Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Meri Pyaari Bindu—Mera Pyaara Bubla

To: muqaddarkasikandar1977@hotmail.com
Subject: Mera Pyaara Bubla

Bubble Wrap,

One of the many reasons we all love the movies is because they mirror some special moments of our life. Sometimes, we see ourselves in a character in a film as they are so relatable. Abhimanyu Roy, or Bubla, from Meri Pyaari Bindu, is one such character for me. In the last few weeks, I have watched Meri Pyaari Bindu, again and again, because watching the story of Bubla gives me a feeling of calmness and comfort. 
Abhimanyu is a writer of pulp fiction novels with titles, such as Guitarphobia, Chudail Ki Choli, Dracula's Lover, and Awaara Dhoban. His books contain ample amount of horror and sex, like the films of Ramsay Brothers. It has been three years since his last book and he is struggling to write his next one. He decides to write a love story, and finds inspiration in his childhood friend, his crush, his ex-girlfriend, his one and only pyaari Bindu. He travels to his home in Kolkata, where he sneaks into Bindu's house, and finds some old belongings of hers, and starts penning a story on her. 
There is an early point in the film when Abhi carries Bindu on his back. This literal aspect of carrying Bindu like a baggage portended the figurative aspect of Abhi carrying Bindu in different forms all his life. He remembers every little detail about her, not just because he is a writer as writers have to focus on the details for their characters, but also because he still has some feelings for her. It has been many years since he has heard anything from her, but he has still not completely moved on though he has been in relationships with other women. 
In the past, as it was in Rockstar, Jordan learnt that a broken heart is the inspiration for creating music. Toote hue dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai. In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Ayan becomes a famous singer when he channels his pain of heartbreak of his unrequited love to creating music. Abhi's art creation feels different from Jordan's and Ayan's (or for that matter Noor's in Fitoor) in the way that though he might be heartbroken, too, there is no feeling of bitterness and pain in him. He might create women characters in his books that feminists would not approve of, but it does not feel that they are his way of getting back at Bindu. Also, as we often see, Bindu does not bring any major change in Abhi, and she really does not help him 'find himself'. He had always wanted to write, and he writes a story, perhaps, his best one, on and for Bindu. In this aspect, Abhi's art felt closer to Sid's from Dil Chahta Hai. After Tara reads Sid's closed personality so beautifully, she asks him about his favorite painting. He says he has not yet made one. Later, he creates his finest painting on and for Tara, which he later gives it to her. In that way, Sid expressed his love for the woman he dreams about, and gets the closest he could get to touch her. Abhi expressed his love for his pyaari Bindu by writing a story on the two of them, where the character Abhi gets to be with the character Bindu in the end, something that could not happen to him in his real life. He gets to create his own story and he shared it only with her, not with anybody else. 
Bindu is not really someone who is perfect. In fact, in her own assessment, she calls herself a disaster. Earlier, Abhi tells us that she has not completed anything in her life. When she was a school kid, she dressed as a bhanwra—a bumblebee—for seven days and then threw the costume away to move on to a new thing that excited her. She never held onto things for long. Fittingly, there is a tattoo on her leg of flying birds that could well explain her personality. She never settled on a thing, a place, or even a person. In a later scene, Abhi's mother gives her a piece of necklace after Abhi proposes to her, but she feels suffocated wearing it. She does not want to wear it and get caged by the responsibilities of life, at least, at that point of time in her life, and she will do so when she feels like it. There is a point in the film when she says to Abhi that whenever she felt happy or sad, she used to go and hide in her house attic. It was her area of comfort. Abhi is that attic for her. Chhat vala kamra. A place where one keeps all their old memories that are no longer needed. A place that is full of nostalgia. Abhi and Bindu's very first meeting is at that attic when they were kids where she gives him her earphones and tells him that this will change his life. Years later, they again meet at that same attic where Abhi meets Bindu's daughter, and he shares his story with her. The house with the attic is being sold and it is going to be their last meeting at this attic that holds a special moment in their lives.
Though the film is about Abhi's Bindu, one can't help but feel immensely for Abhi. He personifies what love feels like. He has been there with Bindu whenever she needed him. As a kid, he even gave his exam sheets to her. He feels jealous of her boyfriends but learns to live with it. When Bindu goes for an audition, he goes along with her, and offers her alcohol when she is feeling nervous. All his life he had this big crush on Bindu. Everyone around him knew; she also knew, but he never told her. When he finally convinced himself, he uses a silly crossword puzzle to tell her. He spent six months rehearsing for his perfect proposal. In a heartwarming scene, he closes his eyes when Bindu touches his face, and he just can't control himself after that, and starts dancing as if he is in some heavenly abode. The way he smiles, when he tells us about his Bindu is so infectious as if we can really feel what is happening to him. He even goes to extent of foregoing having sex with his current girlfriend to be with Bindu (really!). He knows that Bindu is kind of using him, but he does not mind it; actually, he can't do anything about it. Because to him, Bindu is better than everything in the world. I was smiling all the time when Abhi looks at Bindu, or talks about her. I would love to have a friend like Abhi. It was a poignant moment to see him dancing in the rain along with his Bindu, maybe, for the last time. 
Sometimes, I think it was only for the better that Abhi and Bindu did not end up together. Who knows if they would end up like Rishi and Maya from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, or, like Kabir and Natasha from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara? In life, only a few people get to be with the person they love. We always don't get everything we want in life. There is this maturity in the film that it is alright to move on after trying your best to get something that you wanted. The relationship, even though incomplete, will always remain special. In this aspect, Abhi and Bindu were a lot like Rahul and Rianna from Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. I was also glad to see that Abhi makes other girlfriends. He does not become a Devdas and goes on to do the things that he always wanted to do. There is so much heartbreak for Abhi, but at the same time, it feels that he will be fine. I want to cry with him, but not for him. Ayushmann Khurrana is amazing in the film.
My favorite scene in Dil To Pagal Hai is the one where Pooja makes a recording for Ajay in which she pours her heart out for Rahul. Somewhere in the recording, she says, "Rahul ke baare me main tumhe kya bataun. Kahan se shuru karun. Bas itna samajh lo ke us jaisa maine aaj tak koi dekha hi nahi." Since cassettes play an important part in this film as well, I could hear Pooja's voice when I was thinking about this film. Meri Pyaari Bindu is Abhi's recording for Bindu. In Dil To Pagal Hai, Rahul changes the ending of his play to get the answer he wanted, and also Nisha had told him that a love story should always have a happy ending. Here, too, Abhi changes the ending of his story, to get the end that he wants, and also because happy endings sell better. 
There is a stage in the film where there is a problem in Abhi's cassette and he goes to Alok-Da get it repaired. Alok-Da tells him that there are certain combinations in life that are wonderful alone but miraculous together. RD Burman and Gulzar. OP Nayyar and Asha. Kishore Kumar and Rajesh Khanna. Abhi and Bindu were not destined to be miraculous together, but they both are wonderful in their own way. And, sometimes, that is more than enough. I really hope that Abhi finds the happiness he so deserves. Till then, I will make a mix-tape of my own having not my favorite songs but the songs that have played a special role in my life, and I am pretty sure that there will be one from Meri Pyaari Bindu as well.

Teri Pyaari Bindu

Books In Movies:
Abhi's father reads Leon Uris' Mila 18

Abhi's books—
Awaara Dhoban
Dracula's Lover
Das Kabin
Chudail Ki Choli
Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyaar karna bahut log sikhate hai, par afsos us pyaar ko bhulaate kaise hain, yeh koi nahi sikhata."
—Abhi, Meri Pyaari Bindu

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Jab Harry Met Sejal—What You Seek Is Seeking You

Imtiaz Ali's Jab Harry Met Sejal takes its name from his own film Jab We Met and Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally. Starring Shah Rukh Khan as Harry/Harinder Singh Nehra, and Anushka Sharma as Sejal Zaveri, the film's plot revolves around a ring. Harry is an immigrant tour guide in Europe, while Sejal is a tourist who loses her engagement ring. Harry and Sejal try to find Sejal's ring by revisiting the places where Sejal could have lost the ring. As it happens, the cupid strikes and the two fall in love. 
In Tamasha, when Ved is traveling to Japan, the lady at the traffic signal gives back Ved's ring to him and she tells him that the ring will fulfill all his desires. This particular scene with a ring gets a film of its own in Jab Harry Met Sejal. The film's entire premise is based on an engagement ring. Sejal loses her ring while traveling in Europe. She wants Harry to help her find the ring. The film's tag line is a quote by Rumi that says, "What you seek is seeking you." The thing that you are searching for is searching for you. The particular quote implies a deeper meaning for the relationship of Sejal and Harry. There is an early point in the film where Sejal sits in Harry's car at the airport and he asks Sejal, "Aapko pata hai na challa kahan hai?" Challa is a ring, but it also means something that is pointing to Harry. Challa comes from the word Jhalla, which is used to describe a young man, who is a little crazy, or who just roams around freely. In Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Samar used to sing Challa which was a song about a wanderer—Challa gali gali rulda phire. Harry is the Challa here, which also perfectly describes him. He is a wanderer. He is a tour guide who never goes home. He sleeps at the train stations. Sejal is seeking this Challa and the ring is only a symbol for Harry. 
All of Imtiaz Ali's female characters have been memorable, not just because of the way they were, but also, by the kind of decisions they took in their life. Sejal, his latest character, exhibits a few facets of his other female characters, but to me, her personality seemed to lie somewhere between the ebullience of Geet and the consternation of Veera. Geet orders Aditya that he will drop her at her home because she lost the train due to him. Kaha tha na maine, koi doubt mat rakhna, main chhodhungi nahin tumhein? Chhodoge tum mujhe, ghar tak. Here, Sejal forces Harry to help her out, which at some point makes Harry's friend Mayank say that it is the first time a girl is piling on Harry, but he is trying to run away. Geet believes that we get the things that we really want in life. Mujhe to lagta hai ki insaan jo kuch bhi real mein chahta hai na, actual mein, usko life mein vohi milta hai. This is almost similar to Sejal's philosophy towards life. Sejal believes that one can find anything, even God, if we look for it. And, the things we have got in life are probably the ones that we were looking for. Aur jo mila hai shayad vahi dhoondha hoga soch ke dekho. The scenes at the hotel room where Sejal calls Harry inside her room, and their escape after the fight at the club also feel a lot like the conversation between Geet and Aditya at Hotel Decent, and their escape after the police raid. At some other point, Aditya tells Geet that she should be put in a museum because she is unique. Harry feels the same when he calls Sejal a piece of work. Kya hai tu. But the one difference between the two is that Geet has a lot more confidence in her than Sejal.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Veera. She feels suffocated in presence of her family and experiences a sense of unbridled freedom, ironically, with her kidnapper. Her journey takes her from the parched lands of the desert to the place that is called the heaven on earth as if mirroring the journey of her inner self. Though Sejal's story is not dark as compared to Veera's, there are similar shades between them. Sejal experiences freedom in a strange land to do whatever she wants. Veera gains the confidence to fight the demons of her past and break free from her claustrophobic life. Sejal needs a different kind of confidence; validation and an assurance that she is not just beautiful but also sexy. Sejal describes Harry as her queen-size bed because she feels comforted by him. She says her fiancé always keeps blaming her, and more than likely, it seems that their relationship has no spark. This whole ring drama provided an escape for Sejal to believe in herself that she also has the sexiness of a woman. As Harry explains in the end, she was never looking for the ring. We often see that she talks to her sister. She tells her sister that she is having her honeymoon before her wedding because afterward, she will also become boring like her. She would never have got the opportunity to feel like this in front of the prying members of her family. She is always comparing herself to other women, such as Harry's ex-girlfriend. She is in a state of trance when Harry tells her that she is sexier than a pole dancer. She herself starts dancing sensually because she thinks she has finally transitioned to a sexy avatar. Remember how Veera breaks into an impromptu dance at the roadside calling herself a hot Tamale; it almost feels like the same for Sejal here. She does not want to be called a porcelain vase but wants men to look at her in an erotic way. When she signed the indemnity bond, it almost felt like she wanted to have sex with Harry. She cleverly makes Harry follow her to the club. She is the one who asks him if he can touch her on this trip. She is the one who goes and sleeps next to him. She is the one who leads him to the bedroom when she wants him to touch her. She is naïve in many ways. She has always led a protected life and has no idea about sex. Even her name means pure flowing water; the thought of a cheap man, sadak ka aadmi desiring her makes her feel special that her business suit-wearing Rupen can never do. Sejal is trying to come out of this shadow and the ring only becomes a method to feel this madness. In Rockstar, the cultured Heer also displayed a fascination for cheap thrills, when she and Jordan go to watch a semi-porn film Junglee Jawani. Even though Harry is a womanizer who sleeps with every woman, when it comes to Sejal, he becomes protective of her. He does not have sex with her because he does not want to do the same things he does to other women as he thinks he is a cheap man.
What you seek is seeking you. If Sejal is seeking Harry, he is also seeking her. Harry calls her Jhalli. If Harry was the Challa, she is the Jhalli. For Harry, Sejal is his home. The first time she hugs him when they are sleeping in the chapel, he gets reminded of his home. He cannot control himself and starts weeping for the home he left. Nurmahal. He calls himself Raanjha, and says, "Koi ni Raanjhe." His Heer is Sejal, and Heer will take him home. Sejal becomes the reason that he goes back to his pind. The dupatta that he saw in his dreams gets a face in Sejal. When she leaves for Mumbai, she calls herself his ghar (the song is in a female voice), again her connection with his home. Khaali hai jo tere bina, main woh ghar hun tera. The one that feels empty because of your absence, I am that home of yours. He is broken, and she will save him. Tum mujhe bacha sakti ho. Harry also displays the vulnerability of Mahabir and the disquietude of Jordan. When Harry cries for his home, he looks like Mahabir weeping inconsolably for his Amma. Harry has dreams where he runs from his house to become a singer. There is a moment when he keeps looking at the door before leaving; almost reminiscent of Jordan where he kept standing at the street corner to look at his house after he was thrown out by his family. 
There is the classic dilemma where the existential state of some of Imtiaz Ali's characters is in two different places; somewhere in the middle. Ved is stuck between the heart and the world—dil aur duniya. He has a split personality. He is often found talking to mirrors. Jordan says, "Yahan se bahut door. Galat aur sahi ke paar. Ek maidan hai. Main wahaan milunga tujhe." Away from the world of right and wrong, there is a place, I will meet you there. Jai and Meera are stuck between the past and the present. Meera, after her wedding, calls Jai by stopping her car literally from the middle of nowhere. Here also, Harry and Sejal are in that state. Like Ved, Harry seems stuck in a job that he has to do, and in the job that he wants to do. When he is with the tourists, he wears a tie, but when he has some time off, he travels in an open-top car, feeling free. Idhar ka hi hoon main, udhar ka raha. Neither does he belong here, nor does he belong there anymore; he is just in the middle, traveling on his own. The relationship that Sejal and Harry have is also somewhere in the middle. She is engaged to someone else, but she says he can treat her as his girlfriend. They sleep together but they don't have any sexual intercourse. They are not in a relationship per se, but behave as if they are in one. It is befitting then Beech Beech Mein that comes right at the mid-point of the film also describes their relationship. Kabhi door door, kabhi paas paas, kabhi door paas ke, beech beech mein. Sometimes far, sometimes near; sometimes, between near and far.
In Tamasha, Tara, who remains the most innately flawless character of Imtiaz Ali, was the one who helped Ved understand his true self. He was not the corporate product manager made for giving PowerPoint presentations but he is the one who talks to the mountains and drinks water from the river like an animal. Tara helps him see and embrace that Ved. Tu koi aur hai. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, we see something similar but there is some kind of a mutual interdependence where both Harry and Sejal help each other to see their own self differently. Harry is a stranger to himself. Rozana khud se begaana. The time that Sejal and Harry spend together brings out their different self. At some other point, when Sejal and Harry are together in the bed, she tells him, "Ho sakta hai tum apna bhi kuch aur image lekar chal raho, jo galat hai." Sejal also mentions that Harry has a split personality. In the end, Mayank tells him that he did not know there was a man like this in Harry. Sejal replies that even she did not know that there was a girl like this in her. It is as if they both become Tara to each other. 
I remember reading a report from last year that said that the character in Ali's next film is inspired by the character of Raju, played by Dev Anand, in Vijay Anand's Guide. In that film, Raju guides Rosie away from her loveless marriage and gives her the zest to live so that she can become a dancer. Now, when the movie has finally released, it can be observed that Sejal, like Rosie, needs that validation and confidence, but in return, Sejal also gives something back to Harry. In Tamasha, too, Ved played Dev Anand in Corsica when he and Tara were playfully acting and speaking in filmy dialogues. His name Ved was also the reverse of Dev. 
My favorite scene from the film is the one when Harry and Sejal are by the waves in Portugal. He tells her that in life there should be someone whom we should miss. He, then, starts calling out her name to the waves and does that Sejal wave action with his hands. He tells her that he will miss her. It is a beautiful moment in the film where a man is calling out to the water where the meaning of his lover's name is also water. When Aditya sings, he remembers Geet because she brings music to his life, and she becomes his song—geet. When Ved is missing Tara, he looks at the stars—tara, and screams Tara. When Heer goes away from Jordan's life, he becomes a Ranjha to his Heer. The name Janardhan itself is an anagram of Raanjhad. The time that Ali's characters spend together becomes the best time of their lives. Here, Sejal calls it a dream that is too good to be true. Mayank tells Harry that he should forget Sejal. Harry counters him by saying that why should he forget her. Harry never felt as good in his life as he did when he was with Sejal. Isse accha toh life me nahi hua mere saath. So, why should he forget that beautiful time? Even if he does not meet Sejal again, there is the acknowledgment that the time was a special moment in his life.
There is a bit of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in the film, too. A man and a woman meet in Europe, fall in love, and the man travels to India to stop the woman's wedding. Both the films have the same structure. At some other stage, Harry tells Sejal that when the time comes, she will have to go away. Mudkar nahi dekhna hai peeche. Sejal replies that she is not the kind of girl who looks back and runs away with a tour guide. However, when the time comes, she does look back, and this happens twice. Like the palat scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, where Raj thinks Simran will turn back and look at him if she is in love with him. Sejal, even though she had said she will not look back, does so because she is in love.
There is a lot of other self-referencing in Jab Harry Met Sejal, not just in the characters, but in other tropes, too. The film's title itself is inspired by Jab We Met. In the song Phurr, Harry wears a jacket that has decent written on it; almost a throwback to Hotel Decent in Jab We Met. There are other familiar tropes, such as Rumi quotes, the theme of the journey, and the songs related to journey—Safar, Safarnama, Yeh Dooriyaan. Imtiaz Ali has a penchant for dances on the street—Yaara Rab, Yeh Ishq Hai, Chor Bazaari, Hawa Hawa, Matargashti, and now, Phurr. In Matargashti, Ved and Tara walk down the stairs; in Radha, Harry and Sejal do something similar. Nagada Nagada and Butterfly give the same Punjab vibes, where Geet and Sejal almost look identical. That feeling of elation where a man thinks that his lover is present with him is visible in Tum Se Hi and Hawayein. 
The hug is another repeating motif in all Imtiaz Ali's films. Veera gives a hug to Mahabir after she narrates to him the story of her sexual abuse. Heer asks Jordan to give her a tight hug. Meera and Jai decide to not meet any longer with one last hug and one last kiss because the tum vaali feeling, aadat will never go away if they are together. The relation of Geet and Aditya starts when Geet goes and hugs him at Ratlam. The hug plays a crucial part in the film’s climax where she sends a message to Anshuman that she is no longer in love with him. A devastating Tara gives a tight hug to Ved and does not want to leave him in Agar Tum Saath Ho. Here, also, Harry asks Sejal for a hug. Like in Love Aaj Kal, Harry also Sejal to go back because aadat ho jayegi. The women in Ali's films are always either married or engaged to someone else, and later, they change their decision; this holds true in this film, too. Meera annuls her wedding and waits that Jai will come someday. Sejal, too, cancels her wedding hoping that Harry shows up on the wedding day. Imtiaz Ali's characters often look themselves in the mirror as if they are having conversations with themselves. There is also the repeating motif of feeling a sense of freedom and exhilaration with arms wide open; often when traveling in a vehicle. 
In Jab We Met, Geet loses a train which plays a significant part in her life decisions. Ek ajeeb sa darr lag raha tha, bechaini si, jaise kuch galat ho raha hai, jaise koi train chhut rahi hai. In Tamasha, Tara loses her passport, a document that defines one's identity. This loss of identity, literally and figuratively, becomes the story of Tara and Ved. In Rockstar, Heer loses her health when she is away from Jordan. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, Sejal loses her ring, and she is trying to find that challa. This seemingly innocuous loss of varied things becomes a symbol for something larger in Ali's scheme of things.
Of course, the above would lead to the obvious critique that Imtiaz Ali is repeating the same themes in his films. I don't mind this, but I am speaking with my bias for him. The themes might be similar; however, each film of his has felt different in its treatment to me. But I did feel there are many things in Jab Harry Met Sejal that could have been better. For instance, the first half seems stretched on the chase after the fight at the club, and it leads to quite a few unfunny moments. Also, some of the scenes that I liked are shot in the dark of the night. I would have loved to see them in the bright light of the day. Additionally, the whole plot of illegal immigrants seemed unnecessary. The second half has some Ali-esque moments—beautifully messy. The songs in the second half almost gave the feel of a musical. Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma are actually good and give great performances. Just watch Shah Rukh in the scene where he pretends to be Sejal's fiancé during Hawayein sequence. That is a classic Shah Rukh moment. For Anushka, she is always great, but I have felt that there is often a studied consciousness in her that gives the impression that she is acting, but I did not feel that in this film. It takes some time to get used to her accent but she is wonderful. Watch the scene where she poses for a picture at Mayank's wedding. She tilts her face slightly and tries to pose in a way so that her picture comes out perfectly. It feels so natural that this is exactly what the character Sejal would do. 
I watched this film twice in as many days, and I liked it more the second time, which has always been the case where I have liked Imtiaz Ali's films more the second time. It slowly becomes clear to me as to what he is trying to say. Given the reaction to the film, it revalidates my belief that I have a terrible choice of liking films. And, I am foolishly sentimental, why is why I feel I can never write a piece with as much objectivity as this

There is a scene in Tamasha where Tara drinks a cup of coffee while Ved plays football with the kids. She is basking in the sunlight and is at complete peace with herself. Sejal and Harry drink a glass of wine after Mayank's wedding and it feels as if they have never been happier in their lives. Someday, I wonder if lesser mortals like I can experience this moment of absolute bliss. I don't have an answer but till then I will be waiting to see other such moments in Imtiaz Ali's future projects. 

P.S.—Is it the first time a major star, such as Shah Rukh, actually spoke the word sanitary napkin in a film?

Other Reading:-
1. On TamashaLink
2. On Agar Tum Saath HoLink
3. On RockstarLink
4. On HighwayLink
5. On Tara—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Koi toh hona chahiye yaad karne ko."
—Harry, Jab Harry Met Sejal

"Jabse gaanv se main shehar hua, itna kadva ho gaya ki zehar hua."
—Irshad Kaamil, Jab Harry Met Sejal

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe—Song of A New Generation

Sixteen years ago, on this day, Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai was released. Over the last sixteen years, I have watched and rewatched this film, and every time I watch it, I still get excited like crazy. It is one of those films that instilled in me the love of the films. From Deepa's persistence to Sid's compassion to Shalini's grace, the film has taught me a lot about relationships. I have written the maximum number of posts on this film in the last ten years of this blog, and still, learn something new from it. It is one of those films that I feel like I own it, and no one else can like it as if it is my toy.  As they say in the film, there are some relationships that have no name. Kuch rishtey hote hai jinka koi naam nahi hota. It is that kind of relationship that I have with the film. I wanted to write something on one of my favorite songs from the film. 
Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe is the first song that appears in the film. The setting is the graduation party of Akash, Sameer and Sid at a nightclub. Before the song begins, Akash cracks some of his typical Akash-esque jokes and then he dismisses the idea of having a career by saying, "Who cares where the hell we land up!"  He believes that they should all just celebrate the present moment. Thereafter, the song begins. Sung wonderfully by Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, and KK, the song helps us understand the personalities and the worldview of the people in the film. The lyrics say that they do not care if someone calls them crazy. If the world fights, let it fight, and they won’t bother much. They do not have any reverence even for relationships. If a relationship breaks, let it break, they say. The signature dance step of the song is the one where all of them jump with their arms wide open, giving an impression that they want to reach the stars in the sky as they sing, "Sitare bhi hum tod lenge, hamein hai yakeen.

Our culture usually extols others' happiness over our own; however, the people in song tell us to think about yourself first, and in a way, be selfish. They sing that they belong to a new world, so why should their style be old. Befittingly, the same can be said about the film as well. Dil Chahta Hai was a game-changing film that brought in a completely new style to the language of cinema. It was the first film of a new director. It, thus, behooves well when they sing, “Hum hai naye, andaaz kyun ho purana.” The film’s andaaz was something that the Hindi film industry had never seen before. The song also has a few psychedelic choreographic sequences in blue-and-flouorescent color with techno music beats, again, giving the impression that this generation thinks its own mind, and about itself.

There is a particular stanza in the song where the lines sung by the three of them fit perfectly with their character. Sid, the dreamer and the thinker, sings, "Sapnon ka jo des hai, haan hum vahin hain pale." We have grown up in the land of dreams. Sameer, who wears his heart on his sleeve, sings, "Thode se dil phenk hai, thode se hai mann chale." We are a bit of heart-throwers and also a little shy. Akash, who mesmerizes with his charm wherever he goes, sings, "Jahan bhi gaye apna jaadu dikhaate rahe." Wherever we went, we spread our magic. Akash had said a similar line to Sameer earlier in the film, "Uncle Sam ye Akash ka jadu hai, kabhi fail nahi hota." 
Aamir Khan’s first acting appearance was in a 1984 film called Holi. However, his first role as a lead actor was in Mansoor’s Khan Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The film, released in 1988, was a tragic love story inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The film became a major box office hit. The first scene of Aamir in the film is the one where he sings the iconic Papa Kehte Hain song during his college farewell. Based on the hopes and the aspiration of youth, the song became a college anthem giving India a new superstar who would go down to become one of India’s finest actors. Thirteen years later in 2001, it is noteworthy that Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, again starring Aamir, became an anthem of the youth. Both the songs are picturized at the time of college graduation. In Papa Kehte Hain, Aamir’s character Raj sings, “Papa kehte hain bada naam karega, beta hamara aisa kaam karega..Koi engineer ka kaam karega, business mein koi apna naam karega.” He sings that his father tells him that his son will earn success. He does not know what his final destination will be but most likely, he and his friends would go on to become engineers and businessmen. On the other hand, in Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, Akash does not care whatever anyone says, in contrast to a certain reverence for what his father had said in 'Papa Kehte Hain'. He has no regard for traditional vocations, such as engineers and businessmen, and says, "Who cares where the hell we land up!" He even jokes on finding jobs where he tells them he is going to sing a song on hundred ways to find a job. Naukri milne ke sau tareeke. In a scene later with Shalini, when the two of them go to watch an emotional film, Akash also mocks films based on Shakespearean tragedies.  
Indian economy was liberalized in 1991, and the changes it spawned began to bore fruit after a few years. The youth who were earlier limited to becoming an engineer, a businessman, or a doctor, started to broaden their horizons. India changed drastically from 1988 to 2001. The economy started growing faster; people started getting richer; a new wave had come even in films. It is fascinating that films become a tool to document that change. From Papa Kehte Hai to Koi Kahe Kehta Rahe, somewhere we changed, perhaps, for the better. 

In Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Aamir’s first wife Reena Dutta made a special appearance in Papa Kehte Hain. By 2001, Aamir’s relationship with Reena was not going too well and seemed to have hit the rocks. He met Kiran Rao on the sets of Lagaan in 2001 and married her in 2002. Call it a case of cosmic coincidence that in Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir’s second wife Kiran Rao also makes a cameo. In one of the Goa scenes, Kiran Rao appears on the screen with Deepa (Samantha Tremayne).  
I love everything about the songthe excellent choreography by Farah Khan (one of Farah's best works), the foot-tapping music of Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, and the meaningful lyrics of Javed Akhtar. Also, Akshaye Khanna, who is not known to be a great dancer, matches his steps skilfully with the other two. And, not to forget those super cool shiny leather pants that the three of them wear and that too in a nightclub. I wish I could carry them off like the way they did. Maybe someday I will, after all, they tell us, "Jab saaz hai, aawaaz hai, phir kis liye hichkichaana.

Other Reading:
1. Dil Chahta Hai—Of The Subtext Of Fear—Link
2. Dil Chahta Hai—Of Life Like A Ship—Link
3. Dil Chahta Hai and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le JayengeLink
4. Dil Chahta Hai: The Love Continues—Link
5. Of Deepa from Dil Chahta HaiLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Jab saaz hai, aawaaz hai, phir kis liye hichkichana,
Oh, gaayenge hum apne dilon ka taraana.
Dil Chahta Hai

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Death in the Gunj—Of Sensitive Souls

Konkona Sen Sharma's maiden directorial venture A Death in the Gunj is based on a story by her father Mukul Sharma which was inspired by true events. Set in 1979, the film is the story of a family in the quaint old town of McCluskieganj in erstwhile Bihar. Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), his wife Bonnie (Tillotama Shome), their eight-year-old daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), Bonnie's friend Mimi (Kalki Koechlin), and Nandu's cousin Shyamal, also called Shutu (Vikrant Massey) are visiting Nandu's parents, Anupama (Tanuja) and O.P. Bakshi (Om Puri), in McCluskieganj. Nandu's friends, Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) and Brian (Jim Sarbh), also come to visit them. The story spans over a period of seven days to reach a point where a death of one of the family members takes place. The film also tells the story of how we ignore and forget certain family members, and the impact our actions and our words can have on them. 
As the title of the film suggests, there is a lot of 'death' in the film. The film opens with Brian and Nandu talking about putting a dead body in a fetal position in the trunk of their car. At another stage, Shutu finds a sweater of his dead father in the cupboard. He smells and wears it as it reminds him of his father. In another scene, Shutu shows Tani a dead moth that he carries in his journal. Shutu also shows Tani a list of his favorite words starting with the letter E, and the first word on the list is eulogy, defined as a speech or piece of writing that praises someone who has just died. Later, Shutu uses a magnifying glass to focus light on a bug, as a result of it, the bug dies. Then, Shutu and Tani bury the bug. In another scene later, Mimi and Shutu visit a graveyard. In the final moments of the film, a family member dies. Thus, there are numerous references to death in the film.
In addition to death, there is an eerie post-death feeling related to spirits and ghosts that pervades the film. Early in the film, the family members talk about Vikram's dead neighbor Uncle Harris. Vikram tells them that Uncle Harris established contact with the living world using a wooden table. Harris' wife thinks he is alive. She had even invited Vikram to have a cup of tea with 'them'. Then, Brian tells them that sometimes, spirits inhabit people and objects, and they never leave. After that, the group starts planning to play planchette. They joke about calling Elvis Presley or Nehru (whose name was censored even in the online version of the film). Shutu is hesitant to join them because he feels that doing something like this would cause the spirits a lot of pain. Brian replies to him that spirits cannot feel pain as they are already dead. This is quite a telling scene as it expands Shutu's perception of pain. For him, pain manifests not just in the physical human body, but it is also experienced mentally, and it could be experienced either by a human or by an apparition existing in a post-death abstract space. The others can only see the physical aspect of pain, perhaps, that is why it is so hard for them to understand the melancholic state of Shutu, and they keep telling him to man up. 
The feeling of spirits and ghosts continues when they actually play the planchette. No spirits really come and they take it as another opportunity to have some fun at the expense of Shutu by telling him that he is going to be the first among them to die. After their game, they join a group of tribal people in their dance. The tribals are singing another ghost-themed song in which people are asking a young bride as to where will she sleep because a ghost is lurking in the mulberry tree. A spirit dances on the mulberry tree, prancing about with ghostly glee. The house servant Maniya tells his wife Manjari that the family members are drinking spirits and calling spirits. In another instance of ghosts and spirits, Mimi and Shutu ride a bike to a graveyard where they see Mrs. Curney putting some flowers and sponge cake on the grave of her daughter Elizabeth who died when she was six. Mimi picks up the cake and forces Shutu to eat some of it. He does not like it because he feels that the cake is meant for someone else, even if the person is dead. In another related scene, Bonnie tells them that all their now dead pets are probably living together in heaven. Finally, Shutu himself had appeared as a spirit in the initial moments of the film. He was the one who had died; though at that stage in the movie, it was not clear who died, but when the movie finishes, it becomes clear that it was Shutu's spirit who was seen in the car with Nandu and Brian, like Rosie's in Talaash. Shutu had earlier asked as to why would spirits come back, and Brian tells him that that spirits come back as they have some unfinished business. Shutu's spirit also came back, perhaps, looking for some closure. 
A Death in the Gunj also shows us two shades of masculinity and how the society treats men who are not able to mould themselves into a traditional masculine role. There is Vikram, the testosterone-loaded man, who is on one end of the spectrum, and there is Shutu, the sensitive man, on the other end. We see a contrast between the two of them in the film. Vikram is a charmer. He knows how to talk to everyone based on his/her interest. The first time he comes to the house, he brings a gift for Anupama prompting Brian and Nandu to remark that he is always 'buttering up' people. He barges into Mimi's room, and starts kissing her, despite being married recently to someone else. He cheats not only in his marriage, but in sports as well. He cheated in the game of Kabaddi that they were playing, and could not withstand that he could be defeated by someone like Shutu, going to the extent of injuring him to prevent him from crossing the winning line. At some other point, Mimi tells O.P. that Vikram goes on hunting―one of the most masculine activities―of wild boars. He hunts his prey not only in the jungles, but also among the people who cannot match his strength. In another telling scene of his obnoxious masculinity, after having dinner, he uses his wife's saree as a towel to dry his hands. It really tells that how he probably uses people and, then, throws them away. His wife refers to him as royalty and calls him Hazur, a term, typically, used for masters. When the laborers are not doing their work properly, Anupama asks Vikram for help and he says he will talk to the contractor. When Tani gets lost, he is the one who brings her back. He is the rescuer. At some other point, Vikram chides Nandu's masculinity when he refuses to go on a ride with him on a cold night, calling him 'old'. Vikram also carries a gun which he loves to show it to everyone. 
Shutu, on the other hand, is the very opposite of Vikram. He is the dreamer. He is often seen near books. He keeps a journal in which he writes passages from his favorite books. He re-reads Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which is often described as a tale of modern alienation, focusing on an individual’s repeated failures to integrate into societies to which he does not belong―an apt description for Shutu as well. He has a Rubik's Cube, again a symbol of trying to fit the different colors to where they belong. All the people around keep telling him to grow up. He does not fit well with people of his age group, and his only true friend is Tani, his eight-year-old niece. He draws frogs in his diary. He likes to play indoor games, such as Chess, as opposed to Kabaddi, and seeks knowledge from history. He can't stay awake till midnight. At some point, Mimi tells him that he is so pretty that he could be a girl. After their lunch at Brian's place, Shutu, Mimi and Bonnie walk back to the house, and Shutu carries Bonnie's handbag with him. While Vikram is the rescuer, Bonnie and Nandu blame Shutu for Tani getting lost. He silently watches his crush Mimi and is unable to start any conversation with her. He apologizes just for touching Mimi's ankles when he is trying to help her. Later, it is Mimi who leads him to her room, and they have sex where she is on the top. Unlike Vikram who goes for hunting, the family members think that they will ask Shutu to take care of Fluffy when they go back to Cal. While one kills animals, the other cares for them. Shutu cannot drive a car (like Rahul in Kapoor & Sons), while Vikram drives a jeep. Anupama asks for Vikram's help to talk to the laborers, but she (and everyone else) treats Shutu like another laborer in the house doing their chores. Vikram is a Hazur, Shutu is a laborer. At some stage, Anupama even asks Shutu as to why has he not shaved as if he needs to be reminded of it. Vikram is a man, Shutu is still the twenty-three-year-old kid. All of these qualities are the very opposite of Vikram. Going by the traditional definition of masculinity, having some of these characteristics could make someone think that Shutu is possibly gay, but he is not. Hence, it might be even more difficult for him because there is nothing that he can really fight for. In addition, Shutu is battling depression. At one point in the film, he falls in a ditch in the jungle and has to be rescued. He is stuck in a hole, literally and metaphorically. And, the thing is no one realizes how terribly they are behaving with Shutu. Only Bonnie shows some sympathy for his state, but to everyone else, especially, to the other men, he does not matter. 
I remember reading a story in the English language course from Class Tenth in school. The story is Anita Desai's Games At Twilight. The story is about a young boy Ravi. An older boy named Raghu often used to intimidate and bully Ravi. During a game of hide-and-seek, Ravi hides in a place where no one is able to find him. He stays there for hours hoping someone will find him. He realizes that to win he has to go out and touch the seeker. He is so excited that he is going to win as no one was able to find him. He runs towards the other children screaming that he won. However, the other children simply look at him awkwardly. The children had already moved on and were playing a different game. Ravi realized that he had been forgotten. Instead of being a winner, he was completely ignored as if he did not even exist. The story ends with these words, "The ignominy of being forgotten—how could he face it? He felt his heart go heavy and ache inside him unbearably. He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance." I was reminded of this story by looking at Shutu's plight. Other family members treated him as if he did not even exist. After Tani comes back, none of them even realized that Shutu is missing. It was Manjari who tells Anupama that Shutu is not at home. Maniya rescues Shutu, and he comes back and sees everyone smiling and enjoying, as if his existence had no bearing on their life. In earlier scenes, Bonnie tells Anupama how they had forgotten about their pet tortoise Haridas. They forgot to bring him back and he got lost. Also, there is the dog Fluffy who Tani wanted to keep as a pet, but in another scene, it is Manjari who feeds the dog, forgetting that he existed. Like the family members forget their pets, they even forgot Shutu, because, for them, he is nothing more than a pet.  
There is a lot of detailing in the film that perfectly depicts a bygone era. The ten-paisa coins, the blue glue box at the post office, the ambassador car, the homeopathic medicines, Vicks Vaporub bottle, Salil Chowdhury's Dhitang Dhitang Bole and Elvis Presley's You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog, the poems Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne and A.A.Milne's Now We Are Six, the costumes, calling Kolkata 'Cal'—there is a feeling of nostalgia of the 1970s that the film evokes. As Konkona says, the film was a journey into her own childhood. The film has some really beautiful shots. I really liked the one where Shutu is touching tiny sugar cubes, and also, the one where Shutu is standing in a graveyard. The film lets the audience make sense of some things without explaining everything. For instance, on the day Tani gets lost, Manjari comes and knocks at the room of Nandu and Bonnie, it is hinted that they are having oral sex. There are also a lot of animals in the film, such as frogs, moths, ants, dogs, tortoise; even a wolf makes an appearance. I got a distinct feeling that this was another hint at the predator-prey relationship between Vikram and Shutu. 
The film opens with a board welcoming people to McCluskieganj that says, "Your visit will surprise you." There is nothing much surprising about the final twist as it is quite discernible after a certain point as to what is likely to happen. It is also not surprising the Konkona Sen Sharma, in her debut as a director, makes a great film that has fine performances from everyone. There is not a single false note in any performance. Tanuja and Tillotama Shome are brilliant. It is funny though that I kept imagining Bonnie as Konkona because her voice was dubbed by her. But the film rests on the shoulders of Vikrant Massey's exceptional performance as Shutu. He has come a long way from playing Shyam in Balika Vadhu. Sagar Desai's fantastic musical score also deserves a special mention. 
Trivia alert—The help at Brian's house Kitty who was shown licking the custard from the serving dish is actually quite a famous person in McCluskieganj. Her real name is also Kitty Texeira and is described by the locals as the face of McCluskieganj. She has featured on the cover of a book on the town, as well as in several documentaries and newspaper stories on the Gunj.  
Books In Movies
1.Shutu reads Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.
2.Shutu has a copy of the Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton. 
 3. Mimi reads Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour
4. Nandu solves a book on puzzles
5. Shutu has a book by Arthur C. Clarke
A Death in the Gunj is about alienation and estrangement. Shutu is struggling not only to come to terms with the death of his father, but also trying to be an adult in a society that does not accept his sensitive side. The only two people who were kind of his friends, Tani and Mimi, turned him away, and he was left all alone. In an earlier scene, Tani had asked Shutu as to why his name is not on the family tree. They had even put Mimi's name, who was a friend, on the tree, but Shutu's name is not there. In the final moments, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance, he kills himself, leaving his blood marks on on his tormentor and a tree as a symbol of his existence. 
Dialogue of the Day:
"You are so pretty. You could be a girl."
—Mimi, A Death in the Gunj