Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lakshya — Of Triumph Over Turmoil

A few weeks ago, I watched Lakshya and was moved by the story yet again. There is something beautiful about that film that stirs up the emotions. Lakshya is the story of Karan Shergill, played marvelously by Hirthik Roshan, who is struggling to find a lakshya—a purpose—in his life. He belongs to a rich business family, and therefore, money is not something that concerns him. He decides to join the Indian Army, and then, finds his aim of recapturing a peak from the intruders in Kargil and successfully achieves it, too. The first half of the movie focuses on Karan's internal struggle, while the second half of the movie depicts his external struggle, though his inner struggle is the one that drives him even later. I really like the first half more than the second half. Karan is constantly being exhorted by his parents to do something worthwhile with his life. His parents compare him with his US-settled brother, and Karan hates this comparison. His friends have ambitious plans for their respective careers. His talented girlfriend, Romi (Preity Zinta), is an activist known for leading agitations against the establishment, and is on her way to become a television journalist. And, he does not even know how he is going to spend his day, forget his career aspirations. Everyone around him with the exception of Romi is judging his idleness and his lack of ambition in his life, and this makes him question himself. The song Main Aisa Kyun Hoon is a depiction of this internal struggle. He is on a stage and a bunch of weird old people are sitting in the audience at a higher level. The stage and the surroundings are a metaphor for the thoughts in Karan's brain. The old people judge him for the lack of a purpose in life depicted by their higher level. However, Karan finds them to be weird in his head. He is trying to break free from the expectations of the people around him. He sees many versions of himself in the mirror signifying his indecisiveness; sometimes, he wants to be someone, and sometimes, he wants to be someone else. He is surrounded by people who have found their aim in life, represented by the people dressed in black, and having suitcases with them. At one side, these people are wearing sunglasses, and the other side, they are wearing ties, representing some sort of duality of a casualness and a formality. Karan, however, dressed in white, cannot wear this mask. He is still struggling to find his calling and having a mechanical robot-like job is something that he does not want. 

Trying to break free of the stereotypes

Finding the real Karan

Ties at the back

In the second half of the movie, the focus shifts towards the Kargil War. However, Karan's internal struggles continue to haunt him. He wants to resolve the complicated relationship that he has with Romi, and his parents. Though the setting being in the mountains is quite obvious, I found it very interesting that the film chose the conquest of one unscalable mountain as the ultimate aim of Karan and his batallion. The mountain was a metaphor for Karan's internal struggle; otherwise, there were many other scenarios that were possible in a war film. At one point near the interval, Karan is standing by the river-side and throwing stones in the river, and is self-reflecting. So, he has moved from Delhi in the first half to Kargil during the interval and then, finally reaches the top in the end. The external journey and the places where Karan goes are a reflection of the inner journey and state of mind of Karan. In Delhi, he was aimless. In Kargil, he has taken some steps to find an aim. On the Peak 5179, he has finally found both his inner and external aim of life. The fact that Karan scales the wall was representing a triumph of his internal struggle. He has conquered his inner turmoil that was troubling him and he has proved to everyone that he, too, can be an achiever. Perhaps, it is this triumph over turmoil that is so uplifting. I could not be bothered much about the external struggle, but this inner struggle of a character is something that is indeed stimulating and moving. 

From aimlessness to finding an aim

From finding an aim to achieving it

I love Romi. She is a smart and a mature person. At one point in the film, Karan asks her that why does she love someone like him, who is totally not worthy of her. She replies, "Main ne aaj tak tum me koi chhoti baat nahi dekhi. Aur na hi tumhare muh se kabhi koi cheap baat suni. Main iske liye tumhari respect karti hun. I like that. Tum bahut acche insaan ho and that is why I love you."  How many people would love someone because the only quality in the other person is that he is nice? She is such an accomplished woman and she loves Karan because he is a good person at heart and not like the pretentious feminist boyfriend she meets after breaking-up with him. I understand the dynamics would be totally different if money was a factor in their lives, but there is something old school about Romi's choice of love. In our movies, the hero might be poor, but he is hard working but Karan is lazy and does not do anything, and still someone like Romi loves him, and I love Romi for that. 

Tum bahut acche insaan ho

There is another lovely scene in the film. Karan is about to leave for the mission tomorrow and he sees Romi standing outside. He goes to her and says, "Ho sakta hai vapas nahi aaun," and she replies, "To main zindagi bhar intezaar karungi." And, then he wants to say something else as well and wants to hold her in his arms but he cannot. There is so much to say, and yet nothing to say. It is only the eyes that communicate because, sometimes, words fail. Earlier in the song Kitni Baatein, we see that Karan and Romi are on two sides of a road, and the song talks about distances. The physical distance between them was a representation of the emotional distance that has crept up between them. 

To main zindagi bhar intezaar karungi

And, my most favorite scene of the film is when Karan is sitting on the ground in a park and is crying. He was punished severely by the Army Officers. He has ran away from the Army. His parents knew he will not survive there and they are proven to be true. He is dejected that his parents think so little of him. Even Romi, the one person who always supported him, is angry with him and has broken-up with him. All he is left with is to cry on his own shoulders. A grown man crying all by himself, and then, finally decides to move on all by himself. I find this scene to be gut wrenching and motivating at the same time. Can there be any dry eye while watching it, then?

There is a lot to admire in Lakshya and is one of my favorite films. The film's poster also talks about this amalgamation of his inner and his external struggle, where Karan's shadow is the one in his Army uniform. It says, "It took him 24 years and 18,000 feet to find himself." 

P.S. — I have started writing a long piece on Dil Chahta Hai. As of now, it is about 4,000 words in about three chapters. Don't know if I will be able to sustain it, given the upcoming peak season in office. I might reduce the frequency of blogging to focus on that but will continue to write on some films because writing takes a lot of time. But there is this feeling in me that people will stop reading it. If only, I had the ability to reach my lakshya.

Dialogue of the day:
"Cheezein jab tak perfect na ho, theek nahi lagti."
— Sunil Damle, Lakshya

Monday, October 13, 2014

Haunting Haider — Of Perspectives and Metaphors

In my favorite scene in Vishal Bharadwaj's Haider, Gazala (Tabu) walks into her old house that was destroyed by the Indian Army to meet her son Haider (Shahid Kapur). When she enters the house, there is a broken mirror on the wall, and in that mirror, we see two faces of her. This two-second scene can easily summarize the story of Haider. Later, Haider remarks, "Do chehre hain aapke." Haider, adapted from Shakespeare's Hamlet, is a story of perspectives. Characters talk about understanding a different perspective. Haider says to his mom, "Har baar, har waaqiya, sirf appki palko he peeche se hi nazar aana chahiye, hamesha? Kabhi to bhoole bhatke kisi aur ka nazariya dekhne ki koshish kijiye." Later, Parvez Lone (Lalit Paimoo) explains to his daughter, "Mera nazariya bhi to dekhne ki koshish karo." At another point, Khurram (Kay Kay Menon) explains his version of the events of the death of his brother to Haider, after Roohdar (Irrfan Khan) had narrated his version of the same to Haider. This leitmotif of the other side is present not only in the characters' perspective but also in other aspects of the film. At many times, Haider moved by the plight of the Kashmiris says, "Hum hai ke hum nahi", "Hai ke hai nahi, bas yahi sawaal hai," or "Shak pe hai yakeen, yakeen pe hai shak mujhe", taking inspiration from Hamlet's "To be or not to be." At one point, an Army Officer stops Haider when he said he is going to Islamabad. Later, Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor) explains that Anantnag is also known as Islamabad. The Army Officer replies that for them there is only one Islamabad that is across the border as if referring to the closed mindset of the Indian Army. Even in the song Bismil, Haider enacts a story of a two-faced falcon and one side of Haider's dress is black, and the other side is colored, again referring to some sort of duality. In fact, as a film, Haider explores another side of the Kashmiri issue from the eyes of a Kashmiri, although one-sided but it tries to balance in the end.
Do chehre hai aap ke
Haider is easily the most talked-about film of the year. Almost everyone has written glorious reviews of the film. I am not qualified enough to write such beautiful reviews that people have written, and since I have not even read Hamlet, I explore some metaphors that Vishal uses in the film. 

Arshia: As always, Vishal Bharadwaj uses metaphors to portray a deeper meaning and motivation of his characters. Like the red muffler and Arshia. Early in the film, we see that Arshia is knitting a red muffler. Later, when she completes it, she presents it as a gift to her father Parvez Lone. When Parvez goes to Khurram's place to take Haider to the hospital, he sees him with a gun. He, then, uses the muffler to tie Haider's hands. The muffler was a symbolic reference for Arshia. Parvez manipulated his daughter to extract information from her about Haider's plan to kill Khurram. The tying of the muffler on Haider's hand was again referring to the fact that Parvez used his daughter to stop Haider. The red muffler was Arshia herself. Later, after her father is shot by Haider, Arshia is sitting on a swing and is unknitting the muffler. A few moments later, she is lying on her bed, with the muffler completely unknit, and the strands of the red wool on her face. Again, this reflected that, just like the muffler does not exist anymore, she is also completely broken. Her father, whom she loved, has been shot dead by her lover. Her brother will now kill her lover and she has nothing to look forward to in her life. So, she also unknits herself from the world and commits suicide. This also reminded me of the kamarbandh in Omkara.
Salman and Salman: I, honestly, did not find them as funny as they were made out to be. Salman and Salman run a video parlor of Hindi films, and are Salman Khan fan-boys, and also, part-time police informants. These two Salmans share an immense love for the superstar with whom they share their moniker. Their love for Salman is such that the cap they wear has Friend written on it, a reference to Maine Pyar Kiya. In the end, Haider kills the two Salmans by smashing them repeatedly with stones. Although the film showers some love for Salman Khan (even the torture camp at Finaz theater plays the song Main Hoon Deewana Tere Pyar Kya from another Salman-starrer Sangdil Sanam), the violent and the brutal end of these Salmans was as if it is some statement on the cinema that the real Salman Khan does. The end of the Salmans could be a vicarious action through which the director makes that point. Earlier in the film, Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) is giving a presentation and says, "Differentiation is the unique element. It is very important to be unique at something that is valuable to your customers." By this statement, Vishal was making a strong point about the kind of cinema he enjoys making. He wants to create a meaningful cinema, and he does not like the formula films which everyone is making these days. In an interview after the release of the film, he says, "Hum abhi bhi thieves ki filmein bana rahe hain." These could be subtle hints that Vishal is aiming at us and other filmmakers. Clearly, Vishal Bharadwaj has made a mark on the audience by bringing that unique element to his films. Perhaps, that is why everyone says that his films are different.
Chutzpah: Minimal Bollywood Posters has quite excellently made a minimalist poster of the film by just writing the word 'chutzpah' in its poster. Haider would go down in history for adding one new word to our lexicon. The film mispronounces the word as ch-oots-pa whereas the correct pronunciation is h-oots-pa. This has become a bone of contention with some purists. Shobhaa De writes, "Watch the movie if only to learn a favorite Hebrew word I use a lot and loveChutzpah. Roughly translated, it means a certain audacity to get away with outrageous conduct. If only Bhardwaj and Co. had taken the trouble to find out how it is pronounced ('Hoots-pah' - NOT 'Choots-pa' as Haider keeps repeating), perhaps the movie itself would have felt more authentic." But I think this misses the point completely. Chutzpah and the Hindi pejorative chutiyapa mean almost the same thing. Also, chutzpah sounds almost the same as chutiyapah, the only difference being the 'y' and 'z' in the two words. Recall that Ishqiya, also produced by Vishal Bharadwaj, was made from two words—Ishq + Chutiya. That movie also started this new word Chutium Sulphate. So, this mispronunciation seems to be quite deliberate. It is quite unlikely that a film being made by hundreds of people and not one would know its correct pronunciation. Everything in a Vishal Bharadwaj film is for a reason, so I do not agree that this was a miss. 

Parvez: Of all the characters, there was something menacing about Parvez. I found him even more chilling than Roohdar and Khurram because he was so unpredictable. He shot three terror suspects point black without any warning. Like Haider's relationship with his mother Gazala, there was something special about the relationship between Parvez and Arshia. At one point, when he gets to know Arshia delivered Roohdar's message to Haider, he cooks food for her and puts it in her mouth with his own fingers. There was some chilling quality about that scene as if he was trying to entice her and threaten her into submission to divulge information about Haider. It gave a feeling like a kidnapper is just about to catch a child by offering bait. His act of giving food to his daughter after licking his own fingers pointed to some kind of Freudian Electra complex, opposite to that of the Oedipus complex. Of course, Indian audiences are still not ready to accept such a portrayal. Later, when he is making a snowman, he is using a razor to scrape off the ice. The snowman was nothing but a reference to Haider, because when Arshia asked, "Yeh snowman hai?," he replies, "Nahi, tera shauhar hai. Naak theek hai na tere shauhar ki ya thori kaat dun."  It was as if he will cut everyone to size. Something terrifying about the police, even more than the Army.

Bulbul: At many places in the film, the metaphor of bulbul is used. Early in the film, Gazala's father-in-law remarks, "Hamara aasman kale parindon se ghira hua hai, kahi kisi chooze ko cheel utha ke le jati hai, to kahi kisi bulbul ko baaz zinda noch lete hai." Later, Army Officer TS Murthy (Aashish Vidyarthi) starts a counter-insurgency operation called Operation Bulbul, and then he says, "Let the bulbul start singing, it is catch and kill."  In this context, bulbul is referring to Kashmir. Then, comes the most powerful song of the film Bismil. It is a fabulous piece of choreography, also known in the Kashmiri language as bhaand in the film, that is one of the most terrific sequences. At one point in the song, the background dancers enact a brilliant step as if they are like stones being thrown in the river. The song is a warning to bulbul to not get trapped by the baaz. The falcon has gone to the dreams of the nightingale and put poisonous stings in them. It has filled poison in the scent of flowers and sent it to the nightingale. So, in a way, Haider is giving a warning to his mother to not marry Khurram because she is like the bulbul herself. At an earlier point in the film, Gazala sings a Kashmiri folk song beautifully, as if she is a bulbul. Even her name Gazala is taken from the word gazal—a lyrical poem. This reference of bulbul links Gazala to Kashmir. Both were related to bulbul, and the film presents Gazala as Kashmir. Just like two brothers India and Pakistan were fighting for Kashmir, the two brothers, Khurram and Hilaal, were fighting for Gazala. And, in this war, Kashmir's children, like Haider, are crushed. In the song, the stage is surrounded by masks of a demon falcon, similar to the one that Haider wears in his house, before her mother's wedding as if giving a warning to her that Khurram is the baaz, who destroyed their family. There are some references to other animals as well throughout the film. At one point, Parvez says, "Do haathi jab ladte hai to ghaas hi kuchli jaati hai." At another point, Khurram says about Haider, "Vaishi bhediya ban chukka hai," and Gazala replies, "Shukar hai aasteen ka saap nahi bana."
Roohdaar and Jhelum: Vishal imbues Haider with more metaphors. So, Roohdaar is the rooh or the spirit of the doctor and that is why he is always dressed in white. The river Jhelum was also a reference to the pain and the devastation of Kashmir. At one point, Khurram says to Haider that Gazala was so broken by his father's disappearance that ro ro ke Jhelum bana di thi. Even the song Jhelum Jhelum Dhoonde Kinara was referring that the people of Kashmir are devastated by this turmoil and are looking for succor—kinara. In another scene, a man played by the film's co-writer Bashrat Peer is unable to go inside his own house unless he is frisked. Beneath the veneer of humor was a poignant statement on the underlying emotional turmoil of the people of Kashmir.

Gazala: Without any doubt, the best performance in the film is by Tabu. She is excellent as Gazala and deserves all the praise she is getting for her role. It is a very complex role, and she shines in it. There is some mystery in Gazala that throughout the film we are not sure whether she was complicit in the murder or is just a victim. When Khurram gets elected, she wears sunglasses and is smiling. It is a vicious smile that for a minute it makes us feel that she committed the murder. But the next minute, she is concerned for her jaana and is truly disheartened when she sees her dead husband's picture. When she went to meet her father-in-law, she hugs Khurram as if there is some kind of affinity for him, but is taken back when Khurram makes some flirtatious statements in front of his father. We never know what she is. She is manipulative to the extent that she will threaten to shoot herself to ask her son to give in to her demands. Haider, rightly, says that she should work at the National School of Drama. 
In another great scene, Haider comes back from Aligarh and goes to his uncle's house and he stands behind a translucent purdah listening to the conversation between Gazala and Khurram. The purdah was what defined Gazala's mysticism, that we cannot see her clearly. There is something hidden and enigmatic about her like the purdah. At the beginning of the film, she is teaching a poem on house—What is a home? It is brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers, it is unselfishly acts (sic) and kindly sharing, and showing your loved ones you are always caring—perhaps, pointing to the unhappiness in her marriage because her husband was always busy and she had no wajood in his life, so, sometimes, we wonder if she was a victim as well. But, then, she is sleeping in the same bed as Khurram, and we wonder if she did something terrible. As she says, "Kuch bhi kar lun, villain to main hi rehne vali hun." There is some kind of erotic Oedipus complex between the Haider and Gazala that in the end Gazala even gives a peck on Haider's lips. Gazala was the most amazing thing about Haider.
Haider: In Aligarh, Haider does research on 'Revolutionary Poets of British India', which explains from where he gets his rebellious ideas. Remember, in Rajneeti, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) wrote a thesis on 'The Sub-textual, Emotional Violence of the 19th century Victorian Poetry.'  I, also, felt that if Arshia was a muffler, Haider was a cap. At some point later in the film, Haider wears a cap. When Khurram narrates his version to him, he puts the ball of Haider's cap behind. I am still not sure what exactly it meant but the act of putting the ball could refer to Khurram giving his perspective. Vishal pays a tribute to his father Ram Bharadwaj in the title credits. Could it be the love that Haider has for his father, like polishing his father's shoes, inspired by Vishal's own story?  
Others: Pankaj Kumar's cinematography is wonderful. He shows us not the usual pretty Kashmir that we see in every film, but a darker underbelly of the place. There are decrepit alleys, abandoned houses, screeching eagles, leafless trees, haunting graveyards, and barbed wires—all pointing to a state of pathos. In one beautiful scene, all we see is the reflection of the army trucks in the eyes of a lady. There are gorgeously embroidered quilts, shawls, and curtains. The falling leaves of the autumn turn into harsh, cold winter in line with the movie's plot. Some extra points for the hypnotic background music of the film, too.

Message: About five years ago, Priyanka Gandhi, in an interview, had made a profound statement. On being asked if she had any anger for her father's killers, she had said, "Minute you realize that you're not a victim and that the other person is as much a victim of that same circumstance as you, then you can't put yourself in a position where you are anyone to forgive someone else. Because your victimhood has disappeared. And to me, people ask about non-violence, I think true non-violence is the absence of victimhood."  As I watched Haider, I was instantly reminded of this statement. At one point in Haider, Gazala's father-in-law states, "Hindustan me bhi azaadi lathi vala laya, bandook vala nahi. Bandook sirf intekaam lena jaanti hai, jab tak hum apne inteqaam se azaad nahi ho jate, tab tak koi azaadi humein azaad nahi kar sakti. Inteqaam se sirf inteqaam paida hota hai." This was the entire message of the film that true freedom can only be achieved when one lets go of the feeling of revenge, else we all get stuck into a vicious cycle of revenge, and there will be no real freedom. Freedom is not only physical freedom but emotional and mental freedom. The opposite of not love is not hate, but indifference because hate means that there is still some connection. Howsoever, powerful is the person, eventually, we all die. "Jism gal ke mitti ban jaata hai aur mitti se bante hai ghade, suraahi, khilone. Sikandar ho ya Akbar, Hitler ho ya Gandhi, sab mitti me mil jaate hain." In the final scene, Haider faces a dilemma. His father wanted him to take revenge, but his mother advised him to let go of revenge. And, he did let go and attained true freedom. That is why it is completely befitting of the film to be released on Gandhi Jayanti to spread Gandhi's message. 

Books in Movies:
Gazala's house has A Certain Justice by P.D. James. 
I watched this movie in a theater so I do not have the screenshot, but there was one funny subtitle. Arshia calls a South Indian officer a masala-dosa, and it was subtitled as a burrito. Masala-dosa becomes a burrito!

At one point in the film, an Army signpost reads, "When You've Got Them By The Balls, Their Hearts And Minds Will Follow." The source of the quote is unclear, but it was used most often in the Vietnam war. This quote was also present in the 1976 film All the President's Men. By this, the film explains the ideology of the Indian Army towards the Kashmiri people.
A lot has been written on Haider already. It has divided people. Some loved it, while some say that it is too one-sided. I don't know much about the intricacies of the issue of Kashmir but as a film Haider is fabulous. However, if one wants to read a perspective from another side, read this fabulous article which explores some loopholes in Haider.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Kaid me azaadi bahut yaad aati hai." 
— Parvez, Haider

"Bas intezaar hi likha hai meri kismat me." 
— Gazala, Haider

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tumhi Dekho Na

I was watching Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna for the last few days. There is something in that film that touches me every time I watch it. It is a beautiful film about beautiful people, who have everything in life, except one beautiful thing — love. It is not that these people never tried to love; they did but love did not reciprocate, or that their love faded with time. Learning to live life as it comes, even though deep inside, they are plagued by hopelessness.

If given a chance, I would love to go and live inside a Karan Johar film. I really do not understand why he is criticized by one and all. He has a great sense of cinematic vision in which he uses colors to present an escapist and a utopian world. There is grandeur in his films, similar to the one in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's; the difference is Sanjay's films have deep cultural references, while Karan's films have a contemporary sweeping touch. I love the song Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which is splendidly shot, and always makes me shed a tear or two. It is almost cathartic. There is a scene in the song in which Maya (Rani Mukerji) is sitting in a stadium all alone, surrounded by blue chairs. The emptiness of the stadium, and the presence of 'blue' chairs is symbolic of Maya's own loneliness and solitude. It is a beautiful depiction of melancholy, and every time I think of the film, I remember this scene apart from the many others.

I will write someday on why this is one of my favorite films. But, yesterday, as I was watching, I was yet again amazed by Karan's sense of visual poetry. The song Tumhi Dekho Na is a picturesque song that is accentuated by the terrific use of colors. As in Dil Se, the song Satrangi Re depicted the seven colors of a rainbow, Tumhi Dekho Na also shows the seven colors of the rainbow. Maya and Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) are in love, and their love is like a rainbow that brings color to their grim and desolate lives, and everything around them becomes colorful. Everyone around them is wearing the same-colored dress as them because Dev and Maya see the colors in those people as well. All the colors of the rainbow — blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet, and indigo — are present in the song. At one point in the song, Dev and Maya are surrounded by nothing but yellow taxis. No other cars pass by them, and all around them are the yellow cabs rushing past them. 

The song starts with blue.

Dev gives yellow flowers to Maya, and then, they are surrounded by yellow cabs, and no other cars pass by except the yellow ones. 

Then, we move to orange.

Now, everything is violet with a tinge of indigo

Then, we see everything is red.

And, finally, green takes over.

Beautiful. Yes, I want to go live in a Karan Johar film, where everything is gorgeous. There would be no love, but even in real life, there is not any, so why not live there :)

Trivia: Ayan Mukerji has a cameo in the song.

I have a lot to write, if only I had time.

Dialogue of the day:

"Ajnabiyon ki baat sun leni chahiye, kabhi kabhi ajnabi apno se zyada jaante hain."
  Dev, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna