Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kahaani 2—Of Vidya Sinha And Rajnigandha

Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh is the second film in the series of women-oriented films that he plans to make, hence, the added '2' in the title. The first film Kahaani was a brilliant film that is considered to be one of the finest films in the last decade. It was about a pregnant Vidya Bagchi looking for her husband, but it is found out that she was not who she said she was. Kahaani 2 is also about another Vidya (Vidya Balan) and her daughter Minnie (Tunisha Sharma) who live in Chandan Nagar in West Bengal. Minnie cannot walk. The story takes a turn when Minnie is kidnapped, and Vidya has an accident. Inderjeet Singh (Arjun Rampal) is the policeman assigned to the case, and when he sees Vidya, he realizes she is Durga, a criminal wanted for kidnapping and murder.
Kahaani 2, essentially, follows the same contours as that of Kahaani. The film has the same broad template as that of the earlier film. A woman makes up a kahaani about herself, pretends to be someone else, and manages to game the system. In both the films, her assumed new name is Vidya. She has a sympathetic cop who helps her in her mission. She is compared to Durga in both the films. In Kahaani, Vidya kills the evil man who was responsible for her husband's death on the occasion of Durga Puja, a festival that celebrates the victory of Durga over the evil Mahishasura. In Kahaani 2, her real name is Durga Rani Singh, and she is tackling the social evil of child abuse. The two films have some characters that are played by the same actors, such as the Bengali head cop. The films also have similar scene structures. For instance, in Kahaani, there was an unexpected scene where Vidya was almost killed by being pushed in front of the metro train. Here also, there is a similar scene where she comes in front of a taxi. There was an unassuming serial-killer man in Kahaani. Likewise, there is a serial-killer woman who murders people using a blade. The films have the milieu and the ambiance of Bengal. In another little detail, we saw that in Kahaani, Vidya stays at Mona Lisa lodge. The man who was the manager of the lodge becomes an assistant cop in Kahaani 2. At some point in Kahaani 2, when Inderjeet is running after Goopi, we see something related to Mona Lisa in this film as well. There are replicas of Mona Lisa which Goopi makes to sell them to others. In Kahaani, Satyaki visits a school, and he sees that the children's school shirt has a swan on it. In Kahaani 2, Mohit uses origami to make swan-like/bird-like figures. Thus, the two films are connected but not necessarily have any relation in terms of the story. 
Kahaani 2 is about Durga. She is a strong woman, who is living life on her own. She writes in her diary that she likes Arun. At some point in the film, Arun shows her a scene of Vidya Sinha from her movie Rajnigandha. Durga adopts Vidya Sinha's name as her own to escape from the Dewans. Released in 1974 and directed by Basu Chatterjee, Rajnigandha is about Deepa, played by Vidya Sinha, who is conflicted between choosing her fiancĂ© and her old boyfriend. The important thing about the film is that it is about whom Deepa chooses. She is not dependent on anyone and makes her decision on what she feels. It was a film that advocated a woman's choice. In addition, Rajanigandha was one of the few films, at that time, that showed an ordinary middle-class woman going out for work. As Trisha Gupta writes, "Vidya Sinha made her office-going seem so natural that I have never really paused earlier to think about how remarkable it actually was. In Bombay cinema, too, the office-going women of ’70s films, from Vidya Sinha in Chatterjee’s own Rajnigandha (1974), to Zarina Wahab in Gharonda (1977), or Ranjeeta in Pati Patni Aur Woh (1978), were still a huge exception." It is in this context that Rajnigandha and Vidya Sinha are portrayed in Kahaani 2. Durga, too, has a normal office job and works as a receptionist in a school. Later, she finds a job in another office in Kolkata. Also, Durga, like Vidya Sinha's character Deepa, has to make a decision between two choices. She says, "Mujhe kisi ek ko chunana tha, aur maine Minnie ko chuna." She could have gone away to London, but she chose to stay with Minnie. She makes this decision completely of her own volition. The film shows some other aspects of a woman's choice. Kahaani 2 showed the women leading the charge in having sex. It is Durga who calls Arun to her place where they have sex. Also, it is Rashmi, Inderjeet's wife, who subtly hints to her husband for having sex. It is important to point another detail. At an early stage in the film, Inderjeet visits Vidya's house and goes through her stuff. What was particularly striking was that we could clearly see the sanitary pads in the drawer. It is an exception to see a sanitary napkin in a Hindi film, where it is still considered a taboo to talk about them. But the film does not shy away from showing these; the same scene is shown in the trailer, too. Thus, all the above points are relevant as the film tries to portray the daily life of a woman, dealing with unusual circumstances. 
In 1983, a nine-year-old kid singing Lakdi Ki Kaathi in a film called Masoom won everyone's hearts. The kid, named Rahul, was played by Jugal Hansraj. In Kahaani 2, the same Jugal Hansraj plays a creepy man Mohit Dewan who sexually abuses his niece. In casting him, the film tries to play with the audience and makes a chilling statement that someone who looks masoom can turn out to be an evil monster. In fact, at quite a few times, the film shows how people condone crimes based on appearances (shakal dekhe ke lagta hai). Child sexual abuse studies have shown that in a significantly high percentage of cases, the abuser is usually a family member or someone known to the child. There is a particularly chilling scene where Mohit makes an origami item in front of Durga, as if this crushing and manipulation of paper are what he does this to his victims, too. The film portrays child abuse in a sensitive manner, and in a way, is educating the viewer. It is important to become a child's friend, then, only she can be free to talk. It is not a good idea to impose one's choices on children, and it is better that they make their own choices. It is in patterns that children bring out their issues, and it is important to have a conversation with them about somebody touching their private parts. It is also necessary for parents to not trust anyone blindly. For instance, at a particular stage, Inderjeet kept looking at the man who used to take his daughter to school, and the man started avoiding looking into Inderjeet's eyes, as if he has a guilty conscience. Perhaps, that man was hiding something. 

Kahaani 2 gives a little quirkiness to all its characters, ranging from the hospital patient to the criminal making fake passports. Early in the film, there is a disheveled man who collects plastic waste, and we see he holds a bottle of toilet cleaner. He will be the one who will have Vidya's phone. The creepy Mohit likes to make origami items. The serial killer uses a blade to murder people. Inderjeet's wife, Rashmi, does some superstitious trick before her husband leaves the house. The board carrying the name of the clinic where Vidya is admitted is always flickering. This occurs another time when Mohit has kidnapped Minnie, and the bulb starts flickering. In addition to this quirkiness, Kahaani 2 uses old Hindi and Bengali songs throughout the film. In the first scene of the film, Yeh Raatein Nayi Purani from Julie can be heard, as if like Julie, Kahaani 2 is about an unwed single mother. At some other point, Aya Sanam Aya Deewana Tera from Bade Dil Wala can be heard when Inderjeet is riding a bike to find someone. At another stage, Chhoti Si Kahaani Se from Ijaazat plays when Rashmi is asking Inderjeet about his ex-wife, something that happened in Ijaazat, too. There are a lot of other songs, including some in Bengali. Some of them appear to have a specific context, while others give something to think about its purpose.
Kahaani 2 has a terrific first-half, where it builds a fantastic thriller narrative, with a brilliant performance by Vidya Balan. However, I was left a little underwhelmed about its ending, as it became quite predictable. There is a running gag in the film where Inderjeet is often mocked for trusting his gut feeling. He did not get a promotion because he believed in it. He always believed in it. Eventually, his gut feeling turned out to be true. I kept thinking if that was also what the film trying to do with us—to trust our gut feeling, which we are hesitant to do so. After all, our gut feeling about the suspense came about to be true. Perhaps, in life, too, we should learn to go with gut feeling, sometimes, if not always. 

Dialogue of the Day
"Koi apni Diary me jhoot kyu likhega."
—Inderjeet, Kahaani 2

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dola Re Dola—Of Radha and Meera

Dola Re Dola from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas is one of my favorite cinematic moments from Hindi films. Set in the early 1900s, Devdas is the story of Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan). His wealthy family prohibits him from marrying his childhood love Paro (Aishwarya Rai). An embittered Devdas embraces alcoholism and meets a courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) who falls for him. The film is the story of these three characters, and is based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel Devdas. The song Dola Re Dola is picturized on Paro and Chandramukhi. In the novel, there is no mention of any meeting taking place between Paro and Chandramukhi. However, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas not only has a meeting between the two, but it extends this meeting to a full-fledged celebratory dance on the occasion of Durga Puja. Purists have questioned this aspect but, to me, the song is, fantastically, subversive as it tries to question the social hierarchies of that time. 

Before the song, Paro visits Chandramukhi and asks for mitti (soil) from her place for creating Durga's idol. It is believed that those who visit prostitutes leave their purity and virtues outside the house of the prostitutes, thereby, making the soil outside the prostitute's house pure and virtuous. This soil is used for creating Durga's idol. Paro also invites Chandramukhi to her place for Durga Puja. When Chandramukhi arrives, she introduces Chandramukhi as her friend in front of her mother-in-law. Paro convinces Chandramukhi to dance with her so that they can forget their heartache for some time. Thereafter, the song begins. In the song, Paro and Chandramukhi are dressed identically together in a red-and-white saree, and adorn a lot of jewelry. This uniformity in their dressing reflected the shared love they have for the same man i.e. Devdas. And, in this uniformity lies the song's subversiveness. It treats Paro and Chandramukhi as equals with the same stature. The two women dance together not in private, but in front of the society, underscoring their equal standing. Paro is married to a zamindar, and is the thakurain, a feudal term derived from Thakur which means a master, and represented the upper class of people. Chandramukhi is the tawaif, a courtesan who was shunned by all, and has no respect in the eyes of the society. In this context, the film treats the two of them as equals, and they are bound by the love for the same man. They sing, "Lag jaane do najariya, gir jaane do bijuriya." Let everyone stare at them, let the lightning fall. Paro and Chandramukhi are well aware of what they are doing. They know that they are disrupting societal norms. Even if the heavens strike, they do not care, because they want to dance for the man they love, and love sees no class barriers. 

A few moments later, Chandramukhi says, "Baandh ke main ghungroo," and Paro continues, "Pehen ke main payal." It is here again the film brings out the difference and the similarity in Paro and Chandramukhi by the kind of jewelry they wear. Chandramukhi sits on the floor, and shows her ghungroo, while Paro remains standing and bends to show her payal. A payal is usually associated with a woman's beauty and grace. Ghunghroo have been traditionally worn by classical dancers for centuries; however, it gained the reputation of adorning the feet of courtesans through Indian cinema, in movies, such as Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah and Mughal-E-Azam. Here, Paro, the upper class woman, wears a payal, and Chandramukhi, the courtesan, wears a ghunghroo. Thus, in Dola Re Dola, the two women sing about the jewelry they wear, based on their societal status, and despite these differences, the jewelry they wear is for the same purpose of dancing for the man they madly love. 
There could also be a religious subtext to payal and ghunghroo. In many Hindu texts, it is mentioned that Krishna's lover Radha used to wear flower anklets, and during Raas-Leela, the sound of anklets was heard. On the other hand, Krishna's devotee Meera used to sing bhajans in his name with ghungroo on her feet; also popularized by the song Ke Pag Ghungroo Band Meera Nachi Thi from Namak Halaal. Earlier in Devdas, we see the song Morey Piya, in which the dance of Paro and Devdas represents the raas-leela between Radha and Krishna. Jamuna ke teer baaje mridang, kare Krishna raas Radha ke sang. On the banks of the river Yamuna, the drums are beating, and Krishna does raas with Radha. Paro and Devdas are Radha and Krishna. In the song, too, we see Paro, as Radha, wearing a payal. At a later stage, Paro visits Chandramukhi, and she sees Krishna's idol in her house. Chandramukhi says to her that she worships Dev. Main toh sirf unki pooja karti hun. She tells Paro that for her, Dev is omnipresent, and if she sees through her eyes, she will find his essence in everything related to her. If Paro is Radha, who wore payal, Chandramukhi is the Meera who dances with ghungroo. Chandramukhi refuses to take ghunghroo from Kaali Babu, and refuses to dance for him. She waits for Dev to come because, like Meera, her ghungroo are for Dev. 
Payal and ghungroo have been a repeating motif in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films. His heroines usually wear payal. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, there is a point during Dhol Baaje, where Sameer picks up Nandini's payal. In Saawariya, in the last scene, Raj keeps Sakina's payal with him. In Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, the sounds of Leela's payal are present throughout the film. In Bajirao Mastani, Kashi wears payal, and Mastani wears ghunghroo when she dances in front of Bajirao. Like Chandramukhi, Mastani refuses to wear ghunghroo when asked to dance in front of others. Like peacocks, mirrors, fountains, top shots, and the weaving motif (link), this is another pattern that is a signature trope in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. He has often said that his favorite director is V. Shantaram, whose films also had a lot of dance and payal, and these include films, such as Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, and Geet Gaya Pattharonne
Further in Dola Re Dola, Paro and Chandramukhi continue their conversation. Paro sings, "Maathe ki bindiya mein voh hai," and Chandramukhi adds, "Palkon ki nindiya mein voh hai." Dev is in the bindi of Paro, and in the eyelashes (sleep and dreams) of Chandramukhi. It is here we notice that though Paro and Chandramukhi are dressed identically, the only difference between them is the red bindi that Paro has put, while Chandramukhi wears no bindi. I am not entirely sure why is that the case. Perhaps, it has to with a red bindi being one of the signs of a married woman. Since Paro is married, she wears a bindi, and as Chandramukhi is not, she does not wear it. In a beautiful moment later, Paro sings, "Haan maang me bhar lena sindoor." Paro gestures her hands from Chandramukhi's midline to her own midline as if putting sindoor (vermilion) on both of them. Here again, the film gives an equal footing to Chandramukhi by making her feel like a married woman for a few moments, which otherwise, her society did not allow her. Kya tawaif ko mohabbat karne ka adhikaar nahi hota. Paro does not distinguish between their love, even if the others do not recognize Chandramukhi's love. The sindoor she puts on Chadramukhi and on herself, again, represents the same man they both love.
Like the comparison between payal and ghungroo, there is another similar comparison in the song. Paro sings, "Choodi ki chhan chhan me hain," and Chandramukhi sings, "Kangan ki khan khan me hai." In some cultures, choodi and kangan represent different context. Sometimes, kangans are associated with married woman. In moments before Dola Re Dola begins, Paro gives Chandramukhi the kangans that Dev had given her. These kangans were given by Dev's grandmother to Dev so that he can give it to her bahu. In doing so, Paro gives Chandramukhi the rights of Dev's bahu. This comparison of choori and kangan again emphasizes the difference between Paro and Chandramukhi but ultimately their similarity in loving the same man. 
In Bajirao Mastani, there is a similar treatment like Dola Re Dola. In the song Pinga, it is the two wives of Bajirao, Kashibai and Mastani, who dance together. Kashibai and Mastani are dressed in a traditional Marathi silk saree, with a traditional necklace, a khopa hairdo and green bangles. Both of them share the love for Bajirao. At one point, they sing, "Jo peer meri hai so peer teri hai." What I worship, you worship it, too. Like the sindoor in Dola Re Dola, they sing, "Are dono ki maang laage, sooni aadhi, aadhi laal."

Dola Re Dola is, thus, subversive in many ways. A married woman dances for the man she is in love with, but that man is not her husband. A tawaif dances also dances for the man she is in love with, even though the society does not give her the right to love any man. Dola Re Dola also becomes a song in which both Radha and Meera dance together for their Krishna. The song might not be what the author of the novel would have thought about. But that's the beauty of cinema. It provides everyone an opportunity to reimagine and reinterpret stories in their own way, and in the process, it pushes boundaries, and creates pure art that touches us all.  

Other Reading:-
1. On Bajirao Mastani (link)
2. On the weaving motif in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films (link)
3. On Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram-Leela (link)
4. On Black (link)
5. On Saawariya (link)
6. On Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (link)

Dialogue of the Day
"Jo shama mehfil sajati hai, kareeb jaane par woh jala bhi sakti hai."
—Chandramukhi, Devdas