Sunday, December 10, 2017

Simran—Of The Other Simran, And Independence

Hansal Mehta's Simran is about Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut), who works as a housekeeper in a hotel in Atlanta. She stays with her parents, Mohan (Hiten Kumar) and Kumud (Kishori Shahane). Her parents are trying to set her up with Sameer (Sohum Shah). During a trip to Las Vegas, Praful loses not just her own financial savings in gambling, but also a significant amount that she had borrowed from a usurious money lender. Desperate circumstances force her to take desperate measures, and she resorts to looting small banks to pay back her debt. 

The film takes its title from the character Simran, played by Kajol, from Aditya Chopra's iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. At some point in Simran, Praful is about to leave her house to rob yet another bank to pay back the money she borrowed from Mr. Bugs. Praful's mother is watching the climax scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge where Simran is begging her Bauji to let her go with Raj. Bauji relents and tells her, "Ja, Simran, Ja. Jee le apni zindagi." It is as if Bauji's words are a direction to Praful who is also waiting to go and do her task of stealing from the bank. Moments later, when Praful leaves the house, her mother mistakenly calls her Simran. Later, when Praful reaches the bank, an employee asks her to open a bank account with them. On being asked her name, Praful can only think of Simran as her fake name. The name eventually reaches the police, who inform the public at large, that the lipstick bandit's name is Simran.
In addition to the name, there is also a larger context to the connection between Praful from Simran and Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. They share a few other things, too. They belong to Non-Resident Indian (NRI) families. Simran's father owns a department store in London; Praful's father owns a store where he sells Gujarati snacks. Simran and Praful have a frigid relationship with their respective fathers, but have a friendly and a frank relationship with their respective mothers. Simran and Praful feel trapped and restricted in some way in their homes. Simran is bound by the strict rules that her father has imposed upon her. She had to literally pray to the Gods to get her father's permission to go on a trip to Europe. On the trip, she falls in love with a philandering Raj. When her father gets to know about Raj, he immediately sells off all his possessions and moves to Punjab, where he wants to marry Simran off to his friend's son. Praful's father keeps reminding her that she is a divorced woman and constantly nags her to get married again. He likes to find faults in Praful, which makes her want to move out and have a house of her own. Early in the film, Praful's daily life is shown with the background song that talks about this freedom. It says, "Pinjra tod ke tod ke, udd jaana hai. Baahein khol ke, khol ke, udd jaana hai." The cages have to be broken to fly away; the arms have to be opened to fly away. 
In Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, there is a scene where Simran's grandmother tells Bauji that she has seen some sadness in Simran's eyes. She is worried that there is a certain hesitation even in Simran's laughter as if something is bothering her from inside. Not wanting to reveal the full details of Simran's unhappiness, Bauji dismisses her concerns and tells her that Simran is fine. There is a similar scene in Simran that happens between Praful and her grandmother. She meets her grandmother at her cousin's wedding, who asks Praful that why does she have a half smile. Praful responds that it is a full smile. Her grandmother, then, asks that if her smile is full, why does it not reach her eyes. Aankhon tak toh nahi pahunchi. Thus, the film shows another connection between the two films. In Simran's script, which was released by Apurva Asrani, the first scene of the film is written at a train station that is again quite reminiscent of the first time Raj meets Simran in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, where Simran almost missed her train to Europe. A cheeky Raj had offered his hand to Simran so that she can enter the train. An almost similar sequence is present in the Simran's script. Hearing an announcement on the train station, Praful takes off her shoes, holds them in her hand, and runs towards a train. Praful runs, sticks her foot in the closing door and barely makes it inside before the train door is closed. 

Even though Simran and Praful have quite a few things in common, the one major difference is Praful has no Raj with her, and after a bitter divorce, she feels she does not even need any Raj in her life. The film Simran repeatedly stresses on the independence of Praful and her comfort in being alone (not to be confused with being lonely). Early in the film, Praful, and her cousin Amber go on a trip to Las Vegas. Amber had invited her ex-boyfriend as well, due to which Praful leaves the two of them, and roams around Las Vegas all by herself. Praful is completely fine doing that, in fact, she enjoys being by herself. Later, Amber tells Praful that she is getting married because we cannot spend our life all alone. Praful replies that she herself is also single but she is doing absolutely fine in life. Amber, then, tells her that she is different and independent. Praful responds to her that she is a thirty-year-old divorced woman, who works as a housekeeper, while Amber is twenty-five-year-old jewelry designer; how is it that she is more independent than her? Praful is struggling to make ends meet, yet, she feels independent. Her cousin, blessed with money and a good career, does not feel like that. Independence is not only financial independence, but also emotional independence. Later, we again see Praful enjoying the state of being happily unmarried. After she wins money at a casino, she buys a red dress (like Simran did in Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main). She eats at fancy restaurants all alone. She goes to the top floor of the hotel and admires the bird's eye view of the city with a glass of champagne in her hand. She is truly content. In the latter parts of the film, she never shares her problems with anyone. She plans everything on her own. 
Praful meets Sameer, who is interested in getting married to her. In their meeting, Praful asks him the reasons for getting married. He tells her that he wants to get married because he is alone and he wants a life partner to spend his life with. Praful snarkily replies that marriage is not the solution for his problems. In one of the most beautiful scenes in the film, Sameer and Praful again talk about life and love. During their chat, Sameer says that if a person is given too many responsibilities from a young age, he becomes a little hollow from inside, but when he looks at Praful, he feels how can anyone be so complete in oneself. Koi apne aap me itna sampoorn kaise ho sakta hai. He is again bringing out the same aspect of Praful's contentment in being alone, without needing anyone. At some later stage, Praful takes Sameer to her favorite place, near a lake, where she tells him that she comes there alone. The place makes her feel that she has tiny wings, like those of a butterfly, which makes her believe that she can fly. The air there is totally free, and no obstacle can bind the air there. Like the song's lyrics earlier, "Pinjra tod ke tod ke, udd jaana hai. Baahein khol ke, khol ke, udd jaana hai," Praful wants to be completely free, like a bird, and live life independently on her own terms. 
Sameer was undoubtedly my favorite character in the film. He understands people and relationships. It seems that he has gone through a lot in life, too. And, then, he completely surprises by his selfless act of transferring his hard-earned money that he saved for his studies to Praful's account even though she did even not ask him to do so. I am always stunned by these selfless acts, where people do these gestures and expect nothing in return. He had said earlier to Praful, "Rishton ko samajhna nahi chahiye, unhe sirf nibhaana chahiye." One should not try to understand relationships, instead one should fulfill them. Sameer, truly, did that when it came to giving all to his relationships. 
The film falters in the second half where it is unable to decide whether it should be serious, or it should be funny. The robberies become repetitive and some proceedings become silly. But the film does show well the suburban America, which is a lot different from New York and San Francisco as seen in other films. It touches on the challenges minority communities face in America. Also, the film is, perhaps, a rare case in Hindi cinema where the Patels in Simran are not financially well-off as compared to the other Patel families in films. 

There are many scenes where it becomes harder to separate the character Praful from the actor Kangana. At one point, Praful says, "Karti hun main galtiyaan, aur maanti bhi hun. Aap logon ke tarah, khud se jhooth nahi bolti." She says that she makes mistakes, but she also has the courage to accept them; something that Kangana has also spoken about in her interviews. Whatever be the other issues (external and internal) with the film, it has yet another splendid performance by Kangana. She is a truly a Queen.

Other references in the script:
Salman Khan

 Nahin toh picture itni badi hit nahi hoti
 I love that movie
Kajol meri favorite thee

Books In Movies:
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
Book Recommendation: 
Jane Austen's Emma for its character Emma. 

Other Reading:
1. Simran's scriptLink
2. On QueenLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Mujhe lagta hai ki kabhi insaan ko puri tarah se samjha nahi ka sakta. Kyunki badalte rehna hi inssan ki fidrat hai. Change is the only constant. Aur mujhe lagta hai, rishton ko samajhna nahi chahiye, unhe sirf nibhaana chahiye."
—Sameer, Simran

Sunday, November 26, 2017

MOM—Of Revenge and the Mahabharata

Ravi Udyawar's MOM is a revenge-themed drama based in Delhi. It is the story of Devki (Sridevi), who is a teacher and the second wife of a businessman named Anand (Adnan Siddiqui). One night, her stepdaughter Arya (Sajal Ali) is sexually assaulted by a gang of four men, one of whom was Arya's classmate in school. The men are apprehended but the prosecution is unable to convict them in court, which leads to the four of them walking away free. Devki plans to inflict punishment on the men with the help of a detective Dayashankar Kapoor, also known as DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Matthew Francis (Akshaye Khanna) is the police inspector who is assigned to Arya's case.

Devki teaches biology in the same class and at the same school where Arya also studies. She is the kind of teacher who uses pictures of Salman Khan's abs in her lectures, and asks her patrons to watch science-fiction movies. The relationship between Arya and Devki is a frosted one. Arya has not been able to accept Devki as her mother and calls her Ma'am. For Arya, her mother is her birth mom and not the second wife of his father. She tells her father that it is a daughter who comes in a mother's life, and not the other way round, thus, she will never be able to accept Devki. The film, then, becomes a story that depicts how and why Arya moves away from calling Devki as Ma'am to calling her as Mom.
There is a point in the film when Devki meets DK at an art exhibition. The exposition is titled Yada Yada and is shown that it is by an artist named Ravi Udyawar, who, not surprisingly, is also the director of MOM. The modern-art exhibition is based on the theme of the Mahabharata. The exhibition poster states that all of Ravi's exhibitions have hidden mythological themes in them and 'Nothing lives longer than mythology.' The poster also has the full shloka of Yada Yada from the Mahabharata written on it

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata,
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.

Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is an exaltation of unrighteousness, then, I Myself come forth.

The description on the poster holds true for the film MOM as well. Like the exhibition, the film is directed by Ravi Udyawar. There is a hidden mythological theme in the film's story. Additionally, the verse of Yada Yada describes the motivations of the characters in MOM, too. Yada Yada was given as a sermon to Arjun by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna explained to him that whenever there is a rise of injustice and unfairness in the world, God reincarnates to make things right. This is what happens in the film. Devki and her family lose the court case which leads to the acquittal of the criminals who assaulted Arya. Losing her trust in the institutional methods, Devki decides to get justice on her own. She visits DK who tells her, "Court se galti nahi hui, bahut bada paap hua hai." The court has not committed a mistake, rather it has sinned. Later, Devki tells DK that God cannot be present everywhere, and he replies to her that it is why he created mothers. He is calling a mother as a reincarnation or an equivalent of God who fights for justice. It is also noteworthy that he usually addresses Devki as Devi Ji. Devki is, thus, like a Goddess reincarnated, fighting against the evil for the dispensation of justice.
Then, in the exhibition, Devki stands in front of a red Mahabharata-inspired painting which symbolized the washing of Draupadi's hair in Dushasana's blood. Draupadi was disrobed by Dushasana after Yudhishthira bet her in a game of dice which he, subsequently, lost. Draupadi vowed that she will not tie her hair until she washed it in Dushasana's blood. It is again discernible to observe the parallels between the story of Draupadi and Arya. Both are victims of men harassing and assaulting them. Krishna comes to the rescue of Draupadi in the Mahabharata; here, Devki (Krishna's mother) comes to get justice for Arya. It is also no coincidence that Arya is named similar to the Aryans. The Pandavas were often addressed as Arya Putras, as was also seen in B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat series. As Devki says, the Mahabharata is the world's oldest story of revenge. The film, too, is a story of revenge. Like the painting, there is also a running theme of red color in MOM. The film's title is written in red. Devki's glasses are red. She drives a red car. When she goes and meets her transgender students, she walks among a bunch of red drapes. Red apples play another important role in the film. Red is the color of love, but it is also the color of blood. The color of passion. The color of revenge. As Draupadi washes her hair in Dushasana's blood in the painting, Devki has the blood of her daughter's assaulters on her hands. Draupadi tied her hair back after the death of Dushasana; Arya is shown to be fully healed after the death of her assaulters. 
The exhibition was my favorite part of the film. I will definitely want to view the Mahabharata represented in contemporary art. In the film, there are other related exhibits that can be seen. There are structures at the exhibition's entrance that represented the game of dice, which became the turning point in the life of the Pandavas. There are also sculptures of Eklavya's thumb, and of the fish whose eye Arjun aimed to shoot with his bow at Draupadi's swayamwara. There is the painting of Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows, and another one of a red dot surrounded by Cs, which represented Abhimanyu trapped in the Chakravyuha. The only painting I could not be absolutely sure of what it represented was one that has five diagonal divisions, which is probably referring to the five Pandavas. As MOM underscores the subtext of Mahabharata quite prominently, the transgender Niranjana, who was Devki's student, was, perhaps, a representation of Shikhandi, who was responsible for Bhishma's death. Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani (2012) had a similar overarching theme as MOM in the sense that a vulnerable woman whom no one suspects of anything goes on to surprise everyone by her vengeance. Even that film had a connection with the Mahabharata. There is a point in the film when Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) asks Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee) the meaning of his formal name Satyoki. He tells her that Satyoki was Krishna's saarthi (charioteer).
There is a little subversive element in the film where, maybe, for the first time in a Hindi film, a stepmother is named Devki, after Krishna's real-mother who gave birth to him. It has been a common trope in films to name the nurturing mother after Yashoda, Krishna's foster-mother who brought him up. However, MOM does not adhere to this convention and names the stepmother's character after Devki. A mother is after all a mother, notwithstanding the route of nature or nurture. Devki did not differentiate at all between her birth daughter and her stepdaughter. She has a stature equivalent to a birth mom. It is often said that blood is thicker than water, but for Devki, both water and blood are equivalent. She is both Devki and Yashoda. 

Talking about water, there is an interesting motif of water associated with Devki in the film. She is often seen near water. When Arya angrily leaves the dinner table after speaking rudely with her father, Devki offers him water to drink. Devki is often seen filling the water bottles from the water filter in the kitchen. The night when Arya does not come back from the party, Devki checks on her while she is filling water bottles. When Devki visits the police station, the woman constable brings her a glass of water. After the assault, when Arya regains consciousness in the hospital, the first thing Devki asks her was if she needed water. Later, in a moment of rage, Devki follows Mohit in her car and has a small accident. When she comes back home, she drinks a glass of water. Finally, when the prosecution team loses the case and the accused go scot-free, Devki is again seen filling water bottles. She is lost in deep thought about the state of affairs, which leads to the overflowing and the spilling of water from the bottles. The water symbolized her patience, which now seems to have run out. Thereafter, she decides to take matters into her own hands. There is a saying in Hindi that eventually the paap ka ghada (the pot of sins) will overflow and burst. The evil has risen too much, thus, Goddess will reincarnate as Krishna said in Yada Yada sermon in the Mahabharata
I was intrigued by the presence of water near other characters as well. Unlike in the case of Devki, in their case, it is primarily situational, but still quite a noteworthy presence, especially, in the case of the four accused. When Baburam is picked up from his house, he spills a water drum. Later, death comes to him in the toilet near a water tap. Charles Diwan gets paralyzed before he picks up a glass of water. Mohit is trapped at the moment when he is sitting on a toilet seat and smoking pot. Devki puts apple seeds submerged in water in his kitchen sink. Jagan dies on snow, which is nothing but frozen water. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Death comes to Jagan in a cold place over the snow. 
Water, Water, Everywhere
There is the presence of water in Arya's life, too. After she is sexually assaulted, she is dumped in a gutter, from which she barely makes out alive. She has recurring nightmares of the assault, and she sits under the flowing water of the shower to cleanse the memories of the incident. When they all go to Kufri, Arya feels calm in the gorgeous mountainous landscape. She is enthralled by the beauty of nature. And, then, it rains, and a resplendent rainbow appears. She gets drenched in the rain, finally, feeling clean. Her healing is complete, and she has been blessed by the angels. Her healing process was also represented by the curtains in her room. When she is initially assaulted, her room is dark with the curtains closed. When she first hears the news of Baburam's death, she walks towards the window, opens the curtains slightly letting the light come in the room, and then, watches the birds fly in the sky. After Charles' death, she again walks towards the window curtains, and then, sends a message to her father that she wants to go to the hill station. 
MOM is a well-made film and it is quite visible that there is a lot of deep thought that has gone into building its screenplay. It is some kind of an inexplicable dark statement that Baburam, a man, gets death by castration where his sexual organ is presumably cut by a transgender woman as if she is making him lose his gender, too. In the scene, where a drunk Baburam sees the mysterious woman, the background lights of the Vishwakarma board are specifically lit showing Karma as if giving us an indication of what is to happen to him. One can escape but karma will catch up sooner or later. When the news of his death is shown on the television, Devki is cutting carrots on a chopping board, suggesting the act of castration. Later, Mohit is sent to prison, and it is suggested that he, too, gets raped by the prison bully. There is Devki's revenge but also his own karma. In another visually thoughtful scene in the film, Devki gets an idea to kill Charles when she takes a bite out of an apple while she is herself working on an Apple laptop, that has its own 'bite in an apple' logo prominently displayed. In another scene, when Matthew visits Charles in the hospital, the television in the room is playing a show that has a leopard looking to hunt its prey, as if mirroring the events of the film. Finally, in the ending moments of the film, Arya is seen reading The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher, again foreshadowing not just the literal storm outside, but the metaphorical storm as well, that will soon hit her and change everyone's life forever.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, like always, brings certain quirks to his character DK. He plays the role of a matchmaker when he is not solving criminal cases. He is a Shiv Bhakt, his name had Shankar in it, which is why, like Shiva, he had a hidden third eye, that recorded everything in his sunglasses. There is a hilarious moment when he is singing Duniya Me Logon Ko and tells Devki that he also wanted to be a singer, like his mother. Devki asks him if his mother was a singer, and then, he replies that his mother was not but she also wanted to be one. I laughed the most here. He flirts with his wife, and even after so many years of their marriage, he can still make her blush. DK empathized with Devki as he also had a daughter similar to Arya's age, and was able to convince Devki to hire him. A little bit of empathy can go a long way. In another beautiful moment in the film, we see that Akshaye Khanna's character Matthew comes to the place where DK is found dead. When Matthew sees DK's dead body, he does a sign of the cross prayer. Here is a cop, who deals with death and violent crimes on a daily basis, and still has not lost belief in his God.
There are quite a few things in the film that made me a little uncomfortable. There is this whole sequence where Devki tells her husband that there could be nothing worse for Arya than living life with an incident such as this. This is the conventional societal view that silos and pities the victim, ignoring the aspect that life could be rebuilt and pain can be healed, even without revenge. At another point in the film, Matthew tells Devki that he does not like it when someone else does his work for him. Everyone is equal before the law. But, then, in the end, he is the one who hands over the gun to Devki to shoot Jagan. It is understood that he was frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape that let criminals walk away free. It would still be understood if he only shot Jagan, but an officer entrusted with protecting law asks a civilian to break law made it quite unconvincing. I did not find vigilantism in the film as problematic because Devki knew what she was doing was wrong. Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge. She and her family bear some consequences of her (wrong) actions. But I can see how the vigilantism in the film, and its similarity with the political events under the current Indian dispensation can cause discomfort to a large section of the audience.
Regardless, I enjoyed watching MOM. Sridevi, who stars in her three-hundredth film in MOM, is splendid as always. There is a deep emotional connection and empathy that she brings to Devki. She made us wait nearly five years after her last film English Vinglish. After Shashi and Devki, let's see how she surprises us in her next adventure. 

Trivia:
Spacebound film that Devki told her students to watch. 
The film's music is by A.R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil. There is a self-reference when at one point, Arya is listening to the songs from Highway
Foo Fighters
Vincent van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background
Casting director of the film Mukesh Chhabra gets a guest appearance.
Books In Movies:
Books by Greg Dyke and John Grisham
Mortal Prey by John Sandford
A book by Bill Bryson
Why Do I Say These Things? by Johnathan Ross

The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
Change Beings With Me
Book Recommendation:
A friend on Twitter suggested to add book recommendations that have similar theme as in the movies. So, I will try to do add that based on what I have read or what others recommend. Since the Mahabharata is a theme in the movie, there is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which tells the story of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective. At one point, we read that Draupadi wished to marry Karna. It is a really interesting book with a new outlook.

Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai on the recklessness of revenge cinemaLink
2. Jai Arjun Singh on mothers and vigilantesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge."
—Devki, MOM

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vincent van Gogh in Hindi Films

I did a thread on Twitter on Vincent van Gogh in Hindi films. Sharing it here as well. 








Dialogue of the Day:
"Tumhari tasveer apne andar na jaane kya kya chhupaye hai." 
—Tara, Dil Chahta Hai

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

No Smoking—Of Kafkaesque Souls

Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking is one of my favorite films. When I first watched it at the time of its release, even though I did not fully understand everything about the film, I remember being fascinated that a film like that could be made in the Hindi film industry. No Smoking is based on Stephen King's short story titled Quitters, Inc. It is the story of K (John Abraham), a narcissistic businessman, who is addicted to smoking. His wife Anjali (Ayesha Takia) wants him to stop smoking. K's friend Abbas (Ranvir Shorey) recommends him to a rehabilitation center called Prayogshala, run by a godman named Baba Bengali (Paresh Rawal). When K visits Baba Bengali for a consultation, he is forced to sign a contract, that recommends extremely harsh punishment if K continues smoking. The film, then, transcends into metaphysical realms, where K eventually not only loses his habit of smoking but his own identity, too.

John Abraham's character K is named after Josef K, the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Trial. The novel is a critique of totalitarianism in which K is put under arrest for an unknown crime for an unspecified period of time. Anurag Kashyap has mentioned that Franz Kafka is one of his favorite writers. Kafka's novels are known for their surrealist themes. Surrealism is often described as literature in the dream state, where a different kind of logic prevails, that connects the real with the imaginary. Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, has written, "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak." This surrealism is a motif in the works of Kafka which has spawned its own term known as Kafkaesque. In an interview with The New York Times, Frederick R. Karl, author of a biography of Franz Kafka says, "Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world." These words also perfectly describe the crux of the plot of No Smoking and its Kafkaesque theme. The real and the unreal world of K collide to form a surreal world. K is often found near a bathtub as it is the device through which he travels between the two worlds. Additionally, the logic of the real world does not hold true as K's life goes through major tribulations that have no rational explanation. K is constantly traversing the two interconnected worlds, and the film depicts K's surreal world merging the events of his dreams and his reality. 
"To be is to do."—Socrates
"To do is to be."—Sartre
"Do be do be do."—Frank Sinatra
The film opens with the above three quotes. There is an interesting history of how these quotes came into existence. This list of quotes first appeared in the bathroom stalls in the 1960s and 1970s, but many a time, different authors were specified for the first two quotes. The phrase attributed to Sinatra was derived from his version of the song Strangers in the Night. At the end of the track, Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that were transcribed as "Do be do be do." However, the appearance of quotes in No Smoking is most likely due to another reason. The quotes were made popular when they appeared as a graffito in the novel Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut. In the book, the protagonist named Rudy sees these words scribbled on the walls of an airport toilet where he is trapped. In Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Lawrence R. Broer suggests that the scene represented Rudy's catharsis, his release of guilt, and his recognition that he is free to author a new essence in life. All of Kurt Vonnegut's novels are known for their anti-authoritarianism and their randomness. Thus, it is entirely befitting that No Smoking opens with these quotes as the film, too, has a strong theme of anti-authoritarianism and is a riot of randomness. In addition, the film represents a sort of catharsis for Anurag Kashyap, as he has himself said, that he made this film because his earlier films faced problems and never got released. Smoking, itself, is a way of letting out something. Characters are letting go of things in the film. At one stage in the film, there is K's wife, Anjali, sitting on a toilet seat and the film shows us her flushing after doing her job while she speaks on the phone. It is also noteworthy that the individual quotes are also in line with film's leitmotif of individual freedom and randomness; hence, the three quotes are consistent with the film's concept. 
K gets a recommendation from his friend Abbas that he got cured of his smoking habit by going to the PrayogshalaAnjali threatens to leave K if he does not stop smoking. Therefore, K decides to visit the PrayogshalaIt is located in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai. When K reaches the spot, the man at the counter directs him to an underground bunker through which K has to pass to reach the Prayogshala. He descends into the manhole, and thereafter, he has to take more stairs to go further down. There is nothing at the same level and he has to keep going down. This descent is nothing but the representation of K going to hell. Once he reaches the Prayogshala, Baba Bengali actually tells him that there might be democracy in the dharti above but this place is paataal ghar, and his writ runs here. Prayogshala is, therefore, symbolizing hell, where people come to get rid of their smoking habit. 
Initially, at an early point in the film, K looks in the mirror and tells himself that no one can tell him what to do. This is the idea of the film that one should be free to do whatever he wants. It is his life, and he will live it on his own terms. K is narcissistic and is not really a nice person. At one stage, he throws out an old lady from an elevator because she wanted him to stop smoking. Even if the activities he likes to do are harmful, he does them out of his choice. Smoking in the film is only a metaphor for freedom. This freedom could be of anything and is a basic right of every individual, even if that person is not really a good human being. The film, thus, tries to show how a person loses his soul if he is forced to do something that does not suit his character. This is why we see that there is a running theme of totalitarianism in the film. Baba Bengali, a godman, has been given the responsibility of curing the people of their addiction by his predecessor. Baba Bengali has met Hitler, the most (in)famous icon of fascist ideology, and he proudly displays his picture with Hitler in his Prayogshala. Baba is himself a dictator and forces people to sign a contract by hook or by crook. K's recurring dream occurs in Siberia (Russia) where he is surrounded by military personnel, which is again a hint towards another military dictator of Russia, Joseph Stalin (or Putin). If Baba Bengali (Hitler) and military personnel (Stalin) stop him from smoking, the film also shows K's friend Alex forcing him to smoke. Alex has come from Cuba where the writ of another famous dictator, Fidel Castro, runs large. Even if K likes to smoke, Alex is forcing him to have a cigar. He even names his cigars after Castro. The argument, again, is about individual freedom and choice. And, those who don't listen to Baba Bengali literally start losing their hearing, and then, continue to lose their sense of being, which includes their creativity, the feeling of love, and then their own character. To be is to do. To do is to be.
Early in the film, Anjali is watching Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List on the television. The scene playing in the movie shows the Jews in a concentration camp in Hitler's Germany. The same scene foreshadows the climax of No Smoking as well, underscoring the comparison of Baba Bengali's methods with Hitler's policies. In the dream, when K is running away from the soldiers, he jumps into the bathtub and enters into a surreal place where he becomes a prisoner. When K had visited the Prayogshala for the first time, he had seen some prisoners looking at him. This time, K has reached that spot and has become a prisoner. The other prisoners tell him that they will be taken for a bath soon. In the prison, K sees his reflection, which a fellow prisoner tells him is his own body on the other side. He can talk to his body using the phone if he has loose change. The lady announces that those who paid the full treatment amount will not be asked to take a bath. Thereafter, K and other prisoners are sent to take a bath, in which they are gassed like the Jews. Essentially, it was K's soul that was exterminated in the Prayogshala. A human has a body and a soul. In an earlier moment, Baba Bengali had told K that the soul is frivolous and indulgent. If one has the power, the soul can be controlled, but if one is weak, the soul needs to be exterminated and let go to cure people of their addiction. The Prayogshala, like Hitler's concentration camps, is a hellish place where he does that. K loses his soul. This is why the place is of sepia shade representing the color of the dirtiness of his soul. In that sense, No Smoking is a subversive film which makes a significant point that a human without the soul is just the body. Baba forced K to become someone with a soul. Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul; it is dead without the soul. 
In an interview after the release of the film, Anurag Kashyap had said that he made the film to express his anger and disappointment as his earlier films ran into problems with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This is his personal story as well. K is Kashyap himself. The Minister of Health at that time, Anbumani Ramadoss, wanted to issue a fiat to ban the portrayal of smoking in films. So, Kashyap made a film titled No Smoking, which people thought advocates people to stop smoking, but in reality, it champions the cause of artistic expression. In the script of the film, there is a point in the film, where it is mentioned that Baba Bengali has a picture with Ramadoss, but it was not shown in the film's theatrical version. In the last few years, before the starting of any movie, the government has mandated anti-smoking disclaimers and advertisements, which are absolutely bland. In a satirical response, No Smoking opens with a disclaimer that says, "A thousand people stop smoking every day, by dying. Smoking kills." This is also shown in the metaphor of the cut fingers in films. Baba Bengali used to cut people's fingers if they did not follow his orders. In the end, K's soul was purged, and he loses his fingers. Baba explained to K that his writer friend Abbas cannot write. People use their fingers to smoke, but they use the same fingers to write as well. Thus, by issuing such diktats, one is cutting their writing fingers, and curbing artistic expression. The government should have no role in dictating its moral choices to people. In a contrast, perhaps, Alex represented the other side representing the cigarette companies. If forcing people to not smoke makes them lose their fingers, coercing people to smoke is like castration. His cigars have the brand name Infidal Castrated. Alex was the mirror image of Baba Bengali. Alex was also surrounded by men and women who used to wear sunglasses, like Baba's lackeys. Baba Bengali idolized Hitler, and Alex too inspiration from Castro. 
Baba Bengali is, thus, a representation of the dictatorial government. When K visits him, he asks his men to bring a massive red-colored rule book that he will have to read which is nothing but a symbol of the bureaucracy and the red tape, where governments try to force people to sign a contract with its complex rules (like the Aadhar). Then, Baba says there is a Rajagopalchari version (abridged) as well, which I found to be extremely funny. Baba's Baba Bengali's full name is Shri Shri Prakash Ji Baba Bengali Sealdah Wale. This name is quite similar to Sri Sri Ravi Sankar of Art of Living. Baba has people from both the religions working for him, the men in red chaddis (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?) and the women in burkha, displaying another aspect of authoritarianism—religious—in this case. At some other point, K's doctor friend tells him that he was put in jail for some time under POTA that stands for Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was another controversial law that gave draconian powers to the government to control terrorism, highlighting another reference to authoritarianism in the film. We also get to know that K's brother can converse only in German, as Hitler was from Germany. 
Not only is there is a theme of fascism, but the film also shows the extent of omnipresent surveillance that can curb individual expression. In retrospect, the film is so ahead of its time as some of the things portrayed in the film actually turned out to be true. When K enters the carpet factory, the man sitting there scans his hand on a tablet, and it immediately identifies K, something that is becoming increasingly common today. There is a video record of the life of all the people who come to Baba Bengali. This massive Orwellian surveillance was recently uncovered by WikiLeaks. The point is that whatever one tries, no one can really escape the Big Brother. K tried to follow a meticulous plan where he did not tell anyone where he is going, but even then the acolytes of Baba Bengali were able to follow him in Africa. Anyone who enters into a contract with Baba Bengali is followed at all times by the same man. Abbas is surrounded by a man who is wearing sunglasses. The same man follows K in his different avatars. He was the taxi driver who brought K to his office after K loses his hearing. There was also a carpet kept on the top of the car, which was another symbol that this is Baba Bengali's man as his Prayogshala was located under a carpet factory. The same man is the guard at his office, who tells K that he has eight siblings. I kept counting if the man actually appeared at nine different places in the film. The same man also meets K in the elevator. Not surprisingly, he was the same man who dressed as a transgendered woman and met K at a traffic signal and threw some coins at K. The script mentions another quirky detail that the man's different characters have different voices. Ram. Shyam. Balram.
Baba Bengali's fee for curing people of their addiction was twenty-one lakhs, eleven thousand, and one hundred and ten rupees with an additional one rupee in change. Baba insisted that the one rupee be paid separately in cash. K signed the cheque for the amount but he did not have one rupee with him in cash. This nonpayment of one rupee will turn out to be a decisive moment for K later. When he is sent to the prison, the lady announced that only those who paid the full fee amount will not be asked to take a bath, that is, their souls will not be purged. In the prison, there is also a telephone booth that required one-rupee coins if K's soul wanted to talk K's body. K ignored Baba's advice, thus, has to bear the consequences. At an earlier stage, the man who was following K everywhere met him in his eunuch avatar at a traffic signal, and threw coins at K. He ignored those coins even then, which eventually would lead him to lose his soul.
As the film is autobiographical as well, almost all the characters in the film are inspired by the life of Anurag Kashyap. The letter K is not only an allegory to Kafka, but also to Kashyap. At one point, Kashyap himself makes an appearance in the film where he is standing in an elevator with K. K's wife Anjali and his secretary Annie are actually the same people. He thinks they are two different people, but in the end, Anjali tells him that they both are the same. In real life, at that point, Anurag Kashyap was married to Aarti Bajaj (the letter A like Anjali), who was also the editor of his films. Like Anjali and Annie, his own wife played two roles in his life. Abbas' full name is Abbas Tyrewala, who is no one but director Abbas Tyrewala, who was supposed to play the part of Abbas before it went to Ranvir Shorey. At some point, K and Abbas meet in a bar, and K says to Abbas that he has changed after his marriage. And, then, in the background, the words Paakhi Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se start playing. This is another inside joke as Paakhi is the name of Abbas' wife. Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi is referring is Paakhi Tyrewala, who has acted in Jhootha Hi Sahi, and also turned director recently. The song comes at the precise moment when K is talking about Abbas' marriage. At another point, Abbas mentions Maqbool and Main Hoon Na in a dialogue, and Baba Bengali when he is talking about Abbas mentions Salaam Namaste and Munnabhai M.B.B.S, which are also the two films among the many for which Abbas wrote the dialogue and the screenplay. There is also Vikramaditya Motwane in the film. He plays an employee with the same name who refuses to stop smoking in the office. Interestingly, the script also mentions Raj Kumar Gupta, as the employee who comes for an interview at K's office, but the same is not mentioned in the film. Raj Kumar Gupta has actually assisted Anurag Kashyap in the film, and also directed his own films, such as Aamir. At the launch party of his cigars, Alex says, "Beedi Jalaiyele ke Vishal desh me cigar Gulzar," again a wordplay on the people associated with the film. Vishal Bhardwaj is the producer of No Smoking, Gulzar has written the lyrics, and the song Beedi from Omkara is associated with these two men. 
Dreams and delusion constitute a significant part of the film's universe. K's wife and his secretary are the same people, but K thinks that they are different. These elements are interspersed throughout the film in different ways. At some stage during the end, K sees a group of men dressed as Santa Clauses roaming on the streets on New Year's Eve. Santa Clauses are, after all, a kind of representation of human delusion. At different points in the film, the screen keeps forming some kind of bubbles as if trying to portray that there is some kind of an illusion, separating the real and the imaginary. During the zero minute, when all the addicts are allowed to smoke for only one minute in the year, K reaches the place, which is called The Dead Factory, a perfect name for a place for the congregation of men who have lost their souls and are symbolically dead. In the same sequence, K tries to crawl between the legs of men to reach Baba Bengali. Immediately, in the next scene, there is a rat crawling in the pipes that gets trapped, representing the trapped mental state of K. Thereafter, K enters his dream state again, and as he was advised earlier by his psychiatrist friend, he jumps into the bathtub, moving down the pipe to hell. After he jumps into the bathtub and starts swimming, I was reminded of Mary Jane (Alia Bhatt) swimming towards the light in the climax of Udta Punjab.
Any Anurag Kashyap film is full of references and tributes to some of his favorite filmmakers. In No Smoking, too, we see something similar within the context of smoking. In the film, the song Jab Bhi Ciggaret is shot in a bar that is called The Bob Fosse. Bob Fosse was an American dancer, choreographer, director known for his award-winning musicals, such as Cabaret (1972). He has won eight Tony Awards for choreography and an Academy Award for his direction of Cabaret. Jab Bhi Ciggaret is a cabaret-style number that pays homage to him. The other noteworthy fact is that Bob Fosse was a known chain-smoker. According to his biographer Sam Wasson, while choreographing The Pajama Game in 1954, Fosse chain-smoked as many as six or seven packs of cigarettes a day. It is quite befitting to then pay a tribute to Fosse in a film related to smoking; perhaps, making the point that for some people, smoking is a way to sharpen their creative instincts. It is also interesting that a male voice is used for lip sync for a female dancer. This androgynous representation was also seen in the character of Ardhnarishwera in Kashyap's Gulaal (2009). There is a particular line in the song, Upale jaisa sulagta hu. Only Gulzar use a word that means cow-dung cake in the lyrics of a Hindi film song. The other songs, such as Phoonk De, are absolutely gorgeous. 
There are a lot many other references to songs that are played in background mirroring the events happening in the film. When K and Abbas are reminiscing about the time when they were young and smoked a cigarette, Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin plays. The particular sequence is titled Kyunki Bachpan Bhi Kabhi Naughty Tha, a spinoff to Ekta Kapoor's iconic show Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The part one of Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) opened with the title song of the same show. At some other point, K calls Abbas and Ghungroo Ki Tarah Bajta Hi Raha from Chor Machaaye Shor (1974) is playing in the background. When Anjali asks K to stop smoking, he plays Shut Up by The Black Eyed Peas in his car. At other stages, we hear Dean Martin's Ain't That A Kick In The Head and That's Amore being played. The script mentions many other songs related to smoking.

There is another set of symbols used in the film which only Anurag Kashyap can explain. Perhaps, some of them have an underlying meaning associated with them, while some of them are used for indulgence. For instance, there are white dialogue bubbles, like seen in comics, in which the characters of the film are conveying their real thoughts during conversation. Or, like the fact that Anjali wears two rings always. We also see the door in the room in Serbia where K is trapped opens only if you push it from the side you are on. There are dwarves with funny voices in Baba Bengali's Prayogshala. The prison number on K's shirt is written 8077 in Hindi numerals, perhaps, it has something to do with the Holocaust.

No Smoking is one of Anurag Kashyap's finest films. It, truly, is what we call a subversive film. It constantly makes one think on its deeper meaning as nothing in the film is without any reason. For the last month or so, I have watched and rewatched the movie, and I learnt something new every time. Many films are often called as 'ahead of their time.' No Smoking was not only so far ahead of its time, but the things shown in it are turning out to be prescient. Ten years ago, two films released on the October 26th—Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met and Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking. Jab We Met got its due immediately, but here is hoping that No Smoking will also get its recognition in due course of time. 

Interesting things present in the script:
There is a reference to the Clinton cigar (which I assume is referring to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky cigar story, and Ajay Devgan is mentioned as well. Presented some screenshots here. 





Other Reading:
1. Script of No SmokingLink
2. On Raman Raghav 2.0Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul, it is dead without the soul."
—Baba Bengali, No Smoking