Monday, November 21, 2022

The Fathers in Ranbir Kapoor's Filmography

Ranbir Kapoor has often spoken and written about his reverential and formal relationship with his father, Rishi Kapoor. In the foreword that he
wrote for his father’s biography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, he says, "I am closer to my mother. I feel that Dad modelled his relationship with me on the one he shared with his own father. And it is true that I have never crossed a certain line with him. But there is no sense of loss or vacuum here. I do wish sometimes that I could be friendlier with him or even spend more time with him." He also mentioned that he was scared of his father as a kid. However, he became closer to him during his father's last years when he was being treated for cancer.
Relationships with fathers, whether loving or fraught, are present across the breadth of Ranbir's filmography. These include the ones with both his real and reel fathers. There have been many films where Ranbir's relationship with Rishi Kapoor is mentioned. In Ranbir's debut film Saawariya, Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes it abundantly clear that Ranbir is related to his father and grandfather. Ranbir is named Raj after his grandfather Raj Kapoor. The bar in the film is named RK bar. Raj's cap is the awara cap, made famous by Raj Kapoor's Awara. At one point in the film, Raj says, "Main ek dum awara hun." When the song Saawariya in the film starts, Raj asks the audience, "Doston, kya aapne kabhi kisi se pyaar kiya, maine bhi kiya" referring to the memorable line of his dad, Rishi Kapoor, from the song Meri Umar Ke Naujawaon from Karz. Ranbir's second film, Siddharth Anand's Bachna Ae Haseeno, was titled after his father's famous song from Hum Kisise Kum Naheen. Ranbir also paid tribute to his father by recreating the song in the film. A few years later, Ranbir also worked with his parents in Abhinav Kashyap's Besharam.
Ranbir has also done many films where his character's relationship with his father is part of a major plotline. Ayan Mukerji has made three films with Ranbir, and in all three, there is a depiction of a father-son relationship. In Ayan's first film, Wake Up Sid, Ranbir plays Sid, a spoilt and directionless lad living off his parents' wealth. He has no aim in life. His father, Ram Mehra (Anupam Kher), wants his son to join their business of bathroom furnishings. He tries to bribe Sid with a Porsche if he comes to the office for a month. However, Sid does not last more than a week as he has no interest in joining Flower Showers. After failing his college exams, Sid fights with his father and moves out of his house. He moves in with his friend Aisha (Konkona Sensharma) and finds a calling to become a photographer. When he finds a job at a magazine, he meets his father. Sid realizes that he got this skill from his father, who was also a photographer once. His father told him that his purpose in taking photography was to click his son's pictures. Once Sid grew up, he stopped. His father is happy about his achievement and advises him to put his heart into whatever he decides to do. Sid gifts his first paycheck and reconciles with his father. Sid finally wakes up.
Perhaps, the most wonderful of the relationships between a father and a son is depicted in Ayan's Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Ranbir plays Kabir, also called Bunny, a wanderlust-afflicted young man who wants to travel the world. His father, Sanjay Thapar, played with absolute charm by Farooq Sheikh, does everything for him. There is a touch of rebellion, with an equal amount of love and concern between the two. On one side is Bunny, who wants to live independently and on his own terms, but at the same time, he does not want his father to worry for him and does not want to disrespect him. On the other side is his father. He wants Bunny to live his life fully, but at the same time, he worries for him a lot. He wants Bunny to do whatever he wants, but at the same time, he silently cries because he does not wish Kabir to leave him and go to Chicago. It is portrayed so beautifully because, in some ways, relationships with parents are—complex, awkward, and loving. Bunny gets to live his wish, but he gets so engrossed in his life that he misses the news of his father's death and does not come to his funeral. But his stepmom tells him that he gave his father the most happiness, so he should be proud of it. "Kyunki tumne kabhi khwaabon ka peecha nahi chhoda, apni zindagi apni marzi se jee, woh jaante the apni marzi se jeene ki keemat kya hoti hai."
In Ayan's most recent magnum opus, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva, Ranbir plays Shiva, a disc jockey living in Mumbai. He soon discovers that he can control fire and is related to the secret society of guardians responsible for protecting the greatest astra in the universe—the Brahmastra. The film is based on the theme that love conquers all. Shiva's mother, Amrita, had died protecting him when he was a young child. He does not know much about his father, as he disappeared before his birth. He calls him Mr. India. Shiva then finds out that his father was named Dev, who went rogue and was trying to get the Brahmastra for himself to become powerful. The first part ends with Dev getting a new lease of life, and the second part is likely to be a conflict between the father and the son duo, fighting the good and the evil battle.
Anurag Basu's Barfi! had another charming portrayal of father and son. Ranbir played the titular role of Barfi, a deaf and mute boy living in Darjeeling. His mother died during childbirth, after which his father, Jungbahadur Johnson (Akash Khurana), brought him up. He has a close relationship with his father, as they sometimes sleep hugging each other. Barfi often troubled his father with his tricks, asking for money. There is a heartbreaking scene where his father suffers a cardiac arrest and calls for help. However, Barfi is unable to hear him. The money needed for his father's treatment forces him to loot a bank and kidnap Jhilmil (Priyanka Chopra). Ultimately, it proved futile as his father passed away. 
Father and son appear again in Anurag Basu's delightful Jagga Jasoos, where Ranbir plays a young detective Jagga. Jagga was adopted by Badal Bagchi (Saswata Chatterjee) when he was a kid. Badal, whom Jagga also refers to as Tutti-Futti, disappeared after admitting his son into a boarding school. Jagga's only contact with Badal is a videotape he receives yearly on his birthday. Jagga then decides to find his father and ultimately reaches the mythical land of Shundi, where he is united with his father. The relationship between the father and the son is close like it was in Barfi!.
Ranbir has another lovely relationship not with his father but with his grandfather in Shimit Amin's little gem, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, where he plays Harpreet Singh Bedi, a budding salesman working for a computer company. He lives with his grandfather P.S. Bedi (Prem Chopra). They share a sweet relationship where his grandfather raised Harpreet all by himself. He wants Harpeet to do well in life, so much so that he even breaks his savings to gift him a scooter. When Harpreet's scam of establishing a company-in-a-company is revealed, his grandfather admonishes him for acting like a thief. Harpreet responds that it was because he did not teach him how to do a thief's work; if he'd taught him, he wouldn't have become a thief. It shows how important an upbringing affects a person's actions.
In Siddharth Anand's Anjaana Anjaani, Ranbir played Akash, a Wall Street investment banker dealing with depression after suffering huge losses during the 2008 financial crisis. He decides to take his life. He meets Kiara (Priyanka Chopra), who is also suicidal, after discovering that her fiancé cheated on her. After going on a road trip, they both come out of this depressive phase. Akash finally calls his father and speaks to him after years. In Prakash Jha's Rajneeti, Ranbir plays Samar, the son of a politician Chandra Pratap (Chetan Pandit). He is pursuing is Ph.D. in English literature in the US and comes to visit his family. Unlike his brother and father, Samar is not much interested in politics. However, his father loves him even if he does not have enough time to talk to his son. There is a scene where his father accompanies him to the airport. Before he leaves, he says he does not know when he will see them again. And, like in other films, Samar and his father share a hug. His father's prophecy turns out to be true, and he is shot dead by a rival. Samar returns to support his family and avenge his father's death, eventually becoming Arjun of the Mahabharata.
Ranbir portrayed actor Sanjay Dutt in Rajkumar Hirani's hagiography Sanju. The film deals with Dutt's relationship with his parents—Nargis (Manisha Koirala) and Sunil (Paresh Rawal), his drug addiction, and his arrest for illegally possessing firearms. In this film, the father-son relationship also forms the film's core. Sunil is his protector, saving Sanju from many crises. The film also recreates the Jadoo Ki Jhappi moment from Hirani's Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., where Sanju and Sunil hug each other. Sanju comments that even after the director spoke cut, the two of them did not let go of each other for a few more moments. Sunil passes away before hearing a speech that Sanjay wrote for him. Towards the end, Sanjay tells his children not to be like him but like Sunil. His life was struggling, but Sunil made him a great actor.
In Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha, Ranbir plays Ved, a storyteller hiding under the garb of a corporate product manager. He took the conventional path of studying engineering as his father, Brij Mohan Sahni (Javed Sheikh), reminded him of his duty to make a life for himself. Ved could not clear the engineering entrance exams, and his father had to give a donation for his admission. Ved then joins the corporate rat race. However, Tara (Deepika Padukone) makes him realize that he is losing his excellence while working in a job where he feels stuck. Ved undergoes a mental and emotional breakdown and eventually gets the courage to tell his father that he is happy being a storyteller. He will choose the end of his hero's story and not live a life running in the rat race. Beacuse it is his story; apni kahani hai, ending change kar lenge.
Karan Malhotra's Shamshera is yet another father-son story where Ranbir plays a double role of father and son. The film is the story of Shamshera (Ranbir Kapoor), the leader of Khameran tribe, set in the nineteenth century. Shamshera is trapped in a fraudulent peace-keeping deal by the British officers, leaving him and his clan in a state of oppression. He is eventually killed and branded as a traitor while trying to escape captivity. Shamshera dies just before his son Balli (Ranbir Kapoor) is born. Balli has no fondness for his father, even though he has a striking resemblance with him. In fact, Balli wanted to join the police, supporting the same force that kept his tribe oppressed. However, as the truth about Shamshera's goodness is revealed, Balli takes up the leadership of the tribe and finishes his father's task of obtaining freedom for the Khamerans. Shamshera again depicts the central role of the father in a Ranbir film.
Thus, we see that in more than a dozen films of Ranbir, fathers play a pivotal film. And, he often aces with them with aplomb. Perhaps, it has something to do with his own lived-in experience. A few days ago came the news that Ranbir had become the father of a little girl. It will be worthwhile to see him in the role of a real father and, hopefully, a reel father on the other side.

Other Reading:
1. On Yeh Jawaani Hai DeewaniLink
2. On TamashaLink
3. On Jagga JasoosLink
4. On SaawariyaLink
5. On RockstarLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Apni kahani hai, ending change kar lenge."
—Ved, Tamasha

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Laal Singh Chaddha—An Ode to Stories

Arundhati Roy opens her book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness with the lines:
"How to tell a shattered story?
By slowly becoming everybody.
No. By slowly becoming everything."
Advait Chandan's Laal Singh Chaddha tries to tell a shattered story by slowly becoming everything. The film is based on Robert Zemeckis's Forrest Gump and has been adapted to an Indian context by Atul Kulkarni. It stars Aamir Khan as the eponymous Laal Singh Chaddha and tells his personal story juxtaposed with the story of contemporary political India. Laal's story, like other stories, is filled with characters. His mother Mrs. Chaddha (Mona Singh), his childhood friend Rupa D'souza (Kareena Kapoor), and his other friends, Bala (Naga Chaitanya) and Mohammad Paaji (Manav Vij), are the pivotal people who shape the narrative of his life.
Laal Singh Chaddha is an ode to stories and storytelling. There are various levels of storytelling in the film. First, there is the story of Laal. In the film's initial moments, a lady comes and sits opposite Laal on the train. He tries to be friendly with her, but she remains busy with her cell phone. He introduces himself and offers her gol gappe. He then makes some weird sounds. She is a bit annoyed by him and looks around. No one else seems to be bothered. He then compliments her shoes and begins sharing his story. He talks about everything from his childhood to adulthood. The film keeps moving between the past and the present throughout its narrative, giving us glimpses of Laal's life. And whenever it comes back to the present, more fellow passengers gather around him, listening to the twists and turns in his story. Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote, "Main akela hi chala tha jaanab-e-manzil magar, log saath aate gaye aur kaaravaan banta gaya." I set off alone toward my goal, but people came along, and it began to turn into a caravan. This couplet perfectly describes the story of Laal's journey, both on the train and in his life. He keeps meeting more people as he chugs along in life, like how more people start gathering around him on the train. He starts with his mother, finds friendship and love in Rupa, and then further cements close bonds with Bala and Mohammad Paaji. Like the fellow passengers on the train, these people leave him at different points, getting down at their stop until Laal reaches the station where it is time for him to leave them. It is then entirely befitting that the film is set on a train. The journey of the train mimics the journey of his life. The same phenomenon is again observed when he starts running in the end. He starts alone, but then other people start running together with him. He says initially, a single man started running with him, then a few people joined him, then a few more joined him, much like the people in his life. 
Intertwined with the story of Laal Singh Chaddha is the story of India itself. While talking about his story, Laal narrates the pivotal moments in the story of India. Epochal events, such as the Emergency, the Operation Blue Star, the anti-Sikh riots, the Mandal protests, the Rath Yatra, the Kargil War, the India Against Corruption movement, and the rise of Narendra Modi—all make an appearance. The conspicuous absence of the Gujarat riots is also a story of present-day India. Laal is personally impacted by some of these events. Like how his mother had to cut his hair to protect him from the mob. He personally impacted some of these events. Like how he taught Shah Rukh Khan his signature dance step. And he is only a bystander in some of these events. Like how he watches Lal Krishna Advani's rath yatra from the sidelines. The most engaging parts of the story are the ones where Laal plays a personal role in the story of political India. As they say, personal is political, and political is personal. The people that Laal meets are also a representation of Indians. Laal is a Sikh. He is in love with a half-Christian. His friend is a Hindu from the South. He saves the life of a Muslim. It is only befitting then his son is named Aman, meaning peace. Even the daily quote on the board in Laal's class in his school reads, "Unity in Diversity."
The third level of storytelling in Laal Singh Chaddha is how the story has been told. The film talks about the randomness of the stories of our lives; however, its own storytelling follows a well-crafted pattern. There are continuous throwbacks and flashbacks in its screenplay. There are recurring events at different stages of Laal's life. The same events keep occurring again and again. It is clear here that the storytellers of Laal Singh Chaddha have invested a lot of thought in writing his story.
  • Early in the film, a few young kids bully Laal while he is playing with Rupa. She then asks him to run away from them. "Bhaag Laal Bhaag," she tells him. Laal sprints across the field; magically, his paraplegic legs gain strength. He does not need the leg supporters anymore. In college, a similar scene happens when college kids chase him in their car while Laal runs as fast as he can. When he is at war in Kargil, his friend Bala asks Laal to run for his life, and he starts running. Years later, an injured Laal visits Delhi after his stint in the army. During a chance encounter, he sees Rupa in a car and runs after her, and as it happened earlier, his leg gains strength, and he does not need a crutch anymore.
  • When Laal joins the school, the other students don't accept him easily. He looks for a seat in the class, but the kids refuse to let him sit next to them. Then he sees Rupa, who offers the seat next to her, beginning their lifelong friendship. A similar situation occurs again when Laal joins the army. He travels via bus, and other cadets refuse to offer him a seat. It is only Bala who offers the seat next to him and thereby begins a lifelong friendship, replicating the scene from school.
  • Rupa used to love having gol gappes. When they are in college, she asks Laal to bring some for her, which he does. However, she is annoyed that he did not get the spicy water in a separate tumbler. In the film's opening moments, Laal eats a few gol gappas and puts spicy water in them from a bottle. It all makes sense because Laal was going on a journey to meet Rupa. He brought gol gappas for her and remembered to carry the water separately this time. The film again brings in a throwback element.
  • When Rupa and Laal are in school, they sit together for a class photograph. All the children face the camera. Laal, however, has his eyes only on Rupa. Later, the exact moment is recreated when Laal and Rupa spend a night out roaming the streets of Delhi. When a photograph is clicked, his eyes are only focused on Rupa.
  • In college, Rupa starts seeing other men. One of them tries to be forcefully physical with her, even though she is not comfortable. Laal is furious at seeing her discomfort. He comes charging at the guy and hits him. The same scene is repeated at least twice again. After Rupa moves to Bombay, she is charged in a case for indecent exposure. A few men protest against her. Laal assaults one of the men shouting slogans against Rupa. A few years later, after taking his leave from the army, Laal lands in Delhi. He sees Rupa, follows her car, and sees the gangster Abbas Haaji (Harry Parmar) slapping her in front of people. Laal again charges at the man where he beats him blue, reminiscent of the earlier moment from the college.
  • When they were kids, Laal called Rupa a magician as she did a magic trick where she caught a plane from the sky and put it in her hands. This plane also keeps appearing in the film repeatedly as a reminder of the magical moment. When they are in Bombay, a plane flies by, reminding them of their magical moment from childhood. And it is this magical moment that actually saves Rupa's life. After facing a barrage of abuse from her shady lover, Rupa decides to take her life by jumping from a high-rise hotel in Dubai. However, a plane passes by at that moment, reminding her of Laal. She remembers his words and decides not to end her life.
  • The question of marriage is another recurring plot in Laal Singh Chaddha. Since childhood, Laal keeps asking Rupa to marry him. "Mere saath vyaah karegi tu?" he asks her while they sit outside looking at the sky when they were kids. Rupa does not answer, and the fireworks go off. The scene is repeated when they grow up into adults, but each time, she refuses or remains non-committal. It is only near the end, when they are together, that it pops up again, but this time, it is Rupa who asks Laal to marry her. The scene is also designed similarly, where they always sit together in the same pose.
  • Laal and his mother get stuck in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Laal's mother cuts his hair to protect him from the mob. She prays to Guru Nanak and apologizes for taking the step. Laal grows up as an atheist. When he is in the army, Laal sees a man tying his turban. The same scene is repeated in the end when Laal embraces the turban, and Ik Onkaar plays in the background. The moving scene closes the earlier one where his hair is cut by his mother.
  • The stories of the great-grandfathers of Laal and Bala follow the same template. They are shown similarly. Laal's grandfathers' stories are related to war, while Bala's grandfathers' stories are related to the innerwear business.
  • The tree outside Laal's house becomes another motif in the life of Laal and Rupa. It was the place where they met as kids. After they got married, they played with their son under the same tree. Rupa is also buried under the same tree after her death.
  • When riots break out in the country, Laal's mother tells him that malaria has spread, which becomes another recurring theme of the film.
  • The feelings for the people Laal met in his life also had a similar structure. For instance, at one point, he says that after his mother, Rupa, and Bala, he also started missing Mohammad Paaji. When Rupa goes away, he writes letters to her. When Mohammad Paaji leaves, he says he will write letters to him. These people also keep leaving him. Bala dies in the war; his mother departs the world; Rupa leaves for heaven; Mohammad Paaji goes back to his country.
Thus, we see there is a discernible pattern in the storytelling of Laal Singh Chaddha. I do not remember much of Forrest Gump, so, likely, these were also present in that film. Laal Singh Chaddha further adds more elements related to stories. At one stage, an old lady, played by the lovely Kamini Kaushal, tells Laal he is a wonderful storyteller. "Badi dilchasp kahani hai tumhari, beta, aur tum sunate bhi kitna accha ho." The film's most poignant scene also talks about the stories of our lives. After Rupa's death, Laal visits her grave at the burial site and talks to her about stories. He says that his mother told him everything in life is pre-destined and written from before, although he does not know who wrote it. He wonders if the things that happen to us are under our control or if we are just drifting along. Perhaps, it is a bit of both, he concludes. Even the song Kahani mentions a similar feeling. Kya pata hum mein hai kahani, ya hai kahani me hum. Are we the story, or is the story in us? Stories are everywhere in Laal Singh Chaddha.
The film starts beautifully. It loses track in the middle. The events related to the Kargil War and the Mohammad Paaji do not really work. Aamir Khan also does a lot of over-the-top acting in the middle, though he redeems himself slightly in the end. The last forty minutes are simply beautiful. A toned-down Aamir makes these moments memorable. However, it is Kareena Kapoor as Rupa who carries the film. She, like always, is terrific, especially in the emotional scenes. Mona Singh as Laal's mother is wonderful. A special mention to Ahmad Ibn Umar, who plays the young Laal with so much grace that one cannot help but fall in love with him.
Advait Chandan, who made his debut with Secret Superstar, shows strength in scenes with the kids. In his first film, there was Chintan (Tirth Sharma), a faithful ally of Insia (Zaira Wasim), who kept all her secrets and literally helped her cross all the barriers (such as the locked gate) on her path to success. There is a beautiful moment when Insia writes her email password in his hands. He blushed because she chose his name as her password. In Laal Singh Chaddha, when asked to solve a puzzle, Laal writes Rupa as the answer to all questions. It is one of the loveliest and cutest moments in the film.
The film has some gorgeous cinematography by Satyajit Pande. The best bits are the ones in Punjab. Music by Pritam and lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya are among the finest this year. I loved Kahani and Tur Kalleyan, which are simply beautiful though I was left a bit confused by some parts of the lyrics of Tur Kalleyan, which did not really suit the film's story. Tur Kalleyan appears in the end when Laal starts running. He then never stopped and went on a tour of India, covering its four corners. One day, he simply stops running and decides to go home. The run was a representation of the randomness in life. People assigned motives to his running, but he was simply moving along. Its lyrics talk about how we will meet people. Hai zindagi ke kisse kayi. Some people will stay with us for a long. Milte ho saare kisson me tum. But at the end of the day, life is a journey we traverse alone. Tur kalleyan. Walk alone. I felt the parts that did not fit the story were the ones where the song talks about letting go of the lover and setting them free.
The names of the film's principal characters also have a connection. Bala's family was into the underwear business. His grandparents used to make vests. Laal's last name is Chaddha which sounds similar to another term in Hindi that means underwear. At one point, even Bala refers to them as chaddi and baniyaan. Then, Laal decides to make Bala's dream of opening an innerwear business come true. He names it after Rupa, which is also the name of one of the largest knitwear brands in India.
Laal Singh Chaddha's most fascinating character for me is Rupa. She and Laal are like aloo and gobhi. Her initial years were spent in a household where her mother was a victim of domestic violence. She ultimately lost her mother, but her story shows how trauma can impact someone all their life. Years later, when she saw another woman facing domestic violence, it triggered her. Her trauma was also why she wanted to become rich and famous. She then took the wrong steps in her quest to fulfill her ambitions. Like Sona Mishra (Konkona Sensharma) from Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance and Mahi (Kareena Kapoor) from Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine, she becomes a consort of a small-time producer Abbas Hajji. She only got small parts in films, such as a background dancer in David Dhawan's Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. Ultimately, she becomes entangled in the underworld as Abbas becomes Dawood Ibrahim's henchman. Her story is inspired by Monica Bedi, the girlfriend of Abu Salem. Laal, however, never forgot her. He was there at every step to protect her. She remained with him even if she was not present physically with him. At one point, Laal prays to God to make Rupa richa. And, as they say, being in someone's prayers is the purest form of love. And, like Laal, Rupa was also running—running from her past. She traveled all over but ultimately realized her home was where she started, the one with Laal. There is a lovely moment when Rupa returns to Laal's life. They both live together for a few days and spend time dancing together. Laal remarks that he had not been happier in life and felt like a family together. He was the father, and she was the mother. It seemed to be a curious choice of words. He does not refer to them as lovers but as parents, which adds to his innocent ways of thinking about life. But it also gave a sign of their future role in the film when they actually become parents.
As Laal Singh Chaddha is inspired by stories, it concludes using another common storytelling device—the circular narrative—where it ends at the same place where the story originated. The film opens with a feather that goes through a journey, telling a story of its own. It traverses a meandering path and ultimately lands at Laal's feet. The same feather appears again in the film's concluding moments. It falls from Laal's diary and drifts again to a new destination. The story of the feather is the story of Laal Singh Chaddha. Like he told Rupa, "Jo bhi honda hai woh hum karde hai ya hava wich aiveyi ud de phir de hain"Life also comes full circle for Laal when he drops his own son at the same school he had studied and imparted the same message his mother gave him—to work harder than everyone else. Laal keeps hoping his son will also ask him to wait like he had asked his mother, but he does not. He, however, decides to sit on the bench, reminiscing about his Rupa and wondering about his story if yeh hatheli ki lakeeron mein, likhi saari hai, ya zindagi humare iraadon ki maari hai.

Trivia:
1. [Corrected] Ik Onkaar from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Rang De Basanti is used in Laal Singh Chaddha
2. I once received a message on Twitter from Advait Chandan. :)
Dialogue of the Day:
"Maa kehti thi zindagi golgappe ki tarah hoti hai, pet bhale bharjawe, mann nahi bharta."
—Laal, Laal Singh Chaddha