Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lootera — Of Giving A Closer Look


I don't know why but I love Lootera a lot. I can watch this film any number of times. I saw it again and saw new interpretations of some elements of the film. As always, I over-analyze but movies are our interpretations, no?

One of the themes that I felt was implicitly expressed in the film was the one of betrayal and the lack of trust. Although the title Lootera means a thief, and it referred to Varun's (Ranveer Singh's) profession of 'looting', but I felt this was also implying about the film's larger theme of looting someone's trust. Pakhi's (Sonakshi Sinha's) father placed immense trust in the government that it would not snatch the property of the zamindars, but he was mistaken and the government did pass the act abolishing the zamindari system. He felt betrayed by the government. At one point, Pakhi says to KN Singh (Adil Hussain) that her father did not die because unhe kisi ne loot liya tha but because Varun ne unka dil toda tha, unhe dhokha diya tha. He did not die because Varun looted her father's prized possessions, but because he looted his trust. Even the bheel raja story that Pakhi's father narrates to her is about a king who is duped into marriage and, then, betrayed by a beautiful woman, and who, then, finds about the parrot in whom the king had confined his life. And, of course, Pakhi's own story is about betrayal. She was ditched by someone whom she loved immensely. Varun looted her innocence, her beauty, her talent, even her health. She cannot write a single page and all she does is throw them into garbage after scribbling a few lines. She coughs blood and is suffering from tuberculosis. Earlier, she was so excited by the electric bulb that she was charmed by it, continuously switching it on and off, and now she does the same but completely lifeless. Varun broke her, and it is only when he comes back that she is able to write, and her health starts getting better as if his love heals her. That is why the film's larger narrative was not only about physical theft, but more so about the emotional theft. Even in the beginning of the film, the Ram-Leela scenes talk about Vibhishan — the man who betrayed Ravan.

Sometime ago, I saw Satyajit Ray's iconic Charulata and, finally, realized why it is called one of the greatest films of Indian cinema. It is a beautiful story which is less about the words spoken, and more about the thoughts of the characters. It requires a heart to understand the meaning of the film. I realized that there are numerous similarities between Pakhi of Lootera and Charu of Charulata. Both the films are set in upper class Bengali household around the time of the independence. Charu and Pakhi are two lonely women, and these films narrate their stories. It is here that I finally understood the significance of the magnifying glass scene in Lootera. At one point, Varun is having a conversation with Pakhi's father. Pakhi is standing behind her father and she has a pair of magnifying glasses and she uses them to look at Varun. There are many interpretations of the scene. One of them is that the magnifying glasses make her eyes look like those of Durga. I felt this was also a reference to Charulata. In Charulata, in the beginning, Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) uses a pair of binoculars to observe an ordinary Bengali man walking on the streets through her window. Since she cannot go out, she tries to bring the charm of an ordinary life closer to her, in contrast to her stifled traditional life. Later, she is sitting on a swing, and even though Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) is just a few steps from her, she looks at him through the binoculars, as if she is trying to bring him closer to her. She cannot do that in her real life because falling in love with your husband's cousin would be blasphemous. So, all she can do is bring him closer through the metaphor of the binoculars. In the same way, Pakhi uses a pair of magnifying glasses. 

There is always going to be some distance between Varun and Pakhi because of the unspoken rules of the society. She can only stealthily look at him from behind the curtains. There is a scene when both of them click a picture together using a Kodak camera, and even though they want to sit closer to each other, they really cannot, and sit a few inches apart. She goes to his room when he is not there and wears his cap and smells his jacket as if trying to feel his body. Therefore, she is using a pair of magnifying glasses giving Varun a closer look and trying to bring him closer. The magnifying glasses become a symbol to reduce the physical and emotional distance between the two of them. If we observe, the scene finds a resonance in the film's poster which has two overlapping Os that are a replica of the image formed with the two magnifying glasses. It is a subtle placement, and it shows Vikramaditya Motwane wants us to look closer at the film. I also felt another reference to Charulata. Amal writes two stories in Charulata — The Light of the Moonless Night and Dark of the Sun. Lootera's song Ankahee has the lyrics that goes kya kabhi savera, lata hai andhera — can morning ever bring in the darkness? — like the title of Amal's stories. 

As I had written earlier in this post, there is an element of transformation of the mood of the film from a cheerful one in the first half to a cold one in the second half. There is also an element of reciprocity in the film. Pakhi is driving the car and she hits Varun's motorcycle and she hurts him and gives him an external wound. In due time, she will also break Varun by giving him an internal wound. Varun will not want to be the hardened criminal anymore and instead he wants to start a new life with her. Reciprocally, Varun also wounds Pakhi. He breaks her heart. He also changes her. He brings physical and emotional pain to her. She is changed from bubbly to dull and someone who does not want to live anymore, as opposed to Varun who wanted a new life. Pakhi teaches Varun the art of painting leaves — a metaphor for love. She loves him. Varun reciprocates her by painting a masterpiece and proves his love for her because as he says, "Mera zindagi me istemaal sab ne kiya, pyaar sirf tumne kiya." He comes back when he was trying to run away so that he can he can repay her by healing her and taking care of her. They both hurt each other and their love heals each other. They reciprocate the pain and the love. They sing the same poems, and they share a deep intrinsic love, like Radha-Kishna, the idol that is kept in her father's family temple. They do not require words to communicate because they do it through silence.

There is one element about the film that I am still trying to explore. about the multiple identities of Varun. He is called many names in the film, such as Vijay, and Varun. It is only later that we find that his real name is Atmanand Tripathi. At one point, Pakhi mocks him by saying that he is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The meaning of Atmanand is also Vishnu. Just like Vishnu had many avatars, Varun had multiple identities. At an earlier point, Varun and Pakhi recite a poem by Baba Nagarjuna. The word Nagarjuna also means Krishna. Krishna was one avatar of Vishnu as well. Interestingly, when they are praying in the temple after Varun robs them, it is Krishna's head that falls off from the idol — was that referring to Varun's fall from grace as well? That is why I feel there is some link between Krishna's idol and Varun.

One special mention of Barun Chanda who plays Pakhi's father. He is simply brilliant in the film. 

Books In Movies:
Pakhi not only reads Godaan by Premchand, but also Kobigantha by Dwarkanath Ganguly. I cannot find details of the book though. 

Watching Lootera brought me some momentary calmness. The lines that Pakhi writes in the letter, "Sab kuch peeche chhod kar aayi thi, sab bhool jaane. Pata nahi kyun tum waapas aagaye, pata nahi kyun maine aane diya," are etched in my memory. I love these lines. Maybe I will watch it again to understand more about this masterpiece. 

Earlier thoughts on the film in this post.

Dialogue of the day:
"Koi mayna hai mera aapki zindagi me? Mujhe pyaar karte hain, Varun Babu? Mera dil rakhne ke liye to haan bol dijiye."
— Pakhi, Lootera

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Daawat-E-Ishq — Of Interesting Gender Dynamics

Every few weeks, I go back to read one of my favorite reviews of one of my favorite films by Baradwaj Rangan. Rangan's review of Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is so nuanced that I read it again and again to understand and learn how to write (also, worth mentioning is that his review of Delhi 6 is equally splendid). He says Karan Johar's film is one of the meatiest romantic melodramas since Lamhe, and I completely agree. In the review, he writes, "When Dev and Maya finally admit to their spouses that they are in love, Rishi flies into a rage and begins to break things around the house, while Ria remains calm and collected. Rishi wants to know if Maya enjoyed sleeping with Dev, but Ria asks Dev if he’s in love with Maya; the man is more concerned with the sexual aspect of the betrayal while Ria, all woman, tries to come to grips with the emotional implications." It is a brilliant point. As I watched Habib Faisal's Daawat-E-Ishq, this point came back to me and I saw somewhat of a reversal in the ideas and viewpoints of a man and a woman in this film. Daawat-E-Ishq is the story of Gulrez Qadir (Parineeti Chopra), who after being tired of getting rejected by many men because of dowry, decides to con a chef Tariq Haider (Aditya Roy Kapur) in a false dowry case to extract money from him to fulfill her dream of going to America. What I found interesting was the depiction of Gulrez and Tariq in contrast to the conventional gender dynamics depicted in our cinema and different from the one in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Gulrez is raised by a single father and she is the one who drops him to work everyday on her scooty, as opposed to a father dropping a daughter to work. She barely cooks and it is her father who packs lunch for her everyday when she leaves for work. When they are eating out at a restaurant, she is the one who pays the bill instead of her father. After being jilted in love by louts, Gulrez says she does not want to get married to any guy as all of them are the same. Although she is not against the idea of love and marriage per se, she is not excited by them either. He room is full of posters of the Statute of Liberty (perhaps a reference to freedom), and she wants to go America to become a shoe designer. 

Daughter drives a father

Even Tariq does not fit exactly in the mould of a traditional Hindi film hero. He is a chef of a restaurant. What stood out for Tariq was his feelings. Gulrez might not care for love but he says he will marry the one who loves him. Karunga [shaadi] to usi se jo mujhe itna saara nahi, itna sa to pyaar kare. A man caring for love, and a woman not really interested in love—a very interesting premise—that was also explored in Danish Aslam's Break Ke Baad. He is so humble that he tells Gulrez that if she is looking for a body builder types, he is not the one. She is an MBA, but he tells her that he is 12th fail (reminded of Akbar's humble admission to Jodha in Jodhaa Akbar that he can't read and write). 

Statue of LibertyFreedom

At one point, she is trying to get him thrown out of her room, and he entices her by making her smell the delicious kababs cooked by him. And, we always thought that a way to man's heart is through his stomach, perhaps even to a woman's heart, too, or at the risk of being labelled a sexist, Gulrez is as much a man here, and Tariq is as much as a woman here—basing solely on conventional thinking. She defeats him in panja ladana. Gulrez is more ambitious and wants money; she even convinces her dad to join in her plan. When they go out for a day of 'Gunjing' in Lucknow, she is the one who drives him around in the car as opposed to he driving her around. She is the driver. It is great to see films with strong women characters that are breaking the glass ceiling. This year, Samar Shaikh's Bobby Jasoos also showed a woman, Bilkis (Vidya Balan), who wanted to be detective—an unconventional passion for a woman. She is the not the Kitty as women are, typically, shown (remember Sameera Reddy or Amisha Patel in Race and Race 2, respectively) but she is Karamchand. What is also heartening is that these are Muslim women belonging to families that are not exactly at higher end of economic spectrum, and these women are trying to make a mark for themselves. That is why I felt Daawat-E-Ishq had different gender dynamics, unlike other films.

A way to man's heart is through his stomach

She is the driver

Bobby is Karamchand and not Kitty

Tariq, played by Aditya Roy Kapur, is charming. He is one of the most thoughtful male characters. He is caring. He wants someone to love him. He is understanding, like he knows how difficult it must have been for Gulrez's father to raise her after her mother's death. He is true to himself and his feelings. He is humble. He does not care if she is thin or fat. He does not want to hurt his parents, so he gives his own money to Gulrez so that she can pass it off as dowry. When he is chasing Gulrez, he hits a woman who falls down and he stops to help her and apologizes, though Gulrez might just escape. Seriously, who would not fall in love with Tariq?

The detailing, like in any Habib Faisal film, is meticulous. The way the lunchbox is packed, the accents, the items in the house, the surroundings. Faisal brings some lovely touches. At one point, Gulrez and her father are meeting Amjad (Karan Wahi) and his parents, who ask for dowry. As soon as they ask the amount, a sound pops up in the backgorund, that of a sale banner being put on a building, as if the groom is on sale. When Tariq is chasing Gulrez, the autorickshaws convey some messages. So, when Gulrez runs away, we see Good Bye, and when Tariq is searching her in Hyderabad, we see Talaash written on the autorickshaws. 

Groom for sale

Good Bye


There is a lovely shot in the song Dil Ne Dastarkhwan Bichhaya in which Gulrez's face is shown on a plate in Tariq's hand. I loved Tariq's and Gulrez's conversations when they were 'Gunjing' in Lucknow.

Dil Ne Dastarkhwan Bichhaya

My issues with Daawat-E-Ishq was that in the second half, the film loses humor and it becomes slightly predictable. Also, it is not exactly a food film, though the film's title suggests that. But the film's beginning title credits are very interesting that open as a menu of a restaurant. 

All of Habib Faisal's films have a touch of truth and lie in them. In Ishaqzaade, Parma (Arjun Kapoor) lies Zoya (Parineeti Chopra) into a relationship. Similar lying themes were explored in the films written by him, such as Do Dooni  Chaar (a family lies that they own a car), Bewakoofiyaan (a boyfriend lies to his girlfriend's father), Tara Rum Pum (a father lies to his kids), Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (a conman falls in love with his nemesis), and Daawat-E-Ishq (a woman cons a man to extract dowry money). The only exception to this trend is Band Baajaa Baaraat. Also, his films have a very subjective morality, and that is why his films divide people. Think Ishaqzaade. No doubt, he is a thoughtful filmmaker, and I can't wait for Maneesh Sharma's next film, written by Faisal, Fan, starring Shah Rukh. 

More later.

Dialogue of the day:
"Body ka kya hai, aaj dubli, kal moti. Thinking me honi chahiye na beauty."
— Gulrez, Daawat-E-Ishq

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Grant some strength to help me through the next eight weeks. Serenity, courage, and wisdom.