Saturday, June 28, 2014

2 States: Much more than the literal 'states'

In her book First Day First Show, Anupama Chopra had written a deeply insightful essay on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ). The essay is such a great piece of writing that every few months I try to read it. One part of the essay focuses on the moral twist in the film. She says, "Rebellion is part of Bollywood's formula for cinematic romance. Every decade has a defining love story in which the lovers confront their parents (Mughal-E-Azam, Bobby, Love Story, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dil). In DDLJ, Raj's dissent is unique. He rebels by refusing to do so. In a poignant scene, Lajjo gives Simran her jewelery — the only thing she owns — and tells them to leave. But Raj refuses. There are always two roads, he tells Lajjo, the right one and the wrong one. And though the wrong route is seductive in its ease, he will take the more difficult, correct path. Because, he says, he does not want to snatch or steal Simran. He wants to marry her with the approval of the family. He believes that their love will conquer all opposition."

While watching Abhishek Verman's 2 States, I was reminded of this passage all over again. It is the magic of DDLJ that almost twenty years after its release, it continues to inspire generation after generation of filmmakers. Last year's two biggest hits — Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express were inspired from DDLJ. This year, 2 States has taken that place and going by the trailers, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya also appears to be taking some references from DDLJ. Since time immemorial, parental opposition has been a popular theme in our movies. In 2001, Farhan Akhtar's cult Dil Chahta Hai redefined cinema for some of us. In that film, the role of parents became secondary to the main characters. Does anyone remember any significant role of the parents in that movie except maybe Sid's mom? After Dil Chahta Hai, the role of parents in films became marginally less; however, parental opposition to love continued to be a popular theme in our films. 2 States, based on Chetan Bhagat's book of the same name, is essentially the story of Krish (Arjun Kapoor) and Ananya (Aliya Bhatt) and how they overcome parental opposition to their relationship. The reason I talked about DDLJ is that like Raj, Krish and Ananya also refuse to elope which they could have done easily. Instead, both of them work together to get the blessings of their parents. So, not only does Krish go to Ananya's place to win over her family, but Ananya also comes to Krish's house to win his mother's heart because as at one point, when Krish says to Ananya, "Hum pyaar karte hai ek doosre se, kafi nahi hai?" and she replies, "Kabhi nahi hota". Love is not enough because bhaag jane me koi izzat nahi hoti.

The film's opening credits show us cultural contrasts between two different states from India. One scene shows us India Gate in Delhi, while the contrasting picture shows us a temple from Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The next picture shows Howrah Bridge from West Bengal, contrasting with a picture of the backwaters in Kerala. Of course, this was reference to the theme of the movie that involves lovers from two different families belonging to two different states in India. 

I also felt that '2 States' had a much deeper meaning. The two states are the two contrasting themes — modernity and tradition, or contemporary and classic. The film beautifully makes a statement on the balance between these two themes. We have Anaya and Krish who are modern that is in line with the times. They do not hesitate to have and talk about sex openly. They do what they want to do. Ananya will eat chicken and drink beer even if her Tamil Brahmin family practices abstinence. She has come to study MBA and not go for singing which her mother wants her to do. Krish will write Chennai in his placement form as his first place of choice, going against his mother's wishes. He will stand for his mother and would even go to the extent of slapping his father, forgetting all conventional notions of parental respect. But at the same time, both of them are not rebellious. They still crave for the traditional parental approval for their relationship. They know their limits and boundaries and would follow the family traditions. Ananya would not refuse to meet the American engineer when her parents ask her to meet him even if she knows that it is a sheer waste of time. Likewise, Krish would placate his mother and would lie as well, even when he knows she is completely wrong. Both of them meticulously balance this conflict between these two themes. Ananya will not only tell Krish to do something for her family, but she will also manage the expectations of her father and tell him to be good to Krish as he has come all the way from Delhi. They would hesitate to kiss each other in the street outside her place but would not mind taking off their clothes in front of the servant at Krish's place. The two states of modernity and tradition are present throughout the film. Ananya's mom, Radha, wanted to learn classical carnatic music but she was not good at it. In a lovely scene, she sings a medley of contemporary songs splendidly. Again, this refers to the 2 States of contemporary and classic in line with the film's theme. Also, I found it very interesting that Krish chose a typewriter to write his stories but he uses laptops and is very good at power point presentation references to tradition and modernity. In fact, at one point in the film, Krish has Rabindranath Tagore's The Home and the World, which Wikipedia tells us that,  'the book illustrates the battle Tagore had with himself, between the ideas of Western culture and revolution against the Western culture. These two ideas are portrayed in two of the main characters, Nikhil, who is rational and opposes violence, and Sandip, who will let nothing stand in his way from reaching his goals. These two opposing ideals are very important in understanding the history of the Bengali region and its contemporary problems.' Just like the film's 2 States. Even Ananya's room had a contemporary look but also had a poster of Padmapani from Ajanta caves (and a stereo!) as if balancing the old and the new.

At one point in the film, Krish says, "Story me hero ho na ho, story hero honi chahiye". He wants to write simple stories on people like us. He does not want to teach and preach anything to anyone, only wants to write good stories. This, too, is in line with the kind of books in his room. The wall in his room has covers of JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird books not exactly famous for their literary value but about their popularity. I do not understand the fuss about The Catcher in the Rye which I found a very mediocre book. There is a cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, too. Later, Ananya says to Krish that he can write tragic stories as tragedy is the new cool and it would make the critics happy, bringing another aspect of the two states — popular acclaim or critical acclaim — in the film's narrative, especially given Chetan Bhagat's books are hated by the critics. 

One of my favorite sequences in the film was the one involving Duke and Minti's wedding. Not only is it such a fantastic scene that lambastes the concept of dowry but it is also a terrifically executed scene. Notice the sequence of songs being played in the background in the party. When Ananya and Krish are talking to each other, Dil Mangta Hai Tu Aaja Soniye plays. A few seconds later, when Duke's family is asking for dowry, Thug Le plays. When Ananya has a drink and she goes to find out about the matter, the song Chikni Chameli Paua Chada Ke Aayi plays. A few seconds later, when she says she will solve the problem, the song Desi Girl plays. When she walks to Duke, TV Pe Breaking News Hai Re Mera Ghaghra plays. When she asks Duke about his salary, the tune of the song Tera Zara Sa Bhi Dhola Jo Imaan, Tu Saala Kaam Se Gaya starts playing. Each song in this sequence perfectly fits with the situation itself. This was a very thoughtful sequence. This reminded me of Shudh Desi Romance which had brilliantly put in songs at different points in the film in a similar way. Only if the audience listened carefully, then they would realize how perfectly the song fit the situation there as well.   

There were some references to some popular films as well.

Wake Up Sid

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

Jodhaa Akbar

I also felt that Krish writes his story when he is depressed. It was as if Rockstar was playing all over again — toote hue dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai. Also, the typewriter felt very Moulin Rouge. The plot involving Rashmi and Krish was clearly taken from Chetan's another novel — Five Point Someone.

Last week, I visited a museum that had Hollywood costumes from famous films. It was such a fine exhibit that showed how much detail goes into matching the costume with the character in the film. One exhibit was from Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth which showed that the Queen's dress had a protruding (if one has seen the costume, it is quite obvious and is visible in the film's poster as well) that was symbolically referring to the fact that she is aloof from her subjects and they cannot come closer to her. Similarly, there were many such detailed snippets on why a particular costume was designed. As is obvious, this is my favorite thing — to find something hidden in our movies. The exhibition taught me many things and these days, I am trying to focus on understanding some new aspects of films, which I have ignored, for instance character placement. For example, in the scene where Krish comes to meet Ananya, she is not facing him and is looking forward while he is looking at her as he wants to solve the issue. In the song Chandaniya, Krish is standing at crossroads like he is standing at crossroads in his own life. Ananya works on a campaing for Sunsilk where she says, "She is an optimist, she has her dreams, but she is not afraid to write her own life story" — like Ananya herself.

There is so much detailing that goes in films that I, sometimes, wonder on the whole complexity of the process. I really want to go and work for films someday. For instance, notice Ronit Roy's role. He was shown to be a failed man and later, he opens a security firm. Contrast this with his own life, when he came in films, he was not successful. Of course, he is much successful now. In real life, he also owns a security firm like his character in the film. Amrita Singh who also had a failed marriage and is a typical Punjabi in real life as well. Revathi is just brilliant. The casting is so perfect that as I wrote in the post on Swades, that I began to wonder if it is life imitating art or art imitating life. 

My issue with the film was the length. It was too long and felt repetitive at many times. May be the director, like Ananya, needs to know the concept of marginal utility curve :)  I was fine with the stereotyping characters but in the beginning, when Ananya says she eats chicken despite being a Tamil Brahmin, I thought that they are going into an interesting territory. But I was mistaken. There has been a famous campaign going on about dismantling stereotypes. It would have been a nice story to see a film that breaks stereotypes. Also, I felt that at many places, scenes were left half-baked and not explained properly. Like what was the significance of the words Love, Dada on Krish's typewriter. Or did he really want to commit suicide or was it just a comical statement? If he was serious, then the film resolved it conveniently.

But still I liked the film. I do not know about critics but I found something very endearing about Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Arjun has a goofy charm about him and Alia is just amazing in the film. She brings grace and dignity to Ananya. There are some lovely moments in the film and it made me shed a tear or two. I loved the scene where Krish proposed Ananya in the middle of her interview. The scene where he proposed his entire family was also nice. The scenes between Krish and his father are beautifully handled. And, the song Chandaniya is slowly growing on me. 

Some other books:

Works of Frank Lloyd Wright

The Indian Epics Retold by R. K. Narayan 

2 States: The Story of my marriage by Chetan Bhagat

2 States is not perfect, but it is a decent watch. There is much to savor in the film and I really enjoyed it. I am really looking forward to Abhishek Verman's next film. 
More later.

Dialogue of the Day: 
"Agar life me sab kuch theek ho jaye, to life bahut boring ho jaati hai," 
— Krish, 2 States

"Kuch cheezein hamari life me nahi hoti."
Ananya, 2 States


  1. I did not like the novel '2 states' by Chetan Bhagat.I felt it was lengthy.
    But, the movie '2 states' was a good watch.

    PS: I recently watched 'Hawaa Hawai' It's nice :)

  2. I really liked all your blogs and actually I read some of your more recent blogs and I was like I need to go back and see if this guy has written something about 2 states and yes!! Bingo! Thank you so much. That was a great analysis of 2 states. I guess that movie is not only about the literal states but about two mentalities of parents but how at the end they are still your parents. Like both wanted the best for their kids. So it also teaches us that at the end of the day no matter how much we feel that they don't understand us we just can't ignore them in our life. That's the ironical relationship between the parents and the children and I believe that this thought is very beautifully presented in the movie as well as the book.


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