideologies where the Left is, typically, more artistic and creative as compared to the Right). The left side helps in speaking, while the right side is for singing. Tutti-Futti tells Jagga that he should sing which will help him in his stuttering and then he can see the magic. We, actually, experience the magic of this singing and the music throughout the film. Tukka Laga, Miss Mala, and Khaana Khaake are simply fabulous. Even the non-lyrical portions with only the music are a treat to watch. Whether it is the banging of the plates, the tapping of the feet, the imaginary playing of the piano, the pendulum of the clock or simply the sound of a typewriter, it feels as if everything in the film is trying to create its own music. 
There is a lot in the film to not just visually experience but also to process and make sense of it. The proceedings are fast and I was struggling to catch up in some parts of the film. But I was never bored. The film treats the audience as intelligent to figure some things out. It does not spoon-feed everything and leaves some things for the audience. For instance, at an earlier point, Shruti was reading an Igbo-English dictionary. Later, when she is confronted by the Mombaca police, she starts singing in Igbo and we get it because she was reading that book earlier, she can sing in that language now. Or, for instance, there was a plaster on Bagchi's hand when he gives the tape to Sinha. Later, it all makes sense as to how he would have got the fracture when Shruti falls from one of the buildings and gets a similar plaster. In addition, there is great attention to detail in the film. A cyber café in Calcutta is called Stebe Jobs Café. In another instance, during the second half, Shruti and Jagga have to take a plane. Shruti asks Jagga if he knows how to fly one. He tells her that he has read it in the library. In the first half, we did see that there is a book called How To Fly A Plane that was clearly visible in his room. There are a quite a few other books in the film as well. The second part of the film, Jagga Jasoos and the Murder on the Giant Wheel, takes few points from Sugata Bose's His Majesty's Opponent, based on the life of Subhas Chandra Bose, and Jagga is shown reading the same book. Another book that the film showed was A Burmese Perspective but I have not been able to find the original book and its author. 

Anurag Basu also creates some really quaint whimsical moments. The film opens with a shot of a lone tree in Purulia. A similar shot of a single tree is repeated at different places in the film. At many points, when there is a scene cut, a giraffe just randomly walks across the screen. Talking of giraffes, when Jagga and Tutti-Futti unite in the end and hug each other, the film shows that the two giraffes are also trying to hug each other. There is a laugh-out scene involving a policeman and the phones. Mobiles are absent in the film. There is another wonderful scene comparing Agapastala hotels to Bikanwerwala sweets. I would be interested to know if there is some theory behind choosing a man with one body and two faces as the villain. Is it some indication of the two sides―good and bad? Also, the two faces are called Bashir and Alexander. Going by stereotypical rationale, the names belong to two different religions. Of course, only Basu can tell more about them, perhaps, if there is a sequel. 
I am not entirely sure as to how to fully explain it but there is somewhat of a continuous interplay of reality and fiction in the film. Recall the time when Jagga goes to meet Shruti at her hotel after the murder on the giant wheel. The camera shows us that on the television, there is some kind of a fight going on between two tribal characters. Then, Jagga and Shruti start throwing things at each other, like the events happening on the TV. In another similar depiction, during the Tukka Laga song, Jagga and Shruti jump into the room located just below their floor amidst the gun shots by the policemen who are trying to kill them. When they land into the room, there is a lady who is playing a video game in which she is shooting a few characters, mirroring as to what is happening to the film's characters. In both the instances, the reality and the fiction in the film kind of merge. In addition, the film opens in Purulia depicting the famous arms dropping case, and ends in Mombaca, a fictional place. The first half of the film is based on real-life places and plausible scenarios that could exist in reality. In the second half, the film moves to a realm of complete fantasy, where not only the events, but even the places they go to, such as Mombaca and Shundi, are fictional. Jagga and Shruti escape behind ostriches, and fly a plane over 'imaginary' world maps. At an early point in the film, a kid asks Shruti if Jagga is 'real'. At that point, Jagga is depicted as a comic book character, and by the end of the film, Jagga makes a 'real' appearance at the kids' show. The larger point that I am trying to make is that the film creates a world combining both real-life and fantasy elements, something like the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie. Someone with a better understanding of cinema can, perhaps, articulate this point better. 
The first time Jagga sees Shruti getting down from a bus, it reminds us of Tutti-Futti and his bad luck. At that point, I thought that Shruti is Badal Bagchi (don't blame me, anything is possible in Anurag Basu's world) in some form, or, perhaps, she is his daughter, and that would be the film's final twist. How can two people share the exact mannerisms or bad luck, without having any relation between them? It was a little discomfiting that a boy's love interest and his father are a 'carbon copy' of each other in their behavior. But what I really liked about the film is that it treated people with a bad luck as equally important contributors. It might be funny to witness the things that happen to such people, but somehow, their bad luck brings in good luck to others as Jagga explains. Instead of mocking and ridiculing her, Jagga convinces Shruti to be his partner in his quest to find his father. That is an important takeaway. 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 important 'message', if it can be so called, was the philosophy of the song Khaana Khaake. "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." Again, we see that Shakespearean theme as mentioned in preceding paragraphs, but this time, life is compared to a party, where everyone comes for a party, eats, drinks and goes away. The song is wonderfully choreographed and it becomes one of the defining moments of the film which will make me remember the film. It is also deeply poignant that in the song they are celebrating the birthday of a dead person.
The film ventures into new territories, not only in its treatment, but also the places in the film. The film shows some cultural aspects of Manipur and Assam. When was the last time we saw a depiction of a real tribal community? The Kayan people look fabulous. It is great to see the North-East getting prominence in Hindi films. Earlier this year, Vishal Bharadwaj's Rangoon was also shot in Arunachal Pradesh. Instead of going to Europe and the Americas, the film is shot in Morocco in Africa, a relatively unexplored location for Hindi films. 
Ranbir Kapoor, who also turns producer with the film, is simply superb. This role is quite different from his other recent roles, but there has never been a doubt on his acting prowess. He is amazing. Katrina Kaif is good enough. Saswata Chatterjee wins hearts with his portrayal of Tutti-Futti. But the film belongs to the three people―Amitabh Bhattacharya, Pritam, and Anurag Basu. The music is the soul of the film, and it is only after watching the film, I starting loving the songs. This would be half the film it is now, if not for the music. S. Ravi Varman's gorgeous cinematography deserves a special mention as well. I loved Shiamak Davar's choreography of Ullu Ka Pattha
The film opens with a tribute to Raj Kapoor, where we see his picture holding the clown from Mera Naam Joker, and the lines Gardish Me Taare Rahenge Sada from the song Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan from the same film written below it. Directed and produced by Raj Kapoor, Mera Naam Joker suffered big losses at the box-office. The film was panned for its length and plot. It took nearly six years to complete and the film's failure almost led to the sale of Kapoor's RK Studios. However, over the years, the film acquired a cult status and found its audience, and is regarded as a classic today. It is worthwhile to observe the parallels between Jagga Jasoos and Mera Naam Joker. Jagga Jasoos has also been in the making for quite a while (over three years), and like his grandfather, Ranbir has put his own money in the film. Like Mera Naam Joker, the initial reactions have been mixed with the film being criticized for its musical nature. It is struggling to catch up on the box-office. By its very nature, the film is a huge risk given the experimental nature of the plot and the limited preferences of the Indian audience. But as Shruti says in Barfi!, "Life mein sabse bada risk hota hai, kabhi koi risk na lena." If no one takes a risk, how will the world move forward? Over the coming years, perhaps, Jagga Jasoos will also find its audience and will be considered a 'misunderstood masterpiece' like his grandfather's movie. If not, Gardish Me Taare Rahenge Sada. The stars will forever be in the sky. And, it will still remain a small but significant part of the history of the movies. 

Dialogue of the Day:
"Duniya me sirf do tarah ke log, keel aur hathoda, tumhe kya bannana hain tum decide karo."
―Tutti-Futti, Jagga Jasoos

"Chor jab tak pakda na jaaye, woh chor nahi, artist hai."
―Tutti-Futti, Jagga Jasoos

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Movie Patterns

Devdas and Pakeezah

Jagga Jasoos and Barfi!

Dialogue of the Day:
"बर्फी ने सिखाया था खुशियाँ छोटी छोटी चीज़ों में होती है..हथेली पर पानी में भी जहाज़ तैरते हैं..कागज़ की चिड़िया के भी पंख होते है."
—Shruti, Barfi!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

O. Henry in Hindi Cinema

William Sydney Porter was an American short-story writer. He is better known by his pen name O. Henry. His stories touch an array of themes, such as love, sacrifice, deception, and coincidence. In addition, his stories typically have a surprise ending. He lets the readers think that they have it figured out but then there is something waiting at the end of the story. He keeps the readers under suspense until the last sentence. His oeuvre is, thus, best suited to be made into films, and in fact, there have been quite a few Hindi films that have been inspired by his work. 

One of the earliest adaptations of O. Henry's works in Hindi cinema was Bombai Ka Babu (1960). Directed by Raj Khosla, the film was inspired by Henry's story A Double-Dyed Deceiver. The film is the story of Babu, played by Dev Anand, who takes to crime from a young age. After coming out of prison, Babu decides to mend his ways. He goes to meet his associate, Balli, who tries to convince him to join in another heist. Meanwhile, the police raids Balli’s hideout, and arrests all his associates. Balli is released on bail and suspects Babu of being a police informer. When Balli meets Babu again, there is a fight between the two and Balli dies on the spot. Afraid of being implicated again, Babu runs away to Shimla, where he gets entangled in another criminal racket. Bhagat, the leader of the gang, wants Babu to go in disguise as the lost son of a wealthy man, who had run away from home two decades earlier. Babu becomes Kundan, and is received with affection by the wealthy parents. His younger sister Maya has some doubts about her returned brother but never expresses it. Meanwhile, Babu falls in love with Maya. Bhagat continues to blackmail Babu to rob the family of their possessions. In the climax, Babu discovers that Kundan was no one else but his dead associate Balli. The romantic angle between the brother and the sister was not present in A Double-Dyed Deceiver but other events including the final twist were inspired by it. Bombai Ka Babu's ending is rare and unconventional with hints of incestual relations as the two lead actors with romantic inclinations end up as brother and sister. 
A variation of A Double-Dyed Deceiver was also seen in Ravi Chopra's Zameer (1975). Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saira Banu, and Shammi Kapoor, the film is about Badal, a small-time criminal, who is asked to impersonate the son of a rich farm owner Maharaj Singh. Badal is accepted by his new family. He falls in love with Sunita, but she is conflicted as he turns out to be her lost brother. Badal knows that he is not her brother but does not tell anyone. Circumstances bring Maharaj's real son Suraj into their lives. Years ago, a dacoit had abducted Maharaj's son to avenge the death of his own son who was killed by Maharaj during a robbery. After learning about Suraj, Badal takes up the responsibility of restoring Suraj to his family. Zameer has been cited as the remake of Bombai Ka Babu, but unlike that film, there is no twist in the end in this film. However, the theme of lovers as a possible brother-sister duo was present in Zameer, too. 
K.Shankar's Sachaai (1969) is based on Henry's another famous story After Twenty Years. The film starred Shammi Kapoor and Sanjeev Kumar in lead roles. It is the story of two friends Ashok and Kishore who are roommates living together. Ashok takes to crime, while Kishore is an honest upright man. The two friends disagree on living life honestly. They decide to meet each other after a period of three years to see the effect that life has had on them. In the ensuing period, things change a lot. Kishore becomes a hardened criminal Baghi Sitara while Ashok realizes it is not worthwhile to pursue a criminal career, and becomes a police inspector. Ashok is assigned the task of apprehending Baghi Sitara. On the other hand, Kishore must kill Ashok in order to carry out his nefarious activities. After three years, the two men have an emotional meeting, unaware about the other person's changed circumstances in life, as it happened in the original story by Henry.
Noted actor Pran's son Sunil Sikand made Lakshmanrekha (1991) that was also a retelling of After Twenty Years. The film starred Naseeruddin Shah as Amar and Jackie Shroff as Vicky. Amar and Vicky are close friends. Amar is a police inspector, while Vicky is a criminal. At some point, Amar's father is killed before his own eyes by Birju. Amar attempts to avenge his dad's death by plotting to kill Birju as he had managed to escape conviction by producing false alibis. When Amar tires to finish Birju, he is confronted by Vicky, who has now become a police inspector. Vicky will not permit Amar to take the law into his own hands. The basic premise of two friends changing their belief in the criminal justice system over the years is inspired by After Twenty Years
Priyadarshan's Vellanakalude Nadu (1998) is considered to be one of the classic films in Malayalam cinema. The film starred Mohanlal and Shobhana in lead roles. The film was remade in Hindi by Priyadarshan as Khatta Meetha (2010). The film's theme of the lead pair's changing opinion over the years about the ethics to be followed in life was again based on After Twenty Years. Khatta Meetha starred Akshay Kumar and Trisha Krishnan as the lead actors. It is the story of Sachin Tichkule, a small-time contractor, desperate to succeed in a society that is skewed heavily towards the corrupt. He gives up his Gandhian philosophy and becomes an immoral and corrupt man, ready to pay bribes to move ahead in life. However, a meeting with his ex-girlfriend Gehna, who is now an honest and upright municipal commissioner, brings a change in his conscience and he turns back to his ethical code of living.
Rituparno Ghosh's first Hindi film Raincoat (2004) was also inspired by Henry's story The Gift of the Magi. Henry's story is about a married couple, Jim and Della, and how they deal with buying Christmas gifts for each other, with their limited means. They both sacrifice their prized possessions to buy gifts to show their love for each other. Adapting beautifully to an Indian setting, Raincoat is about Mannu (Ajay Devgn) and Niru (Aishwarya Rai). They grew up in the same neighborhood and were lovers once. Due to Mannu's poor financial condition, Niru marries another guy. It is now six years later. Mannu has lost his job and needs money to start his own business. Niru, now a married woman, is dealing with her own financial problems as her husband suffered huge financial losses. She is also struggling to make ends meet. Mannu goes to visit Niru; they reminisce about the past, and make up false stories about their perfect life. In the end, like it happens in The Gift of the Magi, a surprise gift awaits the both of them, which becomes a testimony of their continued love for each other even after so many years.
Most recently, Vikramaditya Motwane made the poetic Lootera (2013). Set in 1953, it is the story of Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha) and Varun (Ranveer Singh). Pakhi is the daughter of a rich zamindar of Manikpur. Varun is an archaeologist who wants to excavate some sites near her house. Pakhi falls in love with Varun, but he turns out to be a thief who steals all the antique jewelry and artifacts from her house. Devastated by his betrayal, Pakhi moves to Dalhousie. She does not keep well. Every day, she looks out at a big tree outside her window, and thinks that when the last leaf of the tree falls, she will die that day. Varun comes to Dalhousie for another robbery, but the police is looking for him. He takes shelter in Pakhi's house, and learns about Pakhi's last leaf theory. Varun had always wanted to be a painter, and in the end, he paints a leaf and puts it on the tree outside Pakhi's house so that Pakhi can live. In doing so, he not only paints a masterpiece but he also seeks redemption for his betrayal and proves his immense love for Pakhi. The second half of Lootera involving the leaf sequences is based on Henry's The Last Leaf, which was the story of an old artist Behrman who saves the life of a young girl Johnsy, suffering from pneumonia, by giving her the will to live. Johnsy thinks she is going to die when the last leaf on the ivy vine outside her window falls. However, the leaf does not fall, and she starts to get better. The same day she gets better, Behrman dies. It is discovered that the last leaf on the ivy plant was painted onto the window by Behrman, who died of pneumonia which he contracted while being out in the wet and cold, painting the last leaf. 
Besides Lootera, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's directorial debut film Musafir (1957) has also been thought to have a few shades of The Last Leaf. The film is about a house and the lives of three families who live on rent in it for different periods. Musafir comprises three different stories related to the circle of life. The third story in the film is about a widowed mother Uma (Usha Kiron) and her son Raja (Daisy Irani) who cannot walk. Outside their house, Pagla Babu (Dilip Kumar) keeps on playing the violin. Pagla Babu is none other than Uma's ex-lover Raja, who had left Uma two days before their wedding, and after whom she named her son. A friendship develops between the young Raja and Pagla Babu. Raja tells Pagla Babu that he dreamt that there were big red flowers on the tree outside their house. Pagla Babu tells him that he will walk the day there are flowers on the tree outside. Meanwhile, it is found that Pagla Babu is suffering from cancer. Pagla Babu's health deteriorates and he dies. The day he dies, Raja starts walking and red flowers appear on the tree. Like it was in The Last Leaf, Raja walks on the same day when Pagla Babu, who had given him hope, dies. There is a contrast with Henry's story as instead of the last leaf falling, there will be flowers blooming in the tree. 

In addition, commentators have also noted the themes of melancholy and waiting for death in Musafir to be similar to that in The Last Leaf. In his book Hero, Volume 1, The Silent Era to Dilip Kumar, Ashok Raj writes, "Although the film [Musafir] presented Dilip Kumar as Devdas reincarnated, there was a difference; the lover-sufferer, in this case, is not restless, but in a state of chronic depression, which finds expression not in self-indulgence, but in a kind of resigned sadness. He keeps on playing his violin as if announcing his inevitable death any moment. It seems that Hrishikesh Mukherjee took this idea from The Last Leaf, the famous short story by O. Henry. In his later highly acclaimed film Anand (1970), Mukherjee transformed this role of death-in-waiting to a highly spirited positive character (played by Rajesh Khanna), a cancer patient, who intends to take death merely as a way of life. Anand, unlike Devdas, lives every precious moment of life with full zest before accepting an untimely death.
For the sake of completeness, one of the episodes of Doordarshan's TV serial Katha Sagar was also based on The Last Leaf. Starring Supriya Pathak, Neena Gupta and Irshad Hashmi, the episode was directed by noted film director Shyam Benegal. 

Henry had written, "There are stories in everything. I've got some of my best yarns from park benches, lampposts, and newspaper stands." His stories reflect that, and perhaps, that is what makes these films even more thoughtful as they help us discover the beauty of emotions in everyday life.

Other Reading:
1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Hindi Films—Link
2. The Oedipus Complex In Hindi Films—Link
3. Court Judgements Citing Films—Link
4. On RaincoatLink
5. On LooteraLink and Link

References:
1. Bombai Ka BabuLink
2. ZameerLink
3. SachaaiLink
4. LakshmanrekhaLink
5. Khatta MeethaLink
6. RaincoatLink
7. LooteraLink
8. MusafirLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Mera zindagi mein sab ne mera istemaal kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya."
—Varun, Lootera