Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lamhe — Of Barren Deserts, Peacocks, and Lush Green Forests

In an interview with Karan Johar, Yash Chopra said that Lamhe is one of his most cherished films. Released in 1991, Lamhe did not do well at all the box office, though it was a commercial success overseas. In the interview, Yash Chopra says that he had this idea of Lamhe since Silsila; however, he waited till Chandni because he wanted the cushion of a hit film. On being criticized that film was much ahead of its time, he said if he cannot make it in the nineties, when will he make then. Lamhe is called a cult classic and much has been written on the film. However, most of the people, whose writings I follow for their nuanced view on cinema, did not like the film at all. I do not have a deeper understanding the way they do, but I love the film. There is a splendiferous innocence that pervades the film. I have been wanting to write on its incredible beauty since long, and finally made myself do it.

Lamhe is the story of Viren Pratap Singh (Anil Kapoor), a prince belonging to Marwar, who travels to Rajasthan to meet his Daijaan (Waheeda Rehman) who brought him up. There, he falls in love with the girl next door, Pallavi (Sridevi). She is elder to him in age though this does not bother him. However, Pallavi loves Siddharth (Deepak Malhotra) and gets married to him. Unable to bear his heartbreak, Viren goes back to London. Meanwhile, Pallavi dies in an accident and leaves a daughter Pooja to Daijaan. Viren does not see Pooja till she grows up; however, she grows up to become an exact replica of her mother. This time, Pooja falls in love with Viren, who is obviously much elder to him. Viren has to decide whether he is still in love with Pallavi, or he is deliberatley trying to stop himself from falling in love with Pooja, who might look like her mother but has her own identity. 

As with any other film, where the unspoken word enthralls me, I was fascinated by the same in Lamhe. In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, a tragic love story of Heathcliff and Catherine, the place where the story is set corresponds to the emotions of its characters. The wild and expansive moors of Yorkshire symbolize the wilderness and the boldness of Heathcliff and Catherine's love. Nature is an allegory of its desolate characters. Similarly, the setting plays an important part in Lamhe, too. Viren comes from the protected life that he has lived in London to the barren desert sands of Rajasthan. His Daijaan makes him touch his forehead on the land of his ancestors. It is a big coincidence that car that he is being driven in, has 'DNA' written on it. It is not intentional but the serendipity of the moment is hard to miss—the dry sands of Rajasthan are ingrained with stories of love and valor in its DNA. In many ways, Viren was like the desert and the sand dunes—open and free—that have ability to turn into any form. In the dry barren sands with no vegetation which signal his lack of experience in love, he sees the ethereal Pallavi and is enchanted by her at once. He sees her for the first time, dancing in the rain to the sounds of Megha Re Megha. A peacock is delighted by the rain and spreads its wings when it rains. In the same way, Pallavi is dancing in the rain, and Viren is bewitched by her beauty. It is as if the desert has found its oasis. The metaphor of Pallavi as a peacock is validated in the smoldering Morni Baga Ma Bole, where she actually compares herself to a female peacock. She sings that when a peacock starts singing in the middle of the night, it seems that a dagger was thrust in her heart. Then, the morni starts singing and making a tinkling noise with her bangles. However, Viren is not the peacock that she is singing about; it is her lover Siddharth who is her peacock. There is yet another peacock symbol that confirms that Pallavi is indeed one. Pooja narrates the tragic love story of Rana Surya Narayan Singh and Rani Mrigawati. Rani used to write letters to Rana, like Pallavi used to write to Viren. The Sanskrit word for a peacock is 'mrig'. Pallavi's beauty is undoubtedly like that of a peacock and Viren is captivated by this peacock.


Pallavi is the peacock dancing in the rain


There is an alluring contrast in the two states of Viren before and after the death of Pallavi. As mentioned earlier, Viren is like the barren desert with no vegetation. When he sees Pallavi for the first time, he is like the wet sand after the first rain—petichor. Pallavi's love, slowly, matures him; her love helps him grow from a desert to a forest. Pallavi's ashes are scattered in the desert sand after her death, and it is as if those ashes act as a seed that grows into a lush green forest. The shots of trees with exuberant growth in London where the film shifts in the second half is powerful allegory of the use of nature as a metaphor for Viren that he has turned into a forest from the desert. At one point, Viren's friend Anita (Dippy Sagoo) even remarks, "Tum parchaiyon ke jungle se nikal kyun nahi aate, Viren?"—"Why don't you come out of the forest of shadows (Pallavi), Viren?" It is deeply moving and poignant to see love torment Viren, who kept chasing Pallavi's shadows, like Heathcliff spoke to Catherine's spirit. 

Viren is the desert

Pallavi's ashes are scattered in the desert

Viren turns into lush green forest

There is the central theme of unconditional love in the film. It is not only in Viren's one-sided love for Pallavi, or Pooja's initial one-sided love for Viren. This unconditional and, perhaps, unrequited love present in all its characters. Daijaan has brought up both Pooja and Viren, and in the process, she says that she actually forgot that she has her own home. Her love for Viren and Pooja is like the unconditional love of a mother for her child; in many ways, she loved them more than a real mother would. Pallavi, who belonged to a family of royals, where the title of a person is more important than the person himself, falls in love with Siddharth, an orphan who does not even have a real last name and in a royal household, someone like him would be persona non grata. It is unconditional love where stature and family background of a person does not matter. Viren's love for Pallavi is unconditional even though she might be elder to him in age. Toh kya hua, main bhi to unse umar me chhota hun. In the same way, Pooja's love for Viren is unconditional because dono me se kisi ek to chhota to hona hi padta hai. Prem's (Anupam Kher) love for his friend Viren is, again, unconditional. He has been there at every stage with Viren. For the last 18 years, he has been by his side without any expectation in return. Even Anita, who knows that Viren is madly in love with the dead Pallavi and her memories, loves Viren and is willing to give him time to get over it. The age difference between Viren-Pallavi, and Pooja-Viren, was only one part of the film; the underlying theme of Lamhe is that love has no conditions. It is this what Yash Chopra has said not only through Lamhe but through all his films. 

Lamhe credits its story and screenplay to Honey Irani. In an earlier post, I had written that there are some similarities between Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, and Dil Chahta Hai. Honey Irani is Farhan Akhtar's mother. Given my obsessive love for Dil Chahta Hai, I found many similarities between it and Lamhe, too. I wonder if that is some way of Farhan taking inspiration from his mother's best films (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge never officially credited her which soured relations between the two families). The most discernible is the theme of falling in love with an older woman. Viren is shy, introverted, and brooding, and falls in love with Pallavi. Similarly, Siddharth in Dil Chahta Hai, is an introvert, and falls in Tara, a much older woman. Both Viren and Sid do not care about the age difference between their respective lovers. Viren makes a portrait of Pallavi; Sid makes a painting of Tara. Both Viren and Sid lack a fatherly figure in their lives, and have lap-hugging loyalty to their mothers. Pallavi dies in an accident, and Tara dies of liver cirrhosis, and incidentally, both of them have a death scene in the hospital where Viren speaks to Pallavi, and Sid speaks to Tara. Both Viren and Sid never wanted to tell Pallavi and Tara, respectively, that they love them. All they wanted was to see them happy. Both Pallavi and Tara have daughters. In another scene, whenever Viren closes his eyes, he sees Pallavi's face. In Dil Chahta Hai, during the opera scene, Aakash (Aamir Khan) saw Shalini's (Preity Zinta's) face where he realized he loved her. And, at the risk of over-analysis, two character names, Siddharth and Pooja, are present in both the films. The similarities are hard to ignore.

Much has been written and commented on the possible incestuous relationship between Viren and Pooja. Somehow, it never struck me that way. Pooja was Pallavi's and Siddharth's daughter, and Viren had never seen her till she turned eighteen. Pallavi had given her daughter to Daijaan, and not Viren. Though Viren burns Pallavi's letters, he did that to show Anita that he loved her, and not Pooja, I have doubts if Viren was actually in love with Pooja. However, he did see Pooja's face instead of Pallavi's when he closed his eyes, suggesting to us that he has perhaps moved on. If he was still in love with Pallavi, he would have seen her face, and it would make us think that his love for Pooja was a facade for his love for Pallavi. The climax was somewhat rushed, and I would have wanted some further nuance to understand better that Viren is indeed in love with Pooja, and not Pallavi. However, there are clear differences between the personalities of Pooja and Pallavi. In an earlier scene, Pallavi sends a Rajput dress to Viren. She tries put him in a traditional and mature dress. Later, Pooja buys a colorful sweater that Viren would never buy. The two clothing items are a reflection of the differing personalities between the two; Pallavi is more mature, while Pooja is more colorful. While Pallavi takes Viren on a tour of the rich traditions of Rajasthan, Pooja takes Viren to an amusement park, again pointing to somewhat traditional nature of Pallavi, and a child-like enthusiasm in Pooja. Pallavi matures him, while Pooja makes him a child. There is a lack of sexual feelings in Viren towards Pooja, otherwise it could easily have gone the Lolita way. Their relationship is depicted sensitively. There are two scenes which do have some sexual undertones; the first when Viren sucks Pooja's thumb after she cuts it with a knife, and the second when Pooja comes and asks Viren to help her wear the necklace. 


Pooja—Breaking Traditions

The antique phone

A special mention of the music. I love all its songs. I never realized that many of my favorite songs are actually from this film. Megah Re Megha, Mohe Chhedo Na Nand Ke Lala, and Meri Bindiya are terrific, but my absolute favorite is Morni Baga Ma. Sridevi looks gorgeous in the song, and I love the steps when she enacts a peacock. How can any song be so beautiful? I want to go and live in this song. The lyrics of the song have the line Chudiyaan Khanak Gayi Dekh, Saahiban. The song Heer from Jab Tak Hai Jaan also has a reference to Sahiban. And, the medley of songs is just perfect. I watch it anytime when I am feeling low; it instantly cheers me up, and the shot of Waheeda ji dancing to Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai is the icing on the cake. Interestingly, Pam Chopra, Yash Chopra's wife has done the playback for this song. What I find remarkable is that Prem keeps singing old songs and there are many meta references. I would like to research if the songs have any relation to the story. Though in the climax, he sings Kabhi Kabhi from Yash Chopra's film of the same name, which is another self reference, where a director refers his own film in another film; something that Karan Johar never fails to do. 

Wikipedia says Lamhe's story was inspired by Anokha Rishta. I could not find much similarity though when I read its plot. Also, the English version of Lamhe is titled Indian Summer, am curious about the theory behind the name. Performances are excellent by everyone. There is grace in all its characters. 

It is wonderful to note the coincidences that hindsight now offers. The film set in the 'classic' palaces of Rajasthan is now called a cult 'classic'. In 1991, India took its first steps towards economic liberalization, breaking the shackles of state control on its economy. There was much resistance to liberalization process but it is the seeds, that India sowed that time, are reaping the benefits for it now. It is serendipity that Lamhe also released in 1991 and was a bold step towards social liberalization trying to break some social taboos about the notion of love. The film did not do well at box office, but achieved a cult status thereafter. I was astounded by the number of paintings that adorn the walls in the film. Be it Rajasthan or London, there are paintings everywhere. Lamhe is like a painting, that explains that even the film's poster has a portrait in it. Also, worth mentioning that they do not fit exactly in the portrait, as if they are trying to break the conventional definition of love. It is the painting by a maestro who painted the resplendence of love on his canvas and enchanted everyone. It is strange how life works, as if it is art imitating life or life imitating art.

Lamhe is about the moments of love and its memories that remain etched forever in one's heart. It is about those unexplained relationships that we forge with those whom we have no blood relationship, and we stand by those relationships lifelong, whether be it love for a governess, a friend, or a neighbor. Because they said in another famous film, "Ajeeb zindagi hai, kuch rishtey hai jinka koi naam nahi hota."

Dialogue of the day:
"Yaad koi aisi cheez to hoti nahi ki aadmi inhe ikattha kare aur darwaaz khol ke dil ke baahar phenk de." 
 — Viren, Lamhe

P.S. — There is a YouTube video on the premier of the film, and in that, at one point, there is someone who is possibly Ranbir Kapoor (at 04:06). If he is indeed Ranbir, then he is too precocious for someone who was nine years old in 1991.

1 comment:

  1. Your interpretations and observations are astute and thought provoking. Lamhe remains one of my favorite movies. i watched it twice on the same day that it was released in 1991 (back to back shows in a cinema hall). Since it's release I must have watched it at least once (if not more) a year. It ages so well, and there is always something new I find in it. Your article has prompted me to watch it again tonight! Thanks a lot for the post. Would love to talk about this movie sometime (albeit virtually) about the different motifs and the various facets of it's depiction of "love". There is a moment early on in the film where Pallavi's father comes to Viren's haveli to welcome him and leaves without saying a word as soon as he sees the life size portraits of Viren's dead parents. Viren is confused on why he left so abruptly, daijaan explains that he got emotional after seeing his friend's painting and left before his feelings got the better of him "hum raajput apane aanso apanon ko bhi nahi dikhaate". Anyway, this one moment showed the kind of friendship these two men had...something like what Prem and Viren have! I would love to see a movie about the lives of Viren's parents and Pallavi's parents :) someday.


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