Sunday, November 26, 2017

MOM—Of Revenge and the Mahabharata

Ravi Udyawar's MOM is a revenge-themed drama based in Delhi. It is the story of Devki (Sridevi), who is a teacher and the second wife of a businessman named Anand (Adnan Siddiqui). One night, her stepdaughter Arya (Sajal Ali) is sexually assaulted by a gang of four men, one of whom was Arya's classmate in school. The men are apprehended but the prosecution is unable to convict them in court, which leads to the four of them walking away free. Devki plans to inflict punishment on the men with the help of a detective Dayashankar Kapoor, also known as DK (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Matthew Francis (Akshaye Khanna) is the police inspector who is assigned to Arya's case.

Devki teaches biology in the same class and at the same school where Arya also studies. She is the kind of teacher who uses pictures of Salman Khan's abs in her lectures and asks her patrons to watch science-fiction movies. The relationship between Arya and Devki is a frosted one. Arya has not been able to accept Devki as her mother and calls her Ma'am. For Arya, her mother is her birth mom and not the second wife of his father. She tells her father that it is a daughter who comes in a mother's life, and not the other way round, thus, she will never be able to accept Devki. The film, then, becomes a story that depicts how and why Arya moves away from calling Devki Ma'am to calling her Mom.
There is a point in the film when Devki meets DK at an art exhibition. The exposition is titled Yada Yada and is shown that it is by an artist named Ravi Udyawar, who, not surprisingly, is also the director of MOM. The modern art exhibition is based on the theme of the Mahabharata. The exhibition poster states that all of Ravi's exhibitions have hidden mythological themes in them and 'Nothing lives longer than mythology.' The poster also has the full shloka of Yada Yada from the Mahabharata written on it

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata,
Abhythanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.

Whenever there is the decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is an exaltation of unrighteousness, then, I Myself come forth.

The description on the poster holds true for the film MOM as well. Like the exhibition, the film is directed by Ravi Udyawar. There is a hidden mythological theme in the film's story. Additionally, the verse of Yada Yada describes the motivations of the characters in MOM, too. Yada Yada was given as a sermon to Arjun by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna explained to him that whenever there is a rise of injustice and unfairness in the world, God reincarnates to make things right. This is what happens in the film. Devki and her family lose the court case which leads to the acquittal of the criminals who assaulted Arya. Losing her trust in the institutional methods, Devki decides to get justice on her own. She visits DK who tells her, "Court se galti nahi hui, bahut bada paap hua hai." The court has not committed a mistake, rather it has sinned. Later, Devki tells DK that God cannot be present everywhere, and he replies to her that it is why he created mothers. He is calling a mother as reincarnation or an equivalent of God who fights for justice. It is also noteworthy that he usually addresses Devki as Devi Ji. Devki is, thus, like a Goddess reincarnated, fighting against evil for the dispensation of justice.
Then, in the exhibition, Devki stands in front of a red Mahabharata-inspired painting that symbolized the washing of Draupadi's hair in Dushasana's blood. Draupadi was disrobed by Dushasana after Yudhishthira bet her in a game of dice which he, subsequently, lost. Draupadi vowed that she will not tie her hair until she washed it in Dushasana's blood. It is again discernible to observe the parallels between the story of Draupadi and Arya. Both are victims of men harassing and assaulting them. Krishna comes to the rescue of Draupadi in the Mahabharata; here, Devki (Krishna's mother) comes to get justice for Arya. It is also no coincidence that Arya is named similar to the Aryans. The Pandavas were often addressed as Arya Putras, as was also seen in B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat series. As Devki says, the Mahabharata is the world's oldest story of revenge. The film, too, is a story of revenge. Like the painting, there is also a running theme of red color in MOM. The film's title is written in red. Devki's glasses are red. She drives a red car. When she goes and meets her transgender students, she walks among a bunch of red drapes. Red apples play another important role in the film. Red is the color of love, but it is also the color of blood. The color of passion. The color of revenge. As Draupadi washes her hair in Dushasana's blood in the painting, Devki has the blood of her daughter's assaulters on her hands. Draupadi tied her hair back after the death of Dushasana; Arya is shown to be fully healed after the death of her assaulters. 
The exhibition was my favorite part of the film. I will definitely want to view the Mahabharata represented in contemporary art. In the film, there are other related exhibits that can be seen. There are structures at the exhibition's entrance that represented the game of dice, which became the turning point in the life of the Pandavas. There are also sculptures of Eklavya's thumb, and of the fish whose eye Arjun aimed to shoot with his bow at Draupadi's swayamwara. There is the painting of Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows, and another one of a red dot surrounded by Cs, which represented Abhimanyu trapped in the Chakravyuha. The only painting I could not be absolutely sure of what it represented was one that has five diagonal divisions, which is probably referring to the five Pandavas. As MOM underscores the subtext of Mahabharata quite prominently, the transgender Niranjana, who was Devki's student, was, perhaps, a representation of Shikhandi, who was responsible for Bhishma's death. Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani (2012) had a similar overarching theme as MOM in the sense that a vulnerable woman whom no one suspects of anything goes on to surprise everyone with her vengeance. Even that film had a connection with the Mahabharata. There is a point in the film when Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) asks Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee) the meaning of his formal name Satyoki. He tells her that Satyoki was Krishna's saarthi (charioteer).
There is a little subversive element in the film where, maybe, for the first time in a Hindi film, a stepmother is named Devki, after Krishna's real mother who gave birth to him. It has been a common trope in films to name the nurturing mother after Yashoda, Krishna's foster mother who brought him up. However, MOM does not adhere to this convention and names the stepmother's character after Devki. A mother is after all a mother, notwithstanding the route of nature or nurture. Devki did not differentiate at all between her birth daughter and her stepdaughter. She has a stature equivalent to a birth mom. It is often said that blood is thicker than water, but for Devki, both water and blood are equivalent. She is both Devki and Yashoda. 

Talking about water, there is an interesting motif of water associated with Devki in the film. She is often seen near water. When Arya angrily leaves the dinner table after speaking rudely with her father, Devki offers him water to drink. Devki is often seen filling the water bottles from the water filter in the kitchen. The night when Arya does not come back from the party, Devki checks on her while she is filling water bottles. When Devki visits the police station, the woman constable brings her a glass of water. After the assault, when Arya regains consciousness in the hospital, the first thing Devki asks her is if she needed water. Later, in a moment of rage, Devki follows Mohit in her car and has a small accident. When she comes back home, she drinks a glass of water. Finally, when the prosecution team loses the case and the accused go scot-free, Devki is again seen filling water bottles. She is lost in deep thought about the state of affairs, which leads to the overflowing and the spilling of water from the bottles. The water symbolized her patience, which now seems to have run out. Thereafter, she decides to take matters into her own hands. There is a saying in Hindi that eventually the paap ka ghada (the pot of sins) will overflow and burst. The evil has risen too much, thus, Goddess will reincarnate as Krishna said in Yada Yada sermon in the Mahabharata.
I was intrigued by the presence of water near other characters as well. Unlike in the case of Devki, in their case, it is primarily situational, but still, quite a noteworthy presence, especially, in the case of the four accused. When Baburam is picked up from his house, he spills a water drum. Later, death comes to him in the toilet near a water tap. Charles Diwan gets paralyzed before he picks up a glass of water. Mohit is trapped at the moment when he is sitting on a toilet seat and smoking pot. Devki puts apple seeds submerged in water in his kitchen sink. Jagan dies on snow, which is nothing but frozen water. It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold. Death comes to Jagan in a cold place over the snow.
Water, Water, Everywhere
There is the presence of water in Arya's life, too. After she is sexually assaulted, she is dumped in a gutter, from which she barely makes out alive. She has recurring nightmares of the assault, and she sits under the flowing water of the shower to cleanse the memories of the incident. When they all go to Kufri, Arya feels calm in the gorgeous mountainous landscape. She is enthralled by the beauty of nature. And, then, it rains, and a resplendent rainbow appears. She gets drenched in the rain, finally, feeling clean. Her healing is complete, and she has been blessed by the angels. Her healing process was also represented by the curtains in her room. When she is initially assaulted, her room is dark with the curtains closed. When she first hears the news of Baburam's death, she walks towards the window, opens the curtains slightly letting the light come in the room, and then, watches the birds fly in the sky. After Charles' death, she again walks towards the window curtains, and then, sends a message to her father that she wants to go to the hill station. 
MOM is a well-made film and it is quite visible that there is a lot of deep thought that has gone into building its screenplay. It is some kind of an inexplicable dark statement that Baburam, a man, gets death by castration where his sexual organ is presumably cut by a transgender woman as if she is making him lose his gender, too. In the scene, where a drunk Baburam sees the mysterious woman, the background lights of the Vishwakarma board are specifically lit showing Karma as if giving us an indication of what is to happen to him. One can escape but karma will catch up sooner or later. When the news of his death is shown on the television, Devki is cutting carrots on a chopping board, suggesting the act of castration. Later, Mohit is sent to prison, and it is suggested that he, too, gets raped by the prison bully. There is Devki's revenge but also his own karma. In another visually thoughtful scene in the film, Devki gets an idea to kill Charles when she takes a bite out of an apple while she is herself working on an Apple laptop, that has its own 'bite in an apple' logo prominently displayed. In another scene, when Matthew visits Charles in the hospital, the television in the room is playing a show that has a leopard looking to hunt its prey, as if mirroring the events of the film. Finally, in the ending moments of the film, Arya is seen reading The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher, again foreshadowing not just the literal storm outside, but the metaphorical storm as well, that will soon hit her and change everyone's life forever.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, like always, brings certain quirks to his character DK. He plays the role of a matchmaker when he is not solving criminal cases. He is a Shiv Bhakt, his name had Shankar in it, which is why, like Shiva, he had a hidden third eye, that recorded everything in his sunglasses. There is a hilarious moment when he is singing Duniya Me Logon Ko and tells Devki that he also wanted to be a singer, like his mother. Devki asks him if his mother was a singer, and then, he replies that his mother was not but she also wanted to be one. I laughed the most here. He flirts with his wife, and even after so many years of their marriage, he can still make her blush. DK empathized with Devki as he also had a daughter similar to Arya's age, and was able to convince Devki to hire him. A little bit of empathy can go a long way. In another beautiful moment in the film, we see that Akshaye Khanna's character Matthew comes to the place where DK is found dead. When Matthew sees DK's dead body, he does a sign of the cross prayer. Here is a cop, who deals with death and violent crimes on a daily basis, and still has not lost belief in his God.
There are quite a few things in the film that made me a little uncomfortable. There is this whole sequence where Devki tells her husband that there could be nothing worse for Arya than living life with an incident such as this. This is the conventional societal view that silos and pities the victim, ignoring the aspect that life could be rebuilt and pain can be healed, even without revenge. At another point in the film, Matthew tells Devki that he does not like it when someone else does his work for him. Everyone is equal before the law. But, then, in the end, he is the one who hands over the gun to Devki to shoot Jagan. It is understood that he was frustrated with the bureaucratic red tape that let criminals walk away free. It would still be understood if he only shot Jagan, but an officer entrusted with protecting the law asks a civilian to break the law made it quite unconvincing. I did not find vigilantism in the film as problematic because Devki knew what she was doing was wrong. Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge. She and her family bear some consequences of her (wrong) actions. But I can see how the vigilantism in the film and its similarity with the political events under the current Indian dispensation can cause discomfort to a large section of the audience.
Regardless, I enjoyed watching MOM. Sridevi, who stars in her three-hundredth film in MOM, is splendid as always. There is a deep emotional connection and empathy that she brings to Devki. She made us wait nearly five years after her last film English Vinglish. After Shashi and Devki, let's see how she surprises us in her next adventure. 

Trivia:
Spacebound film that Devki told her students to watch. 
The film's music is by A.R. Rahman and Irshad Kamil. There is a self-reference when at one point, Arya is listening to the songs from Highway
Foo Fighters
Vincent van Gogh's Still Life: Vase with Irises Against a Yellow Background
The casting director of the film Mukesh Chhabra gets a guest appearance.
Books In Movies:
Books by Greg Dyke and John Grisham
Mortal Prey by John Sandford
A book by Bill Bryson
Why Do I Say These Things? by Johnathan Ross

The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
Change Beings With Me
Book Recommendation:
A friend on Twitter suggested adding book recommendations that have a similar theme as in the movies. So, I will try to do add that based on what I have read or what others recommend. Since the Mahabharata is a theme in the movie, there is The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which tells the story of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective. At one point, we read that Draupadi wished to marry Karna. It is a really interesting book with a new outlook.

Other Reading:
1. Rahul Desai on the recklessness of revenge cinemaLink
2. Jai Arjun Singh on mothers and vigilantesLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Galat aur bahut galat main se chunana ho, toh aap kya chunenge."
—Devki, MOM

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Vincent van Gogh in Hindi Films

I did a thread on Twitter on Vincent van Gogh in Hindi films. Sharing it here as well. 








Dialogue of the Day:
"Tumhari tasveer apne andar na jaane kya kya chhupaye hai." 
—Tara, Dil Chahta Hai

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

No Smoking—Of Kafkaesque Souls

Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking is one of my favorite films. When I first watched it at the time of its release, even though I did not fully understand everything about the film, I remember being fascinated that a film like that could be made in the Hindi film industry. No Smoking is based on Stephen King's short story titled Quitters, Inc. It is the story of K (John Abraham), a narcissistic businessman, who is addicted to smoking. His wife Anjali (Ayesha Takia) wants him to stop smoking. K's friend Abbas (Ranvir Shorey) recommends him to a rehabilitation center called Prayogshala, run by a godman named Baba Bengali (Paresh Rawal). When K visits Baba Bengali for a consultation, he is forced to sign a contract, that recommends extremely harsh punishment if K continues smoking. The film, then, transcends into metaphysical realms, where K eventually not only loses his habit of smoking but his own identity, too.

John Abraham's character K is named after Josef K, the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Trial. The novel is a critique of totalitarianism in which K is put under arrest for an unknown crime for an unspecified period of time. Anurag Kashyap has mentioned that Franz Kafka is one of his favorite writers. Kafka's novels are known for their surrealist themes. Surrealism is often described as literature in the dream state, where a different kind of logic prevails, that connects the real with the imaginary. Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, has written, "I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak." This surrealism is a motif in the works of Kafka which has spawned its own term known as Kafkaesque. In an interview with The New York Times, Frederick R. Karl, author of a biography of Franz Kafka says, "Kafkaesque is when you enter a surreal world in which all your control patterns, all your plans, the whole way in which you have configured your own behavior, begins to fall to pieces, when you find yourself against a force that does not lend itself to the way you perceive the world." These words also perfectly describe the crux of the plot of No Smoking and its Kafkaesque theme. The real and the unreal world of K collide to form a surreal world. K is often found near a bathtub as it is the device through which he travels between the two worlds. Additionally, the logic of the real world does not hold true as K's life goes through major tribulations that have no rational explanation. K is constantly traversing the two interconnected worlds, and the film depicts K's surreal world merging the events of his dreams and his reality. 
"To be is to do."—Socrates
"To do is to be."—Sartre
"Do be do be do."—Frank Sinatra
The film opens with the above three quotes. There is an interesting history of how these quotes came into existence. This list of quotes first appeared in the bathroom stalls in the 1960s and 1970s, but many a time, different authors were specified for the first two quotes. The phrase attributed to Sinatra was derived from his version of the song Strangers in the Night. At the end of the track, Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that were transcribed as "Do be do be do." However, the appearance of quotes in No Smoking is most likely due to another reason. The quotes were made popular when they appeared as a graffito in the novel Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut. In the book, the protagonist named Rudy sees these words scribbled on the walls of an airport toilet where he is trapped. In Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Lawrence R. Broer suggests that the scene represented Rudy's catharsis, his release of guilt, and his recognition that he is free to author a new essence in life. All of Kurt Vonnegut's novels are known for their anti-authoritarianism and their randomness. Thus, it is entirely befitting that No Smoking opens with these quotes as the film, too, has a strong theme of anti-authoritarianism and is a riot of randomness. In addition, the film represents a sort of catharsis for Anurag Kashyap, as he has himself said, that he made this film because his earlier films faced problems and never got released. Smoking, itself, is a way of letting out something. Characters are letting go of things in the film. At one stage in the film, there is K's wife, Anjali, sitting on a toilet seat and the film shows us her flushing after doing her job while she speaks on the phone. It is also noteworthy that the individual quotes are also in line with film's leitmotif of individual freedom and randomness; hence, the three quotes are consistent with the film's concept. 
K gets a recommendation from his friend Abbas that he got cured of his smoking habit by going to the PrayogshalaAnjali threatens to leave K if he does not stop smoking. Therefore, K decides to visit the PrayogshalaIt is located in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai. When K reaches the spot, the man at the counter directs him to an underground bunker through which K has to pass to reach the Prayogshala. He descends into the manhole, and thereafter, he has to take more stairs to go further down. There is nothing at the same level and he has to keep going down. This descent is nothing but the representation of K going to hell. Once he reaches the Prayogshala, Baba Bengali actually tells him that there might be democracy in the dharti above but this place is paataal ghar, and his writ runs here. Prayogshala is, therefore, symbolizing hell, where people come to get rid of their smoking habit. 
Initially, at an early point in the film, K looks in the mirror and tells himself that no one can tell him what to do. This is the idea of the film that one should be free to do whatever he wants. It is his life, and he will live it on his own terms. K is narcissistic and is not really a nice person. At one stage, he throws out an old lady from an elevator because she wanted him to stop smoking. Even if the activities he likes to do are harmful, he does them out of his choice. Smoking in the film is only a metaphor for freedom. This freedom could be of anything and is a basic right of every individual, even if that person is not really a good human being. The film, thus, tries to show how a person loses his soul if he is forced to do something that does not suit his character. This is why we see that there is a running theme of totalitarianism in the film. Baba Bengali, a godman, has been given the responsibility of curing the people of their addiction by his predecessor. Baba Bengali has met Hitler, the most (in)famous icon of fascist ideology, and he proudly displays his picture with Hitler in his Prayogshala. Baba is himself a dictator and forces people to sign a contract by hook or by crook. K's recurring dream occurs in Siberia (Russia) where he is surrounded by military personnel, which is again a hint towards another military dictator of Russia, Joseph Stalin (or Putin). If Baba Bengali (Hitler) and military personnel (Stalin) stop him from smoking, the film also shows K's friend Alex forcing him to smoke. Alex has come from Cuba where the writ of another famous dictator, Fidel Castro, runs large. Even if K likes to smoke, Alex is forcing him to have a cigar. He even names his cigars after Castro. The argument, again, is about individual freedom and choice. And, those who don't listen to Baba Bengali literally start losing their hearing, and then, continue to lose their sense of being, which includes their creativity, the feeling of love, and then their own character. To be is to do. To do is to be.
Early in the film, Anjali is watching Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List on the television. The scene playing in the movie shows the Jews in a concentration camp in Hitler's Germany. The same scene foreshadows the climax of No Smoking as well, underscoring the comparison of Baba Bengali's methods with Hitler's policies. In the dream, when K is running away from the soldiers, he jumps into the bathtub and enters into a surreal place where he becomes a prisoner. When K had visited the Prayogshala for the first time, he had seen some prisoners looking at him. This time, K has reached that spot and has become a prisoner. The other prisoners tell him that they will be taken for a bath soon. In the prison, K sees his reflection, which a fellow prisoner tells him is his own body on the other side. He can talk to his body using the phone if he has loose change. The lady announces that those who paid the full treatment amount will not be asked to take a bath. Thereafter, K and other prisoners are sent to take a bath, in which they are gassed like the Jews. Essentially, it was K's soul that was exterminated in the Prayogshala. A human has a body and a soul. In an earlier moment, Baba Bengali had told K that the soul is frivolous and indulgent. If one has the power, the soul can be controlled, but if one is weak, the soul needs to be exterminated and let go to cure people of their addiction. The Prayogshala, like Hitler's concentration camps, is a hellish place where he does that. K loses his soul. This is why the place is of sepia shade representing the color of the dirtiness of his soul. In that sense, No Smoking is a subversive film which makes a significant point that a human without the soul is just the body. Baba forced K to become someone with a soul. Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul; it is dead without the soul. 
In an interview after the release of the film, Anurag Kashyap had said that he made the film to express his anger and disappointment as his earlier films ran into problems with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). This is his personal story as well. K is Kashyap himself. The Minister of Health at that time, Anbumani Ramadoss, wanted to issue a fiat to ban the portrayal of smoking in films. So, Kashyap made a film titled No Smoking, which people thought advocates people to stop smoking, but in reality, it champions the cause of artistic expression. In the script of the film, there is a point in the film, where it is mentioned that Baba Bengali has a picture with Ramadoss, but it was not shown in the film's theatrical version. In the last few years, before the starting of any movie, the government has mandated anti-smoking disclaimers and advertisements, which are absolutely bland. In a satirical response, No Smoking opens with a disclaimer that says, "A thousand people stop smoking every day, by dying. Smoking kills." This is also shown in the metaphor of the cut fingers in films. Baba Bengali used to cut people's fingers if they did not follow his orders. In the end, K's soul was purged, and he loses his fingers. Baba explained to K that his writer friend Abbas cannot write. People use their fingers to smoke, but they use the same fingers to write as well. Thus, by issuing such diktats, one is cutting their writing fingers, and curbing artistic expression. The government should have no role in dictating its moral choices to people. In a contrast, perhaps, Alex represented the other side representing the cigarette companies. If forcing people to not smoke makes them lose their fingers, coercing people to smoke is like castration. His cigars have the brand name Infidal Castrated. Alex was the mirror image of Baba Bengali. Alex was also surrounded by men and women who used to wear sunglasses, like Baba's lackeys. Baba Bengali idolized Hitler, and Alex too inspiration from Castro. 
Baba Bengali is, thus, a representation of the dictatorial government. When K visits him, he asks his men to bring a massive red-colored rule book that he will have to read which is nothing but a symbol of the bureaucracy and the red tape, where governments try to force people to sign a contract with its complex rules (like the Aadhar). Then, Baba says there is a Rajagopalchari version (abridged) as well, which I found to be extremely funny. Baba's Baba Bengali's full name is Shri Shri Prakash Ji Baba Bengali Sealdah Wale. This name is quite similar to Sri Sri Ravi Sankar of Art of Living. Baba has people from both the religions working for him, the men in red chaddis (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?) and the women in burkha, displaying another aspect of authoritarianism—religious—in this case. At some other point, K's doctor friend tells him that he was put in jail for some time under POTA that stands for Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was another controversial law that gave draconian powers to the government to control terrorism, highlighting another reference to authoritarianism in the film. We also get to know that K's brother can converse only in German, as Hitler was from Germany. 
Not only is there is a theme of fascism, but the film also shows the extent of omnipresent surveillance that can curb individual expression. In retrospect, the film is so ahead of its time as some of the things portrayed in the film actually turned out to be true. When K enters the carpet factory, the man sitting there scans his hand on a tablet, and it immediately identifies K, something that is becoming increasingly common today. There is a video record of the life of all the people who come to Baba Bengali. This massive Orwellian surveillance was recently uncovered by WikiLeaks. The point is that whatever one tries, no one can really escape the Big Brother. K tried to follow a meticulous plan where he did not tell anyone where he is going, but even then the acolytes of Baba Bengali were able to follow him in Africa. Anyone who enters into a contract with Baba Bengali is followed at all times by the same man. Abbas is surrounded by a man who is wearing sunglasses. The same man follows K in his different avatars. He was the taxi driver who brought K to his office after K loses his hearing. There was also a carpet kept on the top of the car, which was another symbol that this is Baba Bengali's man as his Prayogshala was located under a carpet factory. The same man is the guard at his office, who tells K that he has eight siblings. I kept counting if the man actually appeared at nine different places in the film. The same man also meets K in the elevator. Not surprisingly, he was the same man who dressed as a transgendered woman and met K at a traffic signal and threw some coins at K. The script mentions another quirky detail that the man's different characters have different voices. Ram. Shyam. Balram.
Baba Bengali's fee for curing people of their addiction was twenty-one lakhs, eleven thousand, and one hundred and ten rupees with an additional one rupee in change. Baba insisted that the one rupee be paid separately in cash. K signed the cheque for the amount but he did not have one rupee with him in cash. This nonpayment of one rupee will turn out to be a decisive moment for K later. When he is sent to the prison, the lady announced that only those who paid the full fee amount will not be asked to take a bath, that is, their souls will not be purged. In the prison, there is also a telephone booth that required one-rupee coins if K's soul wanted to talk K's body. K ignored Baba's advice, thus, has to bear the consequences. At an earlier stage, the man who was following K everywhere met him in his eunuch avatar at a traffic signal, and threw coins at K. He ignored those coins even then, which eventually would lead him to lose his soul.
As the film is autobiographical as well, almost all the characters in the film are inspired by the life of Anurag Kashyap. The letter K is not only an allegory to Kafka, but also to Kashyap. At one point, Kashyap himself makes an appearance in the film where he is standing in an elevator with K. K's wife Anjali and his secretary Annie are actually the same people. He thinks they are two different people, but in the end, Anjali tells him that they both are the same. In real life, at that point, Anurag Kashyap was married to Aarti Bajaj (the letter A like Anjali), who was also the editor of his films. Like Anjali and Annie, his own wife played two roles in his life. Abbas' full name is Abbas Tyrewala, who is no one but director Abbas Tyrewala, who was supposed to play the part of Abbas before it went to Ranvir Shorey. At some point, K and Abbas meet in a bar, and K says to Abbas that he has changed after his marriage. And, then, in the background, the words Paakhi Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se start playing. This is another inside joke as Paakhi is the name of Abbas' wife. Paakhi from Ae Ajnabi is referring is Paakhi Tyrewala, who has acted in Jhootha Hi Sahi, and also turned director recently. The song comes at the precise moment when K is talking about Abbas' marriage. At another point, Abbas mentions Maqbool and Main Hoon Na in a dialogue, and Baba Bengali when he is talking about Abbas mentions Salaam Namaste and Munnabhai M.B.B.S, which are also the two films among the many for which Abbas wrote the dialogue and the screenplay. There is also Vikramaditya Motwane in the film. He plays an employee with the same name who refuses to stop smoking in the office. Interestingly, the script also mentions Raj Kumar Gupta, as the employee who comes for an interview at K's office, but the same is not mentioned in the film. Raj Kumar Gupta has actually assisted Anurag Kashyap in the film, and also directed his own films, such as Aamir. At the launch party of his cigars, Alex says, "Beedi Jalaiyele ke Vishal desh me cigar Gulzar," again a wordplay on the people associated with the film. Vishal Bhardwaj is the producer of No Smoking, Gulzar has written the lyrics, and the song Beedi from Omkara is associated with these two men. 
Dreams and delusion constitute a significant part of the film's universe. K's wife and his secretary are the same people, but K thinks that they are different. These elements are interspersed throughout the film in different ways. At some stage during the end, K sees a group of men dressed as Santa Clauses roaming on the streets on New Year's Eve. Santa Clauses are, after all, a kind of representation of human delusion. At different points in the film, the screen keeps forming some kind of bubbles as if trying to portray that there is some kind of an illusion, separating the real and the imaginary. During the zero minute, when all the addicts are allowed to smoke for only one minute in the year, K reaches the place, which is called The Dead Factory, a perfect name for a place for the congregation of men who have lost their souls and are symbolically dead. In the same sequence, K tries to crawl between the legs of men to reach Baba Bengali. Immediately, in the next scene, there is a rat crawling in the pipes that gets trapped, representing the trapped mental state of K. Thereafter, K enters his dream state again, and as he was advised earlier by his psychiatrist friend, he jumps into the bathtub, moving down the pipe to hell. After he jumps into the bathtub and starts swimming, I was reminded of Mary Jane (Alia Bhatt) swimming towards the light in the climax of Udta Punjab.
Any Anurag Kashyap film is full of references and tributes to some of his favorite filmmakers. In No Smoking, too, we see something similar within the context of smoking. In the film, the song Jab Bhi Ciggaret is shot in a bar that is called The Bob Fosse. Bob Fosse was an American dancer, choreographer, director known for his award-winning musicals, such as Cabaret (1972). He has won eight Tony Awards for choreography and an Academy Award for his direction of Cabaret. Jab Bhi Ciggaret is a cabaret-style number that pays homage to him. The other noteworthy fact is that Bob Fosse was a known chain-smoker. According to his biographer Sam Wasson, while choreographing The Pajama Game in 1954, Fosse chain-smoked as many as six or seven packs of cigarettes a day. It is quite befitting to then pay a tribute to Fosse in a film related to smoking; perhaps, making the point that for some people, smoking is a way to sharpen their creative instincts. It is also interesting that a male voice is used for lip sync for a female dancer. This androgynous representation was also seen in the character of Ardhnarishwera in Kashyap's Gulaal (2009). There is a particular line in the song, Upale jaisa sulagta hu. Only Gulzar use a word that means cow-dung cake in the lyrics of a Hindi film song. The other songs, such as Phoonk De, are absolutely gorgeous. 
There are a lot many other references to songs that are played in background mirroring the events happening in the film. When K and Abbas are reminiscing about the time when they were young and smoked a cigarette, Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin plays. The particular sequence is titled Kyunki Bachpan Bhi Kabhi Naughty Tha, a spinoff to Ekta Kapoor's iconic show Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The part one of Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) opened with the title song of the same show. At some other point, K calls Abbas and Ghungroo Ki Tarah Bajta Hi Raha from Chor Machaaye Shor (1974) is playing in the background. When Anjali asks K to stop smoking, he plays Shut Up by The Black Eyed Peas in his car. At other stages, we hear Dean Martin's Ain't That A Kick In The Head and That's Amore being played. The script mentions many other songs related to smoking.

There is another set of symbols used in the film which only Anurag Kashyap can explain. Perhaps, some of them have an underlying meaning associated with them, while some of them are used for indulgence. For instance, there are white dialogue bubbles, like seen in comics, in which the characters of the film are conveying their real thoughts during conversation. Or, like the fact that Anjali wears two rings always. We also see the door in the room in Serbia where K is trapped opens only if you push it from the side you are on. There are dwarves with funny voices in Baba Bengali's Prayogshala. The prison number on K's shirt is written 8077 in Hindi numerals, perhaps, it has something to do with the Holocaust.

No Smoking is one of Anurag Kashyap's finest films. It, truly, is what we call a subversive film. It constantly makes one think on its deeper meaning as nothing in the film is without any reason. For the last month or so, I have watched and rewatched the movie, and I learnt something new every time. Many films are often called as 'ahead of their time.' No Smoking was not only so far ahead of its time, but the things shown in it are turning out to be prescient. Ten years ago, two films released on the October 26th—Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met and Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking. Jab We Met got its due immediately, but here is hoping that No Smoking will also get its recognition in due course of time. 

Interesting things present in the script:
There is a reference to the Clinton cigar (which I assume is referring to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky cigar story, and Ajay Devgan is mentioned as well. Presented some screenshots here. 





Other Reading:
1. Script of No SmokingLink
2. On Raman Raghav 2.0Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Aatma hai to shareer eeshwar hai, aatma nahi to nashwar hai. A body is divine with the soul, it is dead without the soul."
—Baba Bengali, No Smoking

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Moon in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Films―Yoon Shabnami Pehle Nahi Thi Chandani

If I could be given a chance to become a fly on the wall in a film song, Yoon Shabnami from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya will be on my list for sure as I feel it is one of the most splendidly choreographed songs in the last few decades. Words fail me to describe the sheer pulchritude of the song that is so stunning in both its conception and its execution. The song is picturized on the occasion of Eid where Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) plans to tell Sakina (Sonam Kapoor) that he loves her. In the song, Raj sings that the moonlight has never been as ravishing as before, and when the moon saw you (his lover―his saawariya), it got confused. Yoon shabnami pehle nahi thi chandani. Like the other people who are waiting for the Eid moon to appear, Raj is calling his lover to come out and meet him. The men are looking towards the sky; however, Raj is the only one looking in the other direction. He points to the other men that the moon has appeared but he does not look at it for long because his moon is not the moon of the sky, but Sakina. She had been glancing towards the sky from her balcony, and at that very moment when the moon emerges, Sakina comes out from behind her veil. Raj is ecstatic because his moon Sakina has appeared, and her beauty makes even the other moon feel shy. The one sight of his saawariya is enough to make him forget the gorgeousness of the celestial moon, and lose himself in her. Kho gaye tujh me hum iss kadar. 
In the song, all the other men are dressed in pure white, but Raj is dressed in a red-velvet blazer making him stand out from the others. The color red is the color of love, and Raj gives a stole of the same color to Sakina, that epitomizes his deep love and affection for her. She accepts the present and wears it, in a way almost accepting Raj's love assuming her lover Imaan (Salman Khan) is not coming back. However, Imaan arrives and waits for Sakina at the bridge. When Sakina sees him, she runs towards him, and the stole that Raj gave to her falls down from her shoulders, conveying to us the fate of Raj's love. Raj's moon Sakina goes to her saawariya, but his memories of her are enough to make him live through his life
Raj's gift is dropped
The moon is, in fact, yet another recurring theme in the oeuvre of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In almost all his films, the moon makes a special appearance of its own. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, there is Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, where on the festival of Karva Chauth, all the women, including Nandini (Aishwarya Rai), are waiting for the moon to come out in the sky. Karva Chauth is the festival where women keep a fast for their husbands and break that fast once the moon is out in the night sky. Nandini reminisces about her lover Sameer (Salman Khan) on this day last year when she was with him. The women sing, "Aaja re aaja chanda ki jab tak tu na aaye ga. Sajana ke chehrein ko dekhne ye man tarsa jayega." Come Oh Moon! Show Yourself. Till the time you won't come, this heart shall be thirsty to see the face of my beloved. Sameer tells them, "Na na chanda tu nahi aana. Tu jo aaya toh sanam sharma ke kahi chala jayena." No, no, Moon, don't come. If you come, then maybe my love will go away feeling shy. 
In one of the earlier posts, I had mentioned that Saawariya was a contrast to Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in which Sakina rejects a musician Raj (similar to Sameer) for a more brooding Imaan (Vanraj). In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Vanraj (Ajay Devgn) takes Nandini back to her lover. In Saawariya, Raj tries to stop Sakina from going to her lover. It is interesting to note that the lyrics of Yoon Shabnami also paint a contrast to Chand Chhupa Badal Mein. In both the songs, people are waiting for the moon to come out. In Yoon Shabnami, Raj sings, "Chaand woh bharma gaya, tujhko dekha toh sharma gaya." The moon got really confused and felt shy when it saw you (his lover) This is quite the opposite of Chand Chhupa Badal Mein, where Sameer is asking the moon to not come out because then his lover will get shy on seeing the moon. "Tu jo aaya toh, sanam sharma ke kahi chala jayena." In both the songs, the singer sees his beloved in the chandani―the moonlit night. Chandani raat mein har sajani apne sajana ko dekhe ki. In the moonlit night, every woman shall see her beloved. Yoon shabnami pehle nahi thi chandaniThe moonlit night has never been gorgeous before. When Chand Chhupa Badal Mein ends, Nandini holds the sieve through which the women see their husbands to break the fast, but she avoids making an eye contact with Vanraj, because he is not her lover. It is a testament to our syncretic culture that the moon is used by Sanjay Leela Bhansali on two distinct religious occasions―Eid in Islam and Karva Chauth in Hinduism―to convey a similar underlying message. This has also been seen in his other films, such as Bajirao Mastani, where he tries to present the implicit similarity of religions. Usi Durga ki murti ko sajaate waqt hare rang ka chooda, hare rang ka shalo, aur hare rang ki choli pehnaate hai. Durga idols in temples are often adorned in green (the color often used to represent Islam). And, both the songs in the two films have a peacock symbol in them which is another Sanjay Leela Bhansali trademark. There are peacocks drawn on the walls in Yoon Shabnami; while Nandini sings. "Saawan ki rah jaise dekh mor hai." Just like the peacock is in search for rainfall.
In Devdas, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) goes to meet Paro (Aishwarya Rai) after he comes back from London. It is for the first time that they both will be seeing each other as adults. Paro is compared to the moon in the film. When Dev enters her room, she does not show her face and tells him that she is like the moon, and she fears that when he will see her, he will become breathless. Dev tells her that even the moon is not as vain about its beauty as she is. She replies to him that it is because the moon has scars, and she is flawless. He goes away from her room informing her that he will see her face at moonrise. In the night, when the moon is out, Dev goes to Paro's place, where she is sleeping in the courtyard. In a spectacular scene, Dev is stunned to see Paro's face juxtaposed with the full moon, leaving no doubt that Paro is indeed as celestial as the moon. He smiles to himself after he finally gets to see that luminous face. He takes some soot from the burning diya next to her, and puts it on her lips, giving her a nazar ka teeka to prevent her from any evil eye. Then, there is the song Woh Chand Jaisi Ladki that is based on these scenes in which the lover is yet again comparing his beloved to the moon and is waiting for one glimpse of hers to give succor to his torturous soul. Woh chaand jaisi ladki, is dil pe chhaa rahi hai. Mera chaand baadalon mein kyun jaake kho gaya hai. That girl, who is like the moon, is gaining over this heart of mine. Why has my moon gone into the clouds and gotten lost? Dev's other worshipper Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) is also related to the moon as she is named after the moon itself.
Paro is the moon
In Bajirao Mastani, a desolate Kashi (Priyanka Chopra) is coming to terms with the realization that her husband Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) has found a paramour in Mastani (Deepika Padukone). At some point in the film, Kashi is sitting by herself in Shaniwar Wada with her gaze transfixed in the direction of the moon. When Bajirao comes to meet her, she tells him that she is observing the moon, which is trying to hide between the clouds. Yeh chaand bhi na, kabhi iss badli ke peeche, toh kabhi uss badli ke. Here, she likens Bajirao with the moon, and subtly makes a statement that he is hiding something from her, and she is aware that he is spending his time with Mastani as well. Later, in the song Pinga, Kashibai compares the arrival of Mastani to the appearance of moon. She sings, "Dekho mere piya ki sanwari, jiya se banwari. Mere angna mein dekho aaj khila hai chaand." Look at my beloved's innocent sweetheart. She is at my door like a full moon. Thus, the film again highlights the presence of moon and compares Bajirao and Mastani to the moon. In Marathi culture, the women and the men often wear a crescent moon symbol called a chandrakor on their forehead as well. In Pinga, Mastani also wears a chandrakor for the first time, while Kashibai expectedly wears it throughout the film.
There is something similar related to the moon in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela as well. There is a song Poore Chand in the film that did not make it to the theatrical version of the film. Since the song does not appear in the film, it cannot be said for sure but it can be conjectured that it is most likely sung by Ram (Ranveer Singh) for his Leela (Deepika Padukone). Here, the singer compares the night of a full moon to his lover's face, and describes the movements of her beautiful face. "Poore chaand ki ye aadhi raat hai. Tere chehre pe aa ke ruk jati hai." This is the mid of a full moon night. It comes and stops at your face. In another moon sighting in the film, after Ram and Leela elope to get married, a full moon shines brightly behind as Ram walks towards Leela to consummate their marriage in Ang Laga De. 
There is the moon in Guzaarish, as well; however, the context is a little different. While the earlier mentioned films compared the lover to the moon, here, the moon is compared to life itself. The song Chaand Ki Katori calls life as a cup of moon. "Saare taare ek taraf, zindagi batori batori hai. Chaand ki katori hai, raat yeh chatori hai." All the stars on one side, have collected the life. It's a cup of the moon, this night is an epicure. The moon has been a common trope in films; however, it holds a special significance for Sanjay Leela Bhansali, given its repeated sightings in his filmography. There is no doubt that even in his future films that the ever resplendent moon (like the peacock, another symbol of resplendence in his films) would grace us with its presence in some form or the other. After all, a filmmaker known for his magnificent films is an innate partner of that celestial object that is often described as the epitome of beauty in the universe. 

Other Reading:
1. On Bajirao MastaniLink
2. On Motifs in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films―Link
3. On Dola Re DolaLink
4. On SaawariyaLink
5. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-LeelaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Usne meri aatma ko chhua hai, Maa."
―Nandini, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

Raj's chaand :-)
P.S.―I might have misinterpreted some lyrics. Apologies. Happy to be corrected.