Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sangam—Of The Confluence Of Three Rivers

Sangam, directed by Raj Kapoor, is the classic tale of love and friendship. The film is the story of Sundar (Raj Kapoor), Radha (Vyjayanthimala), and Gopal (Rajendra Kumar). Sundar is an orphan, and is friends from childhood with Gopal and Radha. They grow up, and Sundar falls in love with Radha. Gopal is also in love with Radha, who loves him back. But for the sake of his friendship, Gopal sacrifices his love. Radha gets married to Sundar, who is unaware that his friend also loves Radha, and eventually he finds that out. Sangam is considered one of the finest Hindi films, and it was only a few days ago that I watched it. 
In Hindu mythology, Krishna and Radha have been depicted as the greatest of lovers. Their story is legendary, and has continued to inspire filmmakers generation after generation. As recently as last year, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's gorgeous Bajirao Mastani portrayed Bajirao and Mastani as Krishna and Radha, respectively. In Sangam, too, there is the subtext of Krishna and Radha's story. The film's two male protagonists are named named Sundar and Gopal. Both Sundar and Gopal are alternative names of Krishna, and the two of them are in love with Radha, who was also Krishna's lover. Thus, all the lead characters of the film are related to Krishna and Radha. Early in the film, there is the song Bol Radha Bol during which Sundar perches himself on a tree, and steals Radha's clothes who is swimming in the river. This is similar to what Krishna also used to do. It is a well-known story that Krishna used to steal the clothes of Gopis when they performed ablutions in the river. Krishna watched them taking a bath from a tree. In the song, Sundar wears a feather on his head, and starts playing his bagpipe. Krishna wore a peacock feather on his head, and used to play his flute. Raj Kapoor has made a contemporary version of Krishna where instead of a flute, Sundar plays a bagpipe. The similarities between Sundar and Krishna are clearly underscored in Bol Radha Bol. The song's lyrics are about Radha, too. In The Goddess as Role Model: Sita and Radha in Scripture and on Screen, Heidi R.M. Pauwels observes a similar point, but she calls this vastraharan contrary to the depiction in mythology where it was Radha who was pleading to Krishna. She says, "Sundar may be stealing her clothes, but he is the one who is praying to the goddess, that is Radha, to fulfill his dream of love. The irony of this reversal is brought out explicitly in the song. In the last verse, Sundar refers to the chant of his breath, Radha Radha, which the audience recognizes instantly as a mantra to the goddess. Thus, the male lover is the devotee, and the woman is adored like a goddess. This is also underscored by the second verse, where Sundar describes himself as a patient lover."
 
Vastraharan
There is another leitmotif that is present in Sangam. It is of Radha dressed in white. Throughout the entire film, Radha is dressed in white. There are only three scene in the film when she is not dressed in white. One is her wedding day, when she is, as per tradition, dressed in red. The other is Buddha Mil Gaya sequence. The last is Bol Radha Bol in which she is technically wearing a white dress, but her swimming suit is red. Except these, there is nary a scene in the film, more than three hours long, where Radha is shown in a color other than white. Like flowers in Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance, and peacocks in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, it is always fascinating to see that this much attention to detail is given to a film. There is a special signficance of the white color, which we learn in the climax of the film. Gopal tells Sundar that the day Radha wed him, and entered his house, she was as pure as the river Ganges. The holy Ganges is considered as the purest of the pure rivers in India, and Radha is as pure as the Ganges. White color is a symbol of her purity, and her pavitrata. Hence, she is dressed in white in the entire film. 
Radha in White 

The film takes its title from the confluence of three rivers—Ganga, Yamuna, and Sarawati—in Allahabad. It is a holy site where it is said that if one takes a bath, it washes off all their sins. Ganga and Yamuna are actual rivers, while Saraswati remains hidden, but people believe that it makes its presence felt underwater. The title scene of the film shows the place of Sangam in the background. The story of the three characters is, in some ways, like the union of the three rivers. Ganga was Radha, Yamuna was Sundar, and Saraswati was Gopal. Like Saraswati remains hidden, Gopal shoots himself in the end, and becomes hidden. At some point, Gopal says in the union of Ganga and Yamuna, Saraswati must be sacrificed, thus, he disappears from their life, but his presence is felt deep in their hearts. Later, Radha and Sundar immerse Gopal's ashes in the Sangam—a depiction of their own Sangam

Sangam is a classic love triangle, and many times, we literally see a triangle. The film's title credits show the names of actors in hearts arranged in a triangular fashion with the woman's character in between. At some point in the film, the photographs of the three of them are arranged in a triangular fashion. In the climax in the film, the three of them are standing in a perfect triangular position with Radha in between Sundar and Gopal. The ending moments provide some of the most thoughtful dialogues from the film. Though, personally, Gopal's killing was not really required; he could have gone somewhere faraway. But as soon as the gun came, it was quite clear that someone will die. This is quite similar to the trope of Chekhov's Gun. Anton Chekhov said, "If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act." Someone has to die, if a guns appears in a film. 

Triangles

At many times, the film felt ahead of its times for a film released in 1964. Sundar and Radha go on a honeymoon to Europe. While Yash Chopra is famous for depicting snow-clad Swiss mountains in his films in the eighties and the nineties, it happened in Sangam in the sixties. They also go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I don't recall any other film that has done that (and, it was the first time, I saw the elevator that takes the people to the top of the tower). Films are still being made with Eiffel Tower (link). Buddha Mil Gaya is also a pathbreaking song where a wife dances quite seductively in front of her husband who wants to go to a cabaret. At an earlier point, Radha also wore a swimsuit in Sangam, one of the earliest films to have such a scene, even though Sharmila Tagore in An Evening In Paris, released in 1966, is often called the pioneer for embracing modernity. 

Sangam is a beautiful film overall, though at some points, it made me want to tell Gopal to fight for his love. In the last few moments of the film, Radha, finally, says that the two friends make their own decisions without asking what she wants. Even though Radha loves Gopal back, he still chooses friendship over love. All the three show a character of duty, purity, and sacrifice. This was a time fifty years ago. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Unlike the earlier period, the two purest of the rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, have become some of the most polluted rivers on the planet. The existence of Saraswati is only a myth and is questioned by historians alike. In some ways, this change is also a symbolic representation of the characters in the contemporary world. It represents not only pollution, but also it points to development. We live in fascinatingly complex times. 

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dharam vo chattan hai jo mom nahi hoti. Main bhi vo mom nahi hun, Sundar."
—Radha, Sangam 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Court Judgements Citing Films

Law and courts have been a staple theme in films. From the early days, courts have been shown frequently in films. Cinema is also abundant with lawyer characters. Since law is a significant part of our daily lives, it has had an impact on cinema. Conversely, it is worth investigating if films had an impact on law. The following paragraphs try to explore some real life court cases which involve some kind of inspiration from a film. There are numerous cases, often frivolous, involving films, but the following include only those where the judgement referred a film or a character from a film to make its point clear, while the case has little connection to that film. To clarify, this is not about films that are based on real life cases (there are plenty of those), but about those where the judgement used a film to make its point. 
In 2011, the Supreme Court bench of Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra dismissed the appeal of a man, accused for brutally murdering a sex worker, in the case Budhadev Karmaskar v. State Of West Bengal. The Supreme Court converted the appeal into a public interest litigation on the rehabilitation of sex workers. The judgement asked for the compassionate treatment of sex workers. It gave examples of characters of prostitutes with a golden heart from literature. It, then, also cited Sahir Ludhianvi's poem Chakle sung in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957). The judgement said, "In the novels and stories of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, many prostitutes have been shown to be women of very high character, example, Rajyalakshmi in Shrikant, Chandramukhi in Devdas, etc. The plight of prostitutes has been depicted by the great Urdu poet Sahil (sic) Ludhianvi in his poem Chakle which has been sung in the Hindi film Pyaasa, Jineh Naaz Hai Hind Par Wo Kahan Hain." It is a thoughtful judgement, and also quotes a sher by Mirza Ghalib and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Justice Katju refers Pyaasa again in another similar case involving some women who were asked to vacate their house because of indulging in singing and dancing as the police believed they were prostitutes. The court directed the police to not forcefully vacate the women, and again asked for humane treatment of prostitutes. The court, in its order, said, "The plight of prostitutes in India has been vividly depicted, and this poem has been sung (with some modifications) in the Hindi film Pyaasa. Hence, the approach of society towards the prostitutes must change, and sympathy must be shown towards them as it must be realized that they are not necessarily women of bad character but have been driven to the profession due to acute poverty in their family." Sahir's poem is also referred in other cases, such as the one involving the death of a man while in custody of the Delhi Police, that also caused a political controversy.
Sahir Ludhianvi makes another appearance in two other cases related to dowry harassment. The cases involved women complaining against their husbands, and in both the cases, the women lost. Dr. Kamini Lau gave the judgement in the cases. She quoted Sahir, and advised the women to get out of discordant marital relations. The court said, "Taaruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhoolna behtar; Taalluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todna achcha; Wo afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin; Use ek khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna achcha." It is better to forget one's particular identity if it becomes diseased and to break one's relation if it becomes a burden. The story which cannot be concluded properly, should be abandoned at an honourable stage. It is a beautiful message on letting go. Though the court does not mention the film, these words are from the famous song Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se from the film Gumrah (1963), directed by B.R. Chopra. The movie is about the conflicts of a married women, when her lover comes back to her life. There is an interesting personal connection of Sahir Ludhianvi with the song, and is beautifully explained here.
Most recently, in 2016, there was the highly controversial case Kanhaiya Kumar v. State Of NCT of Delhi. Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested and charged with sedition for raising anti-India slogans at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The Delhi High Court granted bail to him, and made critical observations on the people who indulged in the alleged sloganeering. The order began by quoting the song Mere Desh Ki Dharti from Manok Kumar's Upkar (1967) to describe the love for motherland. It reads, "This patriotic song from Upkaar by Lyricist Indeevar symbolizes individual characteristics representing by (sic) different colours and love for motherland."

Rang hara Hari Singh Nalve se,
Rang laal hai Lal Bahadur se,
Rang bana basanti Bhagat Singh,
Rang aman ka veer Jawahar se.
Mere Desh ki Dharti sona ugle
Ugle heere moti mere desh ki dharti.
In 2004, Gauhati High Court gave a judgement in the State Of Assam v. Holiram Bordoloi. The case involved the brutal killing of three persons by the said accused. The crime involved a scene similar to Ramesh Sippy's Sholay (1975), and the judgement cited the scene of the amputation of the arms of Thakur by Gabbar Singh in the film, It said, "Other victim was pulled out from his house and he was cut in such a cruel manner that both of his arms were amputated as if the accused was trying to re-enact the scene played in the famous Hindi movie Sholey (sic)." In 2005, a judgement described the atrocities committed on a woman by her family using the example of the film Sargam (1979). The court wrote, "She (the appelant) was threatened that she would be assaulted with firewood as shown in Hindi movie Sargam." Sargam, directed by Kasinathuni Viswanathis, is the story of Hema (Jaya Prada) and Raju (Rishi Kapoor). Hema is ill-treated by her stepmother, who wants to sell Hema in the guise of getting her married to a much older man. Raju, a musician, comes to her aid out of compassion, and assists her achieve her goal of becoming a dancer. The film also had the popular song Dafaliwale Dafali Baja. 
In 2007, the Madras High Court gave judgement in a case involving cheating in examinations using technology, in a teacher training college. The court wondered if the students got new ideas from films or if it were the films that depicted real life moments. The court cited Raj Kumar Hirani's Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. (2003) as an example where cheating using technology was depicted. The Madras court began its order by saying, "The facts projected in the writ petition herein depict the modus operandi of the heroes of the films Vasool Raja MBBS (Tamil) and Munnabhai MBBS (Hindi). One begins to wonder whether our youth gets ideas from the movies or the movies are portraying the real life situations. While such debates may continue, the degeneration to which the petitioners have descended to, will shock one and all." In another similar case in 2012, involving a medical college, where a similar cheating methodology was used, the Madras High Court cited the film again in its order. The order's first paragraph read, "Whether the movies like Munna Bhai MBBS and Vasool Raja, MBBS is based on fact or fiction? The question in this case reflects the story line of the film in which the hero of the film uses a hi-tech device for copying in the examination and get his MBBS degree. The present case also showed that the petitioner and seven others have used similar techniques for writing their examinations." Munna Bhai must be feeling proud that he has inspired many a student by his shenanigans. 
In a highly frivolous case that has to be only read to believe its absurdity, the order mentioned a film of Shah Rukh Khan. The case concerned the release of Homi Adajania's Finding Fanny (2014), that starred Deepika Padukone in the titular role. The petitioners sought a ban on the film because they believed the word Fanny will hurt the feelings of citizens of India especially immature brain of minor children. The court disagreed with the petitioners and cited other examples where the word Fanny had been used, such as Fanny Price (in Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park), and Aunt Fanny (in Enid Blyton's The Famous Five). It goes on to mention King Uncle (1993), starred Jackie Shroff, Anu Agarwal, and Shah Rukh Khan. Anu Agarwal's character was named Fenni. The order said, "In the Hindi movie, King Uncle, released in the year 1993, the name of the lead female character was Fenni Fernando pronounced as Fanny only and the said movie also had a song with the lines of Fenni Ne Mujhe Bulaya. It is, thus, not as if the Indian movie viewers would be exposed to the name Fanny for the first time." Not sure about people, but the court remembered the film and the song. 

One of the most thought-provoking judgements by any Indian court is by the Calcutta High Court on the issue of copyright in 2003. The case involved Karisma Kapoor's television series, Karishma—The Miracles of Destiny, that aired on Sahara One. The suit was filed by Barabara Taylor Bradford, author of the book A Woman of Substance claiming that the show was a copy of her book. The court ruled that her lawyers had failed to establish conclusively that it violated copyright law. In a detailed judgement, the court explained the meaning of copyright and cited Satyajit Ray's film Ganashatru (1990) to make its point. The film, starring Ray's favorite actor Soumitra Chatterjee, was based on a play called An enemy of the people, written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The title Ganashatru also means enemy of the people. Ibsen's play is the story of two brothers. One, a scientist, who discovered that the new baths built in his town are infected with a deadly disease and instructs the town to close the baths. However, his brother, who is also the mayor of the town, did not believe the report and refused to close the baths as it could cause the financial ruin of the town. Ray adapted the play to an Indian setting where a doctor discovered that the serious illness befalling the citizens of his small Bengali town may be due to a contamination of the holy water at the local temple. His brother who looks after the temple refused to take action as it would threaten the temple. The court compared the play and the film in the judgement, and underscores that the central theme might be the same in both the play and the film, but they are based on an idea, and an idea can be borrowed. It said, "A superficial examiner would say from a comparison of the play and the movie, that the film has been copied. That might be the reaction of the layman, no doubt. But it is not a copy, according to the copyright lawyer. Although the central theme is the same, it is but an idea. The idea is novel and no doubt the idea is central to the creation of a dramatic conflict. Once the idea of this conflict is conceived by a dramatist, it becomes much easier for a future dramatist to write a play on the same theme." It is a really fascinating judgement explaining the intricacies of copyright law, and also refers Shakespeare's Othello.

The above citations are by no means exhaustive. They are plenty of other cases, but challenges in search make it a little harder to find the relevant ones.

As a court order mentioned, it is often worth wondering if it is art imitating life, or life imitating art. Even judges are not immune from the magic of films, after all, they are humans, too.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Joker agar baazi bana sakta hai, toh joker baazi bhigaad bhi sakta hai."
—Rahul, Yes Boss

References—
1. Budhadev Karmaskar v. State Of West BengalLink
2. Kanhaiya Kumar v. State Of NCT of DelhiLink
3. State Of Assam v. Holiram BordoloiLink
4. S.Ganesh Ram v. The Vice ChancellorLink
5. P.Sumangala v. The DirectorLink
6. Nandini Tewari and Anr v. Union Of India and Ors.Link
7. Barbara Taylor Bradford v. Sahara Media Entertainment Ltd.Link
8. Radha And Ors. v. State Of U.P. And Ors.Link
9. State v. Sanjay KumarLink
10. State v. Aman SahiLink
11. Rabia @ Mamta and Anr v. NCT Of DelhiLink
12. Smt. Sheetal Raju Malhotra v. Raju Roopnaraian MalhotraLink

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil—Of Unrequited Love

At an early point in Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) brings a cactus plant for Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and tells him about her severe dislike for flowers. She says flowers are overrated. "Pehle rang se impress karte hain, phir khushboo se; phir rang dhal jaata hai, khushboo udd jati hai, aur kya reh jaata hai." She, then, goes on to praise the thorns. "Maarte hai, marte nahi, aur unhe murjhaane ka khauff nahi hota." Thorns do not need to be afraid of wilting. Alizeh does not want to be a flower of a bouquet but prefers to be a thorn—raaste ka kaanta. The only other instance that I remember where a character does not like to be called a flower is the one from Agar Main Kahoon from Lakshya where Romi playfully chides Karan by singing, "Mujhe phool na kehna, woh murjhaate hain." When Ayan becomes a musical sensation, he is seen around a bunch of cacti. He collects those thorns, and keeps them with him as souvenirs. At a later point, Ayan compares love to a slap, and something as gut-wrenching as cancer. And, then, one wonders is it the same Karan who in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna told us, "Phoolon ki apni bhasha hoti hai, khamosh rehkar bhi kitna kuch keh dete hain." It is the same person who told us in Kal Ho Naa Ho that love means the songs of Yash Chopra, and that everything becomes beautiful in love, and life becomes so colorful. Even in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, the characters who indulged in infidelity got their love at the end. This film, on the other hand, seems to be made by someone who has evolved from a saccharine overdose to bitterness and pain.  
Cactus
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is primarily the story of Ayan, an MBA student in London who wants to be a singer like Mohammad Rafi. He meets Alizeh, who has run away from her home in Lucknow to come to London. Ayan and Alizeh meet in a bar, and become friends but the problem is Ayan is attracted to Alizeh, while she wants to keep their relationship at the level of friendship. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai told us that love is friendship. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil tells us that friendship is a type of love. Alizeh loves Ayan but as friends and not as lovers. Pyaar mein junoon hai, dosti mein sukoon hai. Ayan struggles to find a name for this ek tarfa pyaar, and the film is the story of this unrequited love, and how he copes when this love is not reciprocated. This incomplete love is complete in itself. Adhoora hoke bhi hai ishq mera kaamil. It does not get divided between two people, and only he owns it.  Ek tarfa pyar ki taaqat hi kuch aur hoti hai, auron ke rishton ki tarah yeh do logon mein nahi batati, sirf mera haq hai ispe. Unrequited love, or one-sided love has always been a theme in many of Karan's films. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, after Rahul runs to Tina to say that he loves her, Anjali comes back crying to her hostel, and says, "Mera pehla pyaar adhoora reh gaya, Rifat Bi." In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Naina talks about her adhoori prem kahani. In numerous interviews, Karan calls himself the brand ambassador of one-sided love, and heartbreak, and has said that this comes from his own personal life where his love was not reciprocated. I cannot help but think of Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has said the same thing many times. During the release of Bajirao Mastani, Sanjay Bhansali said all his films are about one-sided love and his characters will never get together in the end because he does not have love in his own life. His art completes his life. While it is not fair to compare two filmmakers whose sensibilities are like chalk and cheese, it must be said that for both of them, it comes from a deeply personal space. The art that they create is a way of expressing and completing their life. Perhaps, that is why Ayan becomes a better artist when he channelizes heartbreak into the art of music. 
Adhoora Ishq
There is an early point in the film when Ayan tells Alizeh that he cannot stay alone. He keeps on hugging Alizeh tightly as if he does not want to let go of her. There is a lovely moment in Channa Mereya where Ayan holds onto a pillar with his mehendi-filled hands. The object of his affection is getting married to someone else. All he can do is try to hold on to something because he can't be alone. Later, after the dinner scene, he runs to Alizeh's room and tells her he wants to let go. When he comes out of the building, he kneels down, starts crying, and is looking for some support. Since there is no one to do that, he again holds onto the pillar. On one side, Alizeh is hugging Ali, on the other side, Ayan is hugging a pillar. Pauline Phillips has written, "Loneliness is the ultimate poverty." Here is a man who flies in private jets, and has every possible thing in life, and he is let go by both the women in his life, and all he is left to do is to hold onto a pillar.
Ayan hugs the pillar
In a recent interview, Karan mentioned that his favorite scene of all his films is the dining table scene from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna because of the powerful dynamics of the scene. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, too, there is a cracker of a dinner scene in the film, also a throwback to the dinner scene in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Alizeh comes to have dinner with Ayan and Saba. Initially, they talk about beauty, and speak some poetic lines. And, then, Ayan says, "Cheese," and for a second, it made me think if he meant cheesy. Of course, they are the kind of people who have wine and cheese, but at an earlier moment in the film, they joked about a double entendre, I always stand up for you, and usually made fun of the poetic dialogues, which made me think like that. Alizeh tells Saba that she is as pretty as Noor Jahan, and then, a song by another Noor Jahan, with lyrics by Faiz, starts playing in the background. Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang, aur bhi dukh hai zamaane mein mohabbat ke siwaa. It is a lovely song, and Alizeh repeats mujh se pehli si mohabbat, and Ayan completes by saying mere mehboob na maang. It is a charged scene, and then, seeing Ayan's reaction, she puts cheese in her mouth, as if her feelings are like the undefinable flavor of cheese—bitter, sweet, salty—whatever one prefers to call. Then, they move to dining table, and there is a lot of tension in the air. Their silence speaks volumes. The scene is also important for positional dynamics. Alizeh and Saba are seated opposite each other, and if Alizeh is dressed in white, then, Saba is dressed in black (with patches of white).
White and Black
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat, mere mehboob na maang
When Saba questions Alizeh as to how can she not fall in love with such a charming man like Ayan, she replies that he might be charming for her, but when she met, he was a child without a pram—bina pram ka bachcha. She had to console him when he cried like a baby whose toy is lost after his girlfriend cheated on him. This was the same question that almost everyone who watched Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna asked from Maya as to how can she not fall in love with someone like Rishi. To think about it, the story of Alizeh and Ayan has many similarities to Maya and Rishi. Maya used to always argue with Rishi that he was an immature kid. She was never attracted sexually to Rishi. The only reason she agreed to get married was that he was her childhood friend. Who knows if Ayan and Alizeh got married, their situation after a few years might become like Maya and Rishi. Sitting on a park bench before her wedding, Maya has her doubts, and she meets Dev who tells her that he also married his friend Rhea, but he does not know if he loves her. Alizeh is so sure about her feelings that she just does not feel attracted to Ayan. After Maya tells Rishi about her affair with Dev, he flies into a rage, and the first question he asks her is if she slept with Dev. The first question that Ayan asks Alizeh when she calls him from Lucknow is if she had sex with Ali. The reactions of both Rishi and Ayan are similar that they care a lot more about the physical aspect of the relationship, more than the platonic friendship. Tahir and Saba's relationship also had shades of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, where Saba hinted at his infedility. Rishton ki geeli zameen par log aksar phisal jaate hain. People often slip in relationships. In fact, Saba is the only person in the film who does not cheat or thinks of cheating. 
Rishi and Ayan are compared to kids

Dinner Scenes
The first time we see Saba, she is at the airport, reading a book by Toni Michelle. Ayan offers her a bunch of grapes, and asks her if he can sit with her because he does not like to sit alone. She tells him that she is a shayra, and reads his eyes. Jo aankhein keh deti hai, unke aage lafzon ka darja kya. Bade wafaadar hai aapke aansun, aapki ijaazat ke bagair bahar bhi nahi nikalte. They talk to each other during their flight, and she hands him her book Shab-E-Firaq with her poetry, and her number. Ayan and Saba develop a sexual relationship. It is interesting that the film does not make any moral issue out of Ayan having sex with Saba even though he is still in love with Alizeh. He tries to make Alizeh jealous, and carries a lot of emotional baggage. Notice how Ayan is always with a backpack. At the airport, the only thing he carries from Alizeh's wedding with him is a small bag (with no suitcases). Back in London, at their sukoon ghar, he has a small bag. His emotional baggage does not make him a celibate. He distinguishes this by saying when heart breaks, it is time to listen to the mind. Jab dil toot jata hai, usse behtar advice toh dimaag deta hai. At one point, Ayan says that there are two characters—love, the hero, and friendship, the heroine. Ayan was the love, the hero, and Alizeh was friendship, the heroine. Saba could be called the third character—sex—played by someone who is one of the most beautiful people in the world. Ayan calls her a painting and she is truly a painting. When Ayan tells her that he needs her, she says she does not want to be any one's need. She calls herself khwaaish (fantasy) instead of zaroorat (need), while Alizeh calls her love Ali as zaroorat
Desire
Baggage
Both Saba and Alizeh can read Ayan's emotions, much better than he knows himself. They both can read his eyes. Like Alizeh instantly recognized Ayan's emotions in Channa Mereya. Or, when Saba tells him that she saw love for Alizeh in Ayan's eyes after the dinner. Interestingly, the meaning of both Saba and Alizeh are related. Saba means soft breeze, while Alizeh means wind. Both of them also are very clear about their own feelings. Ayan's scenes with Alizeh reflect a certain kind of childish frivolity. The very fact that both of them live their childhood fantasy with each other reflects this. Saba, on the other hand, was mature, and helps bring a maturity to Ayan about life. She takes him to meet Tahir who talks about one-sided love and after speaking to him, he gets the courage to call Alizeh. She is the one who tells Ayan that she is walking away from him. Mohabbat se door chale jaana, woh humare bas mein hai. It is after this, he runs to Alizeh to tell her that he wants to go away. Saba tries to make him a man from the bina pram ka bachcha. She has no regrets in life. She knows that she is not a well-respected poet, and she says that beauty fades (kind of ironic given she is so pretty herself), but it is one's personality that remains eternal. She is clear that she is not looking for a serious relationship, and walks away when she realizes that someone she has started loving does not love her back. I really wish there was more of her in the film.
Childhood and Maturity
On being asked by Ayan as who Ali is, she replies, he is "meri tabahi." I am not sure if that too was a signal of her death. She always wanted his love. She does get that love. During their Paris tip, she tells Ayan that she loves hotels. She even got that. As after being married to Ali, she says, "Hotel ko ghar bana liya hai." But she still did not feel happy. She was suspicious about Ali's philandering. Given that none of the five characters in the film were happy when they were together at some point, it fits the film's theme of one-sided love being complete in itself, and that it does not need to be divided. Maybe, also some kind of realization that people are happier when they love someone by themselves.
Meri Tabahi
When Ayan and Alizeh travel to Paris, Ayan says he is getting the same feeling of being satisfied like when he has bhurji ka paratha. It is as if his heart's stomach is satisfied. One of my most favorite pieces of writing in recent times is a post on The Lunchbox where the author underscores the point that one of the motifs in that film was that food was a symbol of nourishment. We all crave for physical and emotional nourishment, and every character in that film wanted nourishment. Hence, Ila's mom asks for parathe when her husband dies. This is a similar emotional nourishment that Ayan craves. Dil ka pet bhar gaya. If Ayan talks about nourishment of the heart, Alizeh gives pyaar ka pani to everyone in the party. She craves the pyaar of DJ Ali. When Ayan is going to Alizeh's wedding, he drinks the same pyaar ka pani before he reaches her place. 
Dil ka pet bhar gaya
There is a moment in the film when Ayan says that he was not a popular student in the film, and every body used to call him a weirdo, ajeeb, introverted, but none of this mattered to him. He preserved his personality, and some day he hoped that he will find someone who will understand his madness, after all love is someone who you can be silly with. He meets Alizeh in whom he finds this shared love of being madly in love with films. Their talk is going to be all filmy; they make promises by saying Sholay ki kasam. Even the hotel that they stay in Paris is called 'We Are All Mad Here' and their room has hero written on the wall.This is an autobiographical moment where Karan has said numerous times, that he was called names in school, and he used to secretly dance on Hindi film songs, completely different from the ethos of the society he grew up in. The entire first half is sort of his tribute to his filmy love. 
Weirdo Ayan saves himself for Alizeh
In the first few minutes of the film, there are explicit references to Karan's own films, including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Kal Ho Naa Ho. Ayan and Alizeh bond over their shared love of films. They discuss tacky cinema of the eighties, such as Maqsad and Himmatwala. Their playlists are called Cheap Thrills and Jolly Good Bollywood. They go to Paris and live their filmy dream of dancing on snow-clad mountains. The song that they play is Mitwa from Chandni. Ayan wants to be a singer like Mohammad Rafi, so, there are some of his songs from An Evening In Paris.  He also sings Ruk Ja O Dil Deewane from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. There is a lot more dialogue-baazi from other films. The only non-Hindi film that is mentioned is French film Priceless, and is actually the story of a gold digger. In a parallel world, Joey from Friends must be feeling happy that his way of writing help as pleh is used here by writing love as evol in the sukoon ghar. Love tedha hai. Should not it be love ulta hai?
Yellow in Karan's films
There are implicit references to some other films (including his own) as well. Ayan helps Alizeh in wearing a yellow saree. At one moment, he puts his hand on her waist, quite reminiscent of the way Rahul took off the pallu from Anjali's waist during the basketball game in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The private jet flying Ayan is doing MBA, like Rahul comes from his helicopter in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. At one point, Saba tells Ayan, "Tumhari khamoshi sab kuch keh gayi," like Tina's letter to her daughter Anjali said, "Anjali ki khamoshi mujhe sab kuch keh gayi." In one scene, Alizeh says that cognac is not sharab, a throwback to the scene in Chandni. When Alizeh and Ayan talk at the terrace, the scene is like Ayesha and Sid talking on the terrace in Wake Up Sid. Alizeh wants to keep their relationship at friendship, but Ayan wants more, quidte similar to Riana and Rahul in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. "Yahi to problem hai, maine dost se pyaar kya, aur tumne pyaar se dosti."At another point in Channa Mereya, Ayan is walking back and crying while Alizeh is seen behind him. A similar scene was seen during Kabira in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, where Bunny walks back crying, unable to decide what his heart wants, while Naina stays behind.
 
Wake Up Sid and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
At some later point, Saba tells Ayan, "Mohabbat karna humare bas mein nahi hai, us mohabbat se door chale jaana, woh humare bas mein hai." When Anjali finds out that Rahul loves Tina in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, she packs her stuff, and walks away from his life. When Naina finds out Rahul is in love with Anjali in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, she chooses to go away from his life. When Aman gets to know that Naina loves him in Kal Ho Naa Ho, but he cannot have her as he is dying, he lies to keep her away from him. In Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Dev and Maya walk away from each other's life even though they are in love with each other. In Student of The Year, Abhimanyu and Shanaya's relationship had themes of the same one-sided love.
Ayan and Bunny going away from Alizeh and Naina
As the film relies a lot on Hindi film references, the subtitles provided another level of fun. Bewaafai ki brand ambassador becomes Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn must be happy. Aashiqui becomes Casablanca. Shakaal becomes Captain Picard. Madhuri Dixit becomes Wonder Woman. Pankaj Udhas becomes Charlie Brown, and my favorite one is when Lata Mangeshkar becomes Celine Dion. There is a lot to see as well. When Alizeh collects her stuff to go back to London, she carries the bag that has Shakespeare and Company written on it. At Saba's place, her bookshelf has Vanity Fair Portraits, something that does not seem very surprising. 
Alizeh's Ali (Alizeh contains Ali)
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil also reminds one about the messy and the complex Imtiaz Ali's films. Ranbir plays singer in both the films. In Rockstar, Khatana Bhai says to Janardhan Jhakar, "Toote hue dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai, jab dil ki lagti hai na, tukde tukde hote hain, tab aati hai jhankaar." In a similar moment here, when Alizeh hears Ayan singing Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, she says, "Tumhari awaaz me dard aur mohabbat ka naam aur nishaan hi nahi tha." When his heart gets broken, he will be able to sing with emotions. In Love Aaj Kal, when Meera and Jai separate, they decide to have a break up party. Here, Alizeh and Ayan dance and celebrate on The Breakup Song. In Tamasha, Ved has this hidden personality, which he does not share with anyone. He pretends to be someone who he is not, and he meets Tara who helps him embrace his true self. Tumhare saath hoti hun, toh main special ho jaati hun yaar, to socho tum kya hoge. Here, Ayan says he preserved his personality to be with someone who will understand him, and he finds Alizeh. In Tamasha, in the very final scene, Ved and Tara are dancing with their headphones on, and are enjoying every moment. We don't get to hear the music they are listening. Here, in the final moments, Alizeh and Ayan are also doing a ballroom dance with their headphones on, but the film tells us that they are listening to Lag Jaa Gale, Karan's favorite song. This is the same song that soothed the emotional turbulence of Dev in Bombay Talkies. While Imtiaz leaves it to the audience to develop their connection with the film, Karan tells his state of mind.
Break up party
Tamasha and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Alizeh's final death scene did not come as a surprise. It was kind of visible in the film's trailer that something is going to happen to her. Think of it, there is not a single film of Karan Johar (excluding the short stint in Bombay Talkies) that does not have a character who dies or is dying. Tina (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), Rahul's grandmother (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), Aman (Kal Ho Naa Ho), Samarjeet (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), Sam (My Name Is Khan), Abhimanyu's grandmother and Dean Vashishth (Student Of The Year)—all these characters died in his films. Alizeh's cancer, therefore, was kind of expected. At an earlier moment in the film, she said she always takes the middle path that is 'Zindagi'. So, it is kind of expected that Alizeh who preferred to take the path of life, and who chooses thorns that never die, will be one who died first. Though the last thirty minutes went into something I did not feel much about due to some conflicting signals. When Ayan gets to know that Alizeh is dying, he cries in the toilet, and Ayan's reaction gave it a feeling that we are supposed to laugh at it; or, perhaps, that was the very point, but I did not get it. The focus on the background score of Kal Ho Naa Ho at that point felt somewhat forced that we are supposed to cry. The last twenty minutes could have been treated better even if death was the eventual outcome.
Death in Karan Johar's films
The film's best moments are actually conveyed through the silences. Like the scene where Ayan struggles to come up for a name for his one-sided love, and his eyes speak. Or, the dinner scene where there is so much tension in the air. Or, the scene with Tahir, Saba, and Ayan, where there is so much to think about. A special word about music. It is beautiful, and I really like all the songs. Channa Mereya is fabulous. Tere rukh se apna raasta. Mod ke chalaa. Chandan hoon main. Apni khushboo chhod ke chala. A really thoughtful line. He is like sandalwood, spreading his fragrance everywhere whereever he goes. There are some words that are repeated in the songs and the films. Rooh and shiddat being some of them. There are at least three instances of shiddat that I recall. They should release the really beautiful Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Na Karo. It is exotic, if I may use the word. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil must be one of the rare films where two songs play in the narrative back to back. As soon as Cutepie ends, Channa Mereya begins without any intervening sequence.
Chandan Hun Main
There is something sad about Ranbir's eyes and he uses them to his best. Like the scene where he hits himself with a pot, and then starts crying. He conveys pain beautifully. There is remarkable scene when Alizeh calls him for her wedding, and he says, "Of course, aaunga main." It felt so personal, and I love that scene. Watch him in Channa Mereya where he dances like a dervish. Anushka as Alizeh was superb throughout, though there was some understated consciousness in a few scenes. Aishwarya Rai is lovely, and I wish there was more of her. Fawad Khan deserved a little better treatment, but even in the small role, he looks great. It seems the song Cutepie was shot on him, but the political problems made the film shoot another version with Ranbir, though the new one was not present in the film. And, no one is going to say vatavaran without thinking about Lisa Haydon. Yes, Shah Rukh Khan. In one scene, he manages to convey the film's theme beautifully, one of the best scenes in the film. More of such in another film, please. 
Saba and Ayan 
It is kind of ironic to see some protests from the patrons of Mohammad Rafi who claim that the film insults him. The film is actually named after a line from one of Rafi's popular songs Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan from CID. The last time Karan got into trouble with the paper tigers of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was because of the use of the word Bombay in Wake Up Sid. Funnily enough, even this time there is a Bombay connection. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan, Zara Hat Ke, Zara Bach Ke, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan. How fitting for a film that shares its title with this song.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is fabulous, and frustrating at times, much like the feeling of love itself. Here's hoping for more of madness and messiness.

Other Reading:
On Kabhi Alvida Naa KehnaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dard dard ko dhoond hi leta hai."
—Saba, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

P.S.—I wanted to write this one better, but it actually came out worse.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

First Podcast

I made my first podcast on Soundcloud. I am not a good speaker, but still made a recording. Sharing with a lot of embarrassment. If you have fiftteen minutes, do listen. I will try to improve :)

Here is the link:
https://soundcloud.com/pankaj-sachdeva-522303115/pankaj-on-film-reviews

Monday, October 17, 2016

NH10—Of Caste And Honor

At one point in Navdeep Singh's NH10, a cop sermonizes Meera (Anushka Sharma) on caste. He tells her that where the last mall in Gurgaon ends, the rule of democracy and the constitution ends as well. There are places where electricity and water does not reach, then, how can the constitution exist at such a place. He adds that one should be thankful for the caste system as it keeps the people divided, else, it will lead to a revolution. It is an apt description of the issue of caste, one of India's deepest fault lines, which continues to simmer, and is likely to become a burning issue as the republic marches forward.  
Few minutes later, a hapless Meera manages to run away from her assaulters, and reaches a place of a celebration in the village. It is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. A group of villagers is celebrating the republic day. On 26th January 1950, India's new constitution came into effect, henceforth, that day is celebrated as republic day. Villagers are celebrating the constitution at a place where as the cop says the constitution does not really exist. It is a depiction of irony at its best. The constitution's preamble states the equality of all citizens, but, here at this place, equality is a joke. A girl is not allowed to marry someone of her choice. A migrant family from Bihar is placed on the outskirts of the village because of the village's social hierarchy. The protectors of the constitution are the very people who break it. What, then, are they really celebrating about? In Udta Punjab, a cop said that there were places in Mexico where the police cannot enter. Forget Mexico, a village in Haryana is no different than Mexico where the police even refuses to hear any complaint of honor killing because they, too, belong to the same biradari. No wonder NH10's majority of action happens in the wilderness as if the place is a reflection of this lawlessness. 
There is another interesting meaning of the celebration scene. One of the men on the stage is actually narrating the story of Savitri. A man says that Savitri was asked by her father to choose her own husband. She was able to find a husband on her own, and everyone was happy. We see, then, that a few women (or men dressed as women) start dancing on the stage. It is another depiction of irony. The villagers revere and celebrate Savitri, but when a girl of their own village chooses to marry someone, she is killed. Those familiar with Savitri would know she is the same Savitri whose story is told during every Karva Chauth. The tale goes such that king Asvapati had a daugther named Savitri. She was so beautiful that she intimidated all the men. When she reached the age of marriage, no man asks for her hand, so her father tells her to find a husband on her own. She sets out on a pilgrimage for this purpose and finds Satyavan, the son of a blind king, who, after he lost everything including his sight, lives in exile as a forest-dweller. Savitri returns to tell her father that she will marry Satyavan. However, Narada tells Savitri and her father that she has made a bad choice as Satyavan is destined to die one year from that day. Her father pleads her to choose a more suitable husband; however, Savitri insists on marrying Satyavan. They get married and stay together for a year. When the day of his death arrives, Yama comes to take Satyavan, but seeing Savitri's devotion, he grants her wishes. She, cleverly, asks for Satyavan's life. Her full story can be read here. There are clear echoes in the story of Pinky and Savitri. Both the girls wanted to marry a man of their own choice, despite their family's opposition. In addition, the stories of Meera and Savitri, too, have many similarities. Both the women do all they can to save their dying husband. In fact, in one of the interviews, Navdeep Singh has hinted at this angle, but he did not elaborate. The story of Savitri that the film depicts on the stage subtly points to this angle. It is another hypocrisy that we celebrate and revere mythical Savitri, but when Pinky and Meera do the same, they are not revered as goddesses, but the society calls them a whore. 
The films also shows a certain circularity. At one point in the film, Meera goes to the toilet for a smoke. She sees that randi is written on the door. She is disturbed and agitated on seeing it, and washes it off. It was as if it touched some raw nerve in her. Later, the same thing comes back. When she goes back to find Arjun dead, the killers had written raand saali on the wall. At another instance, we see that Satbir is injured in the leg the same way her husband Arjun was injured. Satbir is battered to death by Meera the same way he killed his sister's paramour. 
At many times, the film feels like a horror film with its spooky symbols. When Meera drives back to her office after the party, the radio jockey asks what wishes would you like to fulfill as if something is about to happen. There is repeated focus on the black thing that is hanging in her car as if it is pointing to some supernatural activity. The way the camera pans to her Puma logo on her shoe hints about the wild cats she has to fight. When Meera and Arjun drive to their private resort, an accident has taken place on the toll road (full points for showing that scene where toll operator gives back Mango Bite). A few minutes later, the weather changes from sunny to cloudy, and the road sign reads 'Have A Safe Journey', as if again hinting at the sign of things to come. There is a shot of 'objects in the mirror are closer than they appear' after an unkempt man tries to talk to Meera. There is another prolonged shot of malai on a cup of tea. Whenever Meera is nervous, she repeatedly tics her pen, again hinting that something is about to happen. All these bring a chilling effect to the film's narrative. Everything in the film is well thought about. Even the car colors have a meaning; like both Arjun and Satbir have the same type of car, but Arjun's is white, and Satbir's is black. Though I am not able to come up with a meaning of the repeated use of cigarette by Meera. 
Earlier in the film, Meera's colleague comments that women employees tend to have easy with their bosses. The film points to the sexism that not only the women from lower castes and classes have to face, but something that is prevalent in upper classes as well. Last year's Dil Dhadakne Do explored this sexism in the rich and the famous. If a woman in an educated upper class society faces this, then, the predicament of the likes of other women characters in the film can be imagined. The way Satbir's uncle eyes the migrant's wife has a certain evil quality. As soon as she sees him, she hides behind the veil of clothes.Or Satbir's wife, Manju, who is also trapped and wants to escape. When Amma Ji hits her for trying to protect Meera, Manju's own son laughs. It was so unsettling. Killing Pinky for honor does not bring any tear from her own mother. On the other hand, even a threat of throwing her grandson in the well makes all of them feel concerned. I wonder what if it was granddaughter instead of grandson that Meera caught hold of, assuming that they don't kill the granddaughter in the first place at her birth. Amma Ji cannot hear anything clearly, and needs a hearing machine, but she needs a heart to hear and see the state of her daughters.
There is another reference on caste by cop in the same earlier scene. The cop talks about Ambedkar and Manu. He asks Meera's caste and she tells her surname, instead of caste. He casually chides her that if she does not know her caste, then, she would not know her gotra (sub-caste). It all seems so foreign to Meera that it would be the first time she would hear someone telling her that her marriage is inter-caste. When she first visits the police station, the first cop calls her English type as if she belongs to a place different from theirs. The metropolises have a completely different world from that of the villages, and when these two worlds collide, conflict is likely to happen. Gurgaon is a befitting place where these conflicts exist. I recall Delhi-6, a story of another foreigner/English type (American Desi) coming to India with his grandmother and having his first brush with caste. Even after years of living in a different country, his grandmother is not able to recondition her views on caste. She is horrified when her grandson helps a low caste cleaning lady, while the grandson is confused as to what sin did he commit. Immediately after that, they go to watch Ram Leela where a low caste Shabari gives her ber to Rama to eat, and a character justifies that a god can do anything, while humans cannot. Like the way people in NH10 revere Savitri but justify killing of a daughter in the name of caste.
In another terrific scene, after her jeep overturns, Meera tries to hide herself on a wall. Eventually, she is seen, but she manages to climb the wall. I found it to be a fascinating scene telling so much about class and caste hierarchy itself. Meera is able to climb the wall, while the men below are stuck there. They don't even attempt to climb the wall, but keep throwing stones at her. In many ways, this reflects Meera's position vis-à-vis the men of the village. Perhaps, it is a depiction of the subterranean thinking of the men, while the wall represents the upward mobility, as it is often called, and that people have to cross this wall to escape the shackles of caste. 
As I have a habit of recalling films, I remember Luck By Chance that ends by a lovely dialogue by Sona Mishra, where she says that she ran from her home in Kanpur, without telling anyone, because she wanted to be an actress. Her parents wanted her to get married to someone, whose only qualification was that he belonged to the same same caste as hers. "Woh to pata nahi kiske saath meri shaadi kar dena chahte the. Uska gun yeh tha ki woh hamari caste ka tha. Yahan koi caste vaaste nahi puchhta, aapko agar apna kaam aata ho, toh raaste ban hi jaate hai. Haan, aasani se kuch nahi milta." Sona was able to cross the barrier and escape to a place of her dreams. But for millions of people like Pinky and Bunty, crossing this barrier is often associated with consequences, that are as violent as death. If only, it was as easy for everyone to climb the mobility wall and escape. Till then, accidents of birth are their only hope.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Yeh sheher badhta bacha hai ji. Kud toh lagayaga hi."
NH10