Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Taal—Of Fusion Of Two Beats

I remember I was in class seventh when Taal had released. In those days of no internet, I asked one of my friends to write down the lyrics of Kahin Aag Lage because I wanted to memorize the lyrics of the song. I still remember the lyrics by heart. I am surprised by how much the film has stayed with me even seventeen years after its release. I can watch it any number of times, and it does not feel dated, compared to some other films that released even four-five years after Taal. The music, the choreography, the story, everything seems fresh. It is a wonderful film. 
I was listening to its music some days ago, and a sudden epiphany came to my mind, about the character of Vikrant. There is a scene where he talks about the principles that he follows in life. He talks about the principles that his mother—ma—gave him, which he says belong to the twentieth century. There is another set of principles his uncle—mama—gave him, which he says belong to the twenty-first century. After the death of his mother, he duly followed the principles of his mother for five years, but he ended up being poor, playing in a stage band. Then, he met an uncle, who gave him a set of new commandments, and by following them, he became rich and successful. The principles that his mother told him were:-
  • प्यार बलिदान से ही महान होता है — Love becomes greater through sacrifice
  • नेकी कर दरिया में दाल — Do good and forget about it
  • कर्म कर, फल की इच्छा मत कर — Do your duty, don't expect rewards
On the other hand, the principles that his uncle told him were:-
  • प्यार सही लेन देन से ही मज़बूत होता है — Love remains healthy with give and take
  • नेकी कर पहले खुद से, फिर दूसरों से — Do good to yourself first, and then, to others
  • बिना फल के सब कर्म बेकार है — All efforts are useless unless backed with expectation of reward
  • इमानदारी से ज्यादा ज़रूरी है दुकानदारी — Business is more important than honesty
  • Competition से जीतने के लिए ज़रूरी है जलन, इर्ष्या — Envy is essential to win any competition
  • अमीर बनने के लिए ज़रूरी है लालच — Greed is necessary to become rich
  • बड़ा बनने के लिए ज़रूरी है दूसरों को छोटा दिखाना — Cut others down to size to gain an upper hand
Hindi films have traditionally portrayed being wealthy and rich as a crime. In the past, the villains were typically wealthy businessmen, usurious moneylenders, or rural landlords. The hero is poor, fighting his battle against the rich. It is from the 1990s, that films started accepting that being rich is not a crime. Shekhar Gupta remembers the column he wrote in 2001 on the seminal film Dil Chahta Hai, and he recounts, "It is safe to say that the change today is the logical step ahead of what Dil Chahta Hai indicated in 2001. Exactly a decade after economic reform was launched, this was our first hit that unabashedly celebrated being rich. Until then, Hindi movies had reflected the popular politics of the period, which was to glorify poverty, to mock rich Tata-Birla types and keep hammering in the point that real joy, virtue and morality belonged to the poor. In that Farhan Akhtar film all three men were rich, spoilt, drove fancy cars, drank champagne, had equally rich girlfriends. In the usual Hindi film until then, one of them would have been the son of a widowed cleaning lady in the home of one of the other two, who would go to eat in her kitchen and tell her aunty, nobody can cook like you." 
In Taal, Vikrant's character also points that being rich is not a crime. The principles of the uncle are quite similar to the tenets of capitalism and objectivism, while the principles of the mother have some tenets of socialism. Ayn Rand, the libertarian influencer and hero, who pioneered the movement for objectivism, wrote extensively about the same principles in her work. Throughout history, man has been given two choicesbe moral through a life of sacrifice to others—or be selfish through a life of sacrificing others to oneself. In The Virtue of Selfishness, she blasts this as a false alternative, holding that a selfish, non-sacrificial way of life is both possible and necessary for man. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. She also argues that love is not sacrifice. She says, "Selfless love would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you. Love is not self-sacrifice, but the most profound assertion of your own needs and values. It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person." She has also argued that greed is a virtue. Even Gordon Gekko famously remarked, "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind." Of course, there is a big debate if greed is driving force for capitalism, but greed here means the ambition to scale new heights. A basic principle of capitalism is that individuals are motivated by the profit incentive, and the expectation of reward is the driving force of business. There is no altruism. Perfect competition is a characteristic of capitalism, and everyone wants to win. 
All the uncle's principles have the same thought as that of capitalism and objectivism, except the one on business being more important than honesty, because capitalism does not promote dishonesty. However, Rand has questioned how can an honest businessman survive in a corrupt world. She writes, "When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsionwhen you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothingwhen you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favorswhen you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against youwhen you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrificeyou may know that your society is doomed." In a curious case of cosmic connections (again!), a piece went viral a few days ago on social media, where Alex Tabarrok mentioned that Guru is the most important free-market movie ever made. He writes,"The movie is powerful not because it opposes virtue and corruption but because it opposes two ideas of virtue. Is it virtuous to follow the law when the law itself is corrupt? Other artists have explored this question when the lawbreaker opposes social injustice, ala Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but what about when the lawbreaker opposes economic injustice?" Likewise, Vikrant also compromised his principles because the world forced him to do so. 
Vikrant, in many ways, is following the same principles as that of capitalism, and objectivism. He calls himself an egoistic guy, which Rand extols. He does not believe in any charity. At one point, he refuses to do a show unless he is paid his full says, and says this whole charity business is a scam. After years of being poor by following the left-leaning principles of his mother, he has become rich and successful. It is a fascinating rags to riches story, where he reached success through his own struggle. Even his name Vikrant means someone who is courageous, powerful, ambitious, and victorious. There is also a grey side to him where he plagiarized someone else's songs without permission and made money out of it, but the film does not judge him. Because he is only selling art, if not his own, then, someone else's. In the end, he lets go of Mansi, and we see him back to his mother's principles. I am not sure if he will survive that. And, even though he let go of Mansi, it was because he did not want to lose. He wanted to be the winner who let go of Mansi of his own volition. Although he sacrificed his love as his mother said, but in this sacrifice, there was a desire to win, as his uncle said. Vikrant is a fascinating character, who surprises me when I think of him. I was reminded of Nitin from Rocket Singh—Salesman of the Year, who also started as an honest man, but later the world changes his idealism. Last year's Roy, also professed this love for selfishness in Sooraj Dooba Hai
Matlabi ho ja zara matlabi,
Duniya ki sunta hai kyun,
Khud ki bhi sun le kabhi.

Selfish, be a bit selfish, 
Why do you listen to the world, 
Sometime listen to yourself, too.
Tellingly, Taal as a film itself makes full use of everything-is-business philosophy, and inserts brand promotions wherever possible. Brands, such as Coke, Kenstar, MTV, Manikchand, and BPL, are shown prominently in the film. There was even a story somewhere that Subhash Ghai reached out to both Coke and Pepsi for the cold drink scene, and the one who bid the highest, he used that brand in the film.
There is also a lot to know about Manav, in contrast, with Vikrant. He is born with a silver spoon, and his family members call him prince many a time. He identifies himself as someone belonging to Great Britain. He has not seen a lot of poverty in his own life. When he comes to India, he visits India in trains and buses to experience the real India (Mohan Bhargava in Swades). We never get to know what he does in real-life. Perhaps, he will join his father's business. Manav has a strong belief in his own self. He is a human—manav. There is a lovely scene when he says to Mansi that he will not go to the temple. He says, "Ishwar insaan ke dil me basta hai. Uske andar swayam me rehta hai. Aakhir ishwar hai kya. Vishvaas hai, sachchai hai. Har insaan apne apne roop me usko dekhta hai. Koi kitaab me, koi murat me, koi roshni ki lauh me. Main ishwar ko khud me dekhta hun. Tumhara pyaar bhi to mujh par ek vishvaas hi to hai." It is a wonderful thought, to find god in yourself. Even love is a belief is one person on another, like the belief in god. It was this unwavering belief in himself that he got Mansi in the end, even though no one believed him. He said Vikrant will send Mansi to him. His father will bring Mansi home some day. And, it happened, because when you have God in you, there is truth with you. In a latter scene, we see a picture of spiritual leader Osho, who also famously said that there is no God. "Never obey anyone's command unless it is coming from within you also. There is no God other than life itself. Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere." It was already written that he will get Mansi because she is Manavsi—Manav jaisi.
There is also a very interesting theme of two choices that underlines the film. There is the choice between Lakshmi—goddess of wealth, and, Saraswati—goddess of knowledge. Manav's father worships Lakshmi, while Mansi's father worships Saraswati. There is the choice between Manav and Vikrant for Mansi. Both Manav and Vikrant are musicians. Both love her, both capture her in their camera. Both express love through Coke. They are similar and also different. There is a choice between a prince (as Manav's family members call him), who got everything by his accident of birth, and a self-made orphan, who has no family. There is a choice between the necklace given by Manav, and the bangles given by Vikrant. There is a choice between being emotional and being practical. Vikrant does not believe in being emotional, while Manav thinks from his heart. At one point, Mansi's aunt tells her to be practical. In one fabulous scene, we see Mansi upturning an hourglass, reflecting the conflict between these two choices, like the two sides of the hourglass. There is the choice between the principles of ma and mama, There is a choice between the twentieth century and the twenty first century. There is a choice between a rural life, and an urban life. 
In another such touch, the film shows us a choice between Indian-style music and choreography, and Western-style contemporary music and choreography. In the party, they announce that Manav has won numerous awards in Indian music and Indian literature. On the other hand, Vikrant keeps a statue of Elvis Presley—one of the greatest icons of Western music—in his office desk. The song Taal Se Taal Mila is shown two times. One in Indian-style, and one in Western-style. In fact, the soundtrack very clearly mentions this version as Taal Se Taal (Western). There is choreography by Saroj Khan, known for her iconic Indian-style dances, and Shiamak Davar, widely credited as someone who brought contemporary jazz and Western-style dance forms to India. Mansi dances fabulously on Indian music, but dances equally fabulously on Western music. 
Elvis Presley
It is even noteworthy that there is no right or wrong choice in the above that the film tries to advocate. It does not judge the characters by their choices. When Tara Babu finds out about Mansi and Manav, he says, "Unka hamara koi taal-mel nahi hai nahi hai." Mansi replies, "Par meri taal Manav se hai." That's what the repeating motif of duality in the film is also about. Finding the right taal to come to a common point, and reaching a mutual agreement. Perhaps, that is why the film's title is also named Taal. It is not only about the taal of music, but also about the fusion of two different beats, two different entities, to make something even more beautiful. Taal Se Taal Mila

Books In Movies:
A book on Shakespeare 
Mansi reads Savvy
Book on Guiness Records
Just for laughs :)
Dialogue of the Day:
"Ishwar dil me ho toh, sachchai mazboot rehti hai."
—Manav, Taal

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