Saturday, June 28, 2014

2 States: Much more than the literal 'states'

In her book First Day First Show, Anupama Chopra had written a deeply insightful essay on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ). The essay is such a great piece of writing that every few months I try to read it. One part of the essay focuses on the moral twist in the film. She says, "Rebellion is part of Bollywood's formula for cinematic romance. Every decade has a defining love story in which the lovers confront their parents (Mughal-E-Azam, Bobby, Love Story, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Dil). In DDLJ, Raj's dissent is unique. He rebels by refusing to do so. In a poignant scene, Lajjo gives Simran her jewelery — the only thing she owns — and tells them to leave. But Raj refuses. There are always two roads, he tells Lajjo, the right one and the wrong one. And though the wrong route is seductive in its ease, he will take the more difficult, correct path. Because, he says, he does not want to snatch or steal Simran. He wants to marry her with the approval of the family. He believes that their love will conquer all opposition."

While watching Abhishek Verman's 2 States, I was reminded of this passage all over again. It is the magic of DDLJ that almost twenty years after its release, it continues to inspire generation after generation of filmmakers. Last year's two biggest hits — Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express were inspired from DDLJ. This year, 2 States has taken that place and going by the trailers, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya also appears to be taking some references from DDLJ. Since time immemorial, parental opposition has been a popular theme in our movies. In 2001, Farhan Akhtar's cult Dil Chahta Hai redefined cinema for some of us. In that film, the role of parents became secondary to the main characters. Does anyone remember any significant role of the parents in that movie except maybe Sid's mom? After Dil Chahta Hai, the role of parents in films became marginally less; however, parental opposition to love continued to be a popular theme in our films. 2 States, based on Chetan Bhagat's book of the same name, is essentially the story of Krish (Arjun Kapoor) and Ananya (Aliya Bhatt) and how they overcome parental opposition to their relationship. The reason I talked about DDLJ is that like Raj, Krish and Ananya also refuse to elope which they could have done easily. Instead, both of them work together to get the blessings of their parents. So, not only does Krish go to Ananya's place to win over her family, but Ananya also comes to Krish's house to win his mother's heart because as at one point, when Krish says to Ananya, "Hum pyaar karte hai ek doosre se, kafi nahi hai?" and she replies, "Kabhi nahi hota". Love is not enough because bhaag jane me koi izzat nahi hoti.

The film's opening credits show us cultural contrasts between two different states from India. One scene shows us India Gate in Delhi, while the contrasting picture shows us a temple from Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The next picture shows Howrah Bridge from West Bengal, contrasting with a picture of the backwaters in Kerala. Of course, this was reference to the theme of the movie that involves lovers from two different families belonging to two different states in India. 

I also felt that '2 States' had a much deeper meaning. The two states are the two contrasting themes — modernity and tradition, or contemporary and classic. The film beautifully makes a statement on the balance between these two themes. We have Anaya and Krish who are modern that is in line with the times. They do not hesitate to have and talk about sex openly. They do what they want to do. Ananya will eat chicken and drink beer even if her Tamil Brahmin family practices abstinence. She has come to study MBA and not go for singing which her mother wants her to do. Krish will write Chennai in his placement form as his first place of choice, going against his mother's wishes. He will stand for his mother and would even go to the extent of slapping his father, forgetting all conventional notions of parental respect. But at the same time, both of them are not rebellious. They still crave for the traditional parental approval for their relationship. They know their limits and boundaries and would follow the family traditions. Ananya would not refuse to meet the American engineer when her parents ask her to meet him even if she knows that it is a sheer waste of time. Likewise, Krish would placate his mother and would lie as well, even when he knows she is completely wrong. Both of them meticulously balance this conflict between these two themes. Ananya will not only tell Krish to do something for her family, but she will also manage the expectations of her father and tell him to be good to Krish as he has come all the way from Delhi. They would hesitate to kiss each other in the street outside her place but would not mind taking off their clothes in front of the servant at Krish's place. The two states of modernity and tradition are present throughout the film. Ananya's mom, Radha, wanted to learn classical carnatic music but she was not good at it. In a lovely scene, she sings a medley of contemporary songs splendidly. Again, this refers to the 2 States of contemporary and classic in line with the film's theme. Also, I found it very interesting that Krish chose a typewriter to write his stories but he uses laptops and is very good at power point presentation references to tradition and modernity. In fact, at one point in the film, Krish has Rabindranath Tagore's The Home and the World, which Wikipedia tells us that,  'the book illustrates the battle Tagore had with himself, between the ideas of Western culture and revolution against the Western culture. These two ideas are portrayed in two of the main characters, Nikhil, who is rational and opposes violence, and Sandip, who will let nothing stand in his way from reaching his goals. These two opposing ideals are very important in understanding the history of the Bengali region and its contemporary problems.' Just like the film's 2 States. Even Ananya's room had a contemporary look but also had a poster of Padmapani from Ajanta caves (and a stereo!) as if balancing the old and the new.

At one point in the film, Krish says, "Story me hero ho na ho, story hero honi chahiye". He wants to write simple stories on people like us. He does not want to teach and preach anything to anyone, only wants to write good stories. This, too, is in line with the kind of books in his room. The wall in his room has covers of JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird books not exactly famous for their literary value but about their popularity. I do not understand the fuss about The Catcher in the Rye which I found a very mediocre book. There is a cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, too. Later, Ananya says to Krish that he can write tragic stories as tragedy is the new cool and it would make the critics happy, bringing another aspect of the two states — popular acclaim or critical acclaim — in the film's narrative, especially given Chetan Bhagat's books are hated by the critics. 

One of my favorite sequences in the film was the one involving Duke and Minti's wedding. Not only is it such a fantastic scene that lambastes the concept of dowry but it is also a terrifically executed scene. Notice the sequence of songs being played in the background in the party. When Ananya and Krish are talking to each other, Dil Mangta Hai Tu Aaja Soniye plays. A few seconds later, when Duke's family is asking for dowry, Thug Le plays. When Ananya has a drink and she goes to find out about the matter, the song Chikni Chameli Paua Chada Ke Aayi plays. A few seconds later, when she says she will solve the problem, the song Desi Girl plays. When she walks to Duke, TV Pe Breaking News Hai Re Mera Ghaghra plays. When she asks Duke about his salary, the tune of the song Tera Zara Sa Bhi Dhola Jo Imaan, Tu Saala Kaam Se Gaya starts playing. Each song in this sequence perfectly fits with the situation itself. This was a very thoughtful sequence. This reminded me of Shudh Desi Romance which had brilliantly put in songs at different points in the film in a similar way. Only if the audience listened carefully, then they would realize how perfectly the song fit the situation there as well.   

There were some references to some popular films as well.

Wake Up Sid

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

Jodhaa Akbar

I also felt that Krish writes his story when he is depressed. It was as if Rockstar was playing all over again — toote hue dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai. Also, the typewriter felt very Moulin Rouge. The plot involving Rashmi and Krish was clearly taken from Chetan's another novel — Five Point Someone.

Last week, I visited a museum that had Hollywood costumes from famous films. It was such a fine exhibit that showed how much detail goes into matching the costume with the character in the film. One exhibit was from Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth which showed that the Queen's dress had a protruding (if one has seen the costume, it is quite obvious and is visible in the film's poster as well) that was symbolically referring to the fact that she is aloof from her subjects and they cannot come closer to her. Similarly, there were many such detailed snippets on why a particular costume was designed. As is obvious, this is my favorite thing — to find something hidden in our movies. The exhibition taught me many things and these days, I am trying to focus on understanding some new aspects of films, which I have ignored, for instance character placement. For example, in the scene where Krish comes to meet Ananya, she is not facing him and is looking forward while he is looking at her as he wants to solve the issue. In the song Chandaniya, Krish is standing at crossroads like he is standing at crossroads in his own life. Ananya works on a campaing for Sunsilk where she says, "She is an optimist, she has her dreams, but she is not afraid to write her own life story" — like Ananya herself.

There is so much detailing that goes in films that I, sometimes, wonder on the whole complexity of the process. I really want to go and work for films someday. For instance, notice Ronit Roy's role. He was shown to be a failed man and later, he opens a security firm. Contrast this with his own life, when he came in films, he was not successful. Of course, he is much successful now. In real life, he also owns a security firm like his character in the film. Amrita Singh who also had a failed marriage and is a typical Punjabi in real life as well. Revathi is just brilliant. The casting is so perfect that as I wrote in the post on Swades, that I began to wonder if it is life imitating art or art imitating life. 

My issue with the film was the length. It was too long and felt repetitive at many times. May be the director, like Ananya, needs to know the concept of marginal utility curve :)  I was fine with the stereotyping characters but in the beginning, when Ananya says she eats chicken despite being a Tamil Brahmin, I thought that they are going into an interesting territory. But I was mistaken. There has been a famous campaign going on about dismantling stereotypes. It would have been a nice story to see a film that breaks stereotypes. Also, I felt that at many places, scenes were left half-baked and not explained properly. Like what was the significance of the words Love, Dada on Krish's typewriter. Or did he really want to commit suicide or was it just a comical statement? If he was serious, then the film resolved it conveniently.

But still I liked the film. I do not know about critics but I found something very endearing about Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Arjun has a goofy charm about him and Alia is just amazing in the film. She brings grace and dignity to Ananya. There are some lovely moments in the film and it made me shed a tear or two. I loved the scene where Krish proposed Ananya in the middle of her interview. The scene where he proposed his entire family was also nice. The scenes between Krish and his father are beautifully handled. And, the song Chandaniya is slowly growing on me. 

Some other books:

Works of Frank Lloyd Wright

The Indian Epics Retold by R. K. Narayan 

2 States: The Story of my marriage by Chetan Bhagat

2 States is not perfect, but it is a decent watch. There is much to savor in the film and I really enjoyed it. I am really looking forward to Abhishek Verman's next film. 
More later.

Dialogue of the Day: 
"Agar life me sab kuch theek ho jaye, to life bahut boring ho jaati hai," 
— Krish, 2 States

"Kuch cheezein hamari life me nahi hoti."
Ananya, 2 States

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Isolation offered its own form of companionship...

It has been long since I wrote a general post at all. More than six months. It was a conscious decision. A lot has happened that I do not know where to begin. Started work again after a hiatus of two years. Writing this from an hotel in Phoenix. The week was very busy and very tiring and looks like it is going to be like this in the future as well. I really have nothing specific to write today and it looks like I might not be having time to write with the same frequency as I do. And, I have also noticed a decline in the readership of the blog as well, so it looks like I do not have my mojo anymore. People have stopped reading and movie analysis is not something people like to read. So, I might eventually stop writing it and maybe stop writing the blog as well because I know nothing else that I can write on. I started this blog thinking that I will share stuff but I guess I have nothing left in me to say anything anymore. Work has started and there is this feeling of everything new. Same laptop, same office communicator and like always, instant dislike towards some people. There is this funny thing too. I keep finding similarities in new people to the people I know, as if the mind is trying to find bring itself some comfort by finding something familiar. I lost two more 'friends' in the last six months. But it is fine. People move on. 

“Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night.”
— The Lowland

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Swades: Of Ice Dissolving In Its Own Water

Last week the news came that Ashutosh Gowariker confirmed Hrithik Roshan as the lead actor in his next film — Mohenjo Daro. I had been thinking to rewatch Swades for the last few weeks and this news pushed me to go ahead. Swades is a marvelous film. It is a film that can actually be called a cult classic — a film that did not do very well at the time of its release but over the years has developed a cult following among the movie-watching audience. One of the reasons that I have really started to like watching movies again is because it gives an opportunity to focus on the nuances of the film. Well, everybody knows the story of Swades but this time, I saw many interpretations of the movie.

Swades begins with a quote from Gandhi. It is also no coincidence that Shah Rukh's character is named Mohan, a name that is very similar to Gandhi's first name — Mohandas. Later, in one of the scenes in the bookshop, we see that Mohan's desk has the book 'Bapu Kuti: Journeys in Rediscovery of Gandhi' by Rajni Bakshi. A description of the book says, "A story of twelve individuals who search for the solutions to the many problems of modern India and these activists find themselves coming to the same conclusions as had Gandhi. In this collection, Rajni Bakshi explores the world and lives of these people who have turned their backs on lucrative professions to embark on a search for practical and humane ways of political and social transformation, rooted in the faith that new India with prosperity for all can be built on the strengths of cooperation and community." In another scene, we see that a lesson on Gandhi's most famous movement of independence — Quit India Movement — is being taught to children in the school. In addition, Mohan's views and philosophy mirror some of Gandhi's own beliefs, such as the one on girl's education. At one point Mohan gives a spiel to the villagers when he sees that they have become comfortable with living in darkness and then inspires them to do something themselves. This was, in fact, an enactment of Gandhi's most famous quote — Be the change you wish to see in the world. Swades is then Mohan's journey of the rediscovery of Gandhi and India. Even the costume designer of the film is Bhanu Athaiya who got an Oscar for Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. I was also thrilled to see some of the NCERT textbooks in that book scene. And we all know that any NCERT textbook begins by something that we all have seen but maybe we have stopped noticing it — Gandhi's Talisman.
Swades also fondly talks about an old-world charm that we seem to have lost. The shop where Mohan meets Gita is called Pathfinder. He is trying to not only find the path to Charanpur but also the path to giving direction to his own life. Earlier, we saw that in spite of getting everything at his workplace, he was not really happy there. Later, when he is driving to Charanpur, he takes a turn and meets a baba. The baba says that, "Shayad tum raasta bhatak gaye ho." Mohan responds by saying, "Nahi nahi, main to bataye hue raaste pe hi ja raha tha, shayad kahin koi mod galat le liya hoga." Then, baba replies, "Mod galat nahi hote, insaan galat hote hain." What was also worth noting was that when Mohan was driving, he was listening to old songs on the radio. The first one is Khoya Khoya Chand and the second one is Akela Hun Main Is Duniya Me. Interestingly, both of these songs featured Dev Anand and have been sung by Mohammad Rafi. As soon as Mohan takes a turn, the song on the radio plays the remix version of Mera Babu Chail Chabeela Main To Nachungi as if referring to the fact that we have lost that old-school love for music and taken a wrong turn towards remixes. It is such a brilliant detail that I couldn't help get amazed. Then, the song Yun Hi Chala Chal Rahi begins that talks about walking and enjoying the beauty of this wondrous world.
Man apne ko kuch aisa halka paye, 
Jaise kandhon pe rakha bojh hat jaye
Jaise bhola sa bachpan phir se aaye, 
Jaise barson me koi Ganga nahaye.
In a later scene, we see that the villagers gather around to watch a movie. The movie is Yaadon Ki Baaraat as if Swades is Mohan's yaadon ki baaraat  a procession of his memories of his old days of the yore, of a charming world. The plot of that movie is based on brothers separated by fate. This is as if Mohan is separated from his land of birth, his swades and like the earlier scenes with the baba, he seems to have lost his way, and now that he has finally come home. It is also shown that Mohan prefers to stay in a caravan. The caravan is full of all the amenities but it is only at the charpoy that he says, "Bahut dino se itni gehri neend nahi soya" and where he does not even need a pillow to sleep. The caravan was again symbolic of his life in the US, there is everything that he needs but eventually, his life is still a caravan, something in transition, something that is temporary, and that he is a traveler, a nomad and that it is only at his home that he is at peace.
I also felt that not only Gandhi, Swades could also be called an interpretation of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The name of the village is Charanpur (Charan meaning feet) that was so named because of the presence of footprints of Ram and Sita in the village. Just like Ram came back from exile, Mohan came back to Charanpur after many years and he is welcomed by the chants of Ayo Re, Ayo Re. Kaveri Amma even does his aarti. Mohan is the idealist Ram for whom his duty comes first. For that, he will even leave Gita (like Ram leaves Seeta) to finish his work. In fact, the whole song Pal Pal Hai Bhari depicts the Ramayana where Sita is played by Gita. After that song, Mohan will kill the raavana — the darkness and the slumber of the village, and bring light to the families (literally and metaphorically). In one scene, Gita and Mohan stand with their charan (feet) in the water of the pond at the same spot where the footprints of Ram and Sita were shown like they too are Ram and Sita. Later, we see that when Mohan is back in the US, he feels something is amiss in his feet; he is missing standing there. The film ends at that same spot as Mohan and his feet have come back forever.
Ram mere man me hai, 
Ram to ghar ghar mein hai,
Ram har aangan mein hai, 
Man se Ravan jo nikale,
 Ram uske man me hai
In addition, there are other Mahabharta references too. The name Mohan means Krishna. At one point in the beginning he even says, Kaveri Amma was a Yashoda as he was the Krishna. Gita is like the idealistic person who is also a teacher, just like the sacred book Gita teaches us about the ethical and moral struggles of human life. Gita is a collection of teachings of Krishna (or Mohan). Kaveri Amma is also named after the river Kaveri that is also called the Great Mother that wanted to serve the world. More on Kaveri's mythology here. I know the following comparison is a bit absurd and too much stretching this argument but the satellite that Mohan worked on was called the Global Precipitation Management, a way to prevent floods and manage rains like Krishna did by picking Mountain Govardhana on his finger to prevent the villagers from the rain? I know it is quite absurd to stretch, but no denying other Mahabharata references. 

Any discussion of Swades is incomplete without mentioning that gut-wrenching scene of the railway platform. Mohan always drank mineral water from a bottle. Even on offering it, he did not drink the water. It is only after he visits the poor farmer's family, he realizes the debilitating poverty that the farmer was living in. When he sees a boy selling water in an earthen pot for a mere twenty-five paise, it brings a catharsis in him. It is then that he drinks and embraces the water of his motherland for the first time, and that he has finally come home, not only physically but emotionally as well. There is the transformation from a pre-packaged plastic bottle that contains treated water to an earthen pot that contains water poured from a tap-water containing kettle — the comparison could not have been more stark. There can be no dry eyes while watching that scene. It is deeply moving.
One another fascinating scene of the film is the sequence of the song Yeh Tara Woh Tara. It is such a brilliant description of the concept of national integration. That we all are stars in some way or the other, but only if we can come together and form a constellation, then we can truly shine in the sky. It is a song with terrific lyrics.

Ye Taara Woh Taara Har Taara,
Ye Sab Saath Mein Jo Hai Raat Mein,
Toh Jagmagaaya Aasmaan Saara,
Jagmag Taare, Do Taare, Lo Taare Sau Taare, 
Jagmag Saare, Har Taara Hai Sharaara
Saath Rang Kehne Ko, Phir Bhi Sang Kitne Hain
Samjho Sabse Pehele Toh, Rang Hote Akele Toh
Indranush Banta Hi Nahin

It is no coincidence that Swades showed the constellation the Big Dipper, which Mohan says is "hal" which not only means a plow but also a solution. A review (apologies for not finding the link again) made a brilliant point on this song that said that in India, we need stars to give us social messages and can there be any bigger star than Shah Rukh Khan to give us lessons on unity and national integration and in all this happens when the entire village gathers to watch a film — there can be nothing that unites us more than our love for movies.
The review actually led me to further think about Shah Rukh's role in Swades itself. I consider it to be of his career-best performances. As Swades talks about being comfortable in your own skin, it is interesting how it could be called Shah Rukh's own return (howsoever temporary) from the masala films. In that scene where Mohan says he has lost his direction, it could fit so well to Shah Rukh's career at that point. The film's larger message to embrace your Indianness could also be very well applied to our films of today. Our films have become too formulaic and more or less, it seems as if that old charm of movie-making has disappeared. As the film showed Shah Rukh watching Yaadon Ki Baaraat (not to forget the scene that involves a young Aamir Khan), perhaps he needs to come back and embrace cinema that is meaningful and satisfying. Maybe Shah Rukh needs to do more of Dev Anand's films (the songs that were playing on the radio). The scenes where Mohan is shown smoking made me feel like I am watching Shah Rukh and not Mohan, given Shah Rukh's own love for smoking. It is also worth noting that if we speak to any Shah Rukh fan about his best performance, Swades would be at the forefront. He is being accused of being playing 'Rahul' in all his films but the critical acclaim that he got for this film is a great lesson for him. I really wished the film had done commercially well too. Mohan being played by Shah Rukh was as they say art imitating life. Maybe Shah Rukh also needs to realize that apne hi paani me ghul jana barf ka muqaddar hota hai.

I do not know if I have seen any film that used an apostrophe in the word 'Productions', this is actually the correct form. Being grammatically correct in the title itself  just for that, it deserves a big clap.
Swades, We the people  inspired from the Preamble to our Constitution.
Very interesting end credits. Kiran Rao is the assistant director. Ayan Mukerji is the clapper boy. Karan Malhotra of Agneepath fame and Danish Aslam of Break Ke Baad fame are also mentioned.
At one point, Mohan is taking a bath and he is singing the song Waiting For A Girl Like You. The song is by a band called Foreigner. A song by a band called Foreigner in a film called Swades — perfect! 
In the last few weeks, I also saw Delhi-6. There are so many similarities between Swades and Delhi-6 that I was pleasantly surprised. Even the essence of two dialogues is exactly the same, yes, exactly the same. I leave that for another day. I have to write the post on Delhi-6, else I will forget everything. More on it later.

Dialogue of the day:
"Mere aansuon ka swaad mere man ka namak hi samajhta hai."
 Haridas, Swades