Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Brief Note on Mardaani 2

I recently watched Gopi Puthran's Mardaani 2. The Rani Mukerji-starring film is the second installment of Mardaani series; the first film of the same had released in 2014. Themes, scenes, and dialogues feel similar to the first film. In Mardaani, there was the theme of animals where people kept mentioning animals. Like Shivani said, "Only a mouse can get another mouse out of his hole." Later in the film, we see a few shots of chameleons. In Mardaani 2, there is a theme of religion. The film starts with the festival of Dussehra with the effigies of Raavan and his brothers at a fair. It ends with the festival of Diwali amidst the diyas and the firecrackers. The implication being that it is a battle between the good and the evil. Later, Shivani evokes Sita and Raavan where she says people always blame the women for the actions of men the way it happened in Ramayana as well. More religious references keep appearing later in the film. Sunny takes up the job of a tea seller and calls himself Bajrang. There is a pandit who hires Sunny to eliminate a journalist. Sunny dresses up as a sadhu when he kidnaps the politician Sunanda. But the film's most visible religious aspect comes in the final scene of the film when Shivani beats Sunny to death with his own belt. An emotional and an overwhelmed Shivani sits in the footsteps of a temple with a painting of a Devi visible behind her. Shivani is being compared to a goddess. Before the release of the film, Rani Mukerji had mentioned in some interviews that there is an essence of Durga in the Mardaani 2. Therefore, the last scene appears to be related to this aspect. As per legend, Durga killed Mahishasura, the shape-shifting demon who kept taking different forms to deceive her. Mahishasura believed that no woman had the power to kill him. Likewise, Sunny is the Mahishasura here. He hates powerful women who do not stay in their limits. In his introduction scene, he is seen wearing a mask of a demon. All through the film, he is also shape shifting taking different avatars trying to deceive Shivani. He becomes a woman twice—once in a saree, and the other time in a burkha. He becomes a tea seller. He becomes a sadhu. At one point, he even puts lipstick on his mouth, like the Joker. He injures himself and gets a mark on the forehead like the demon. Perhaps, there is some connection also with blue as the final fight in the film happens in blue where Sunny is bathed in blue paint.
Animals in Mardaani 
Religion in Mardaani 2
Mardaani 2 is a good film but Mardaani was a much better film. Mardaani 2 feels rushed and does not have the thrill of the first film. Rani Mukerji is great as always but this was not a performance-driven role. It is a commercial film and it largely achieves what it sets out to do even if the vigilantism it espouses is still hard to embrace. 

Other Reading:
The post on MOMLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Barabari toh bahut dur ki baat hai, filhaal hissedari mil jaye na wahi bahut hai."
—Shivani Shivaji Roy, Mardaani 2

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Panga—Luck By Second Chance

I remember an interview in which director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari had talked about her favorite scene from Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Abhimaan. She spoke about the last scene of the film where Uma and Subir sing together on stage after going through a conflicting phase in their marital relationship. Ashwini mentioned that she was immensely moved by the performance of Jaya Bachchan. In her latest film Panga, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari remembers Jaya Bachchan again by naming the lead character after her. Jaya Bachchan took a break from working in films at the peak of her career to take care of her kids. She made a comeback to films after a gap of nearly eighteen years in Govind Nihalani's Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. Panga is also a comeback story of another Jaya (Kangana Ranaut), a top-level kabaddi player, who takes a break in her career to care for her prematurely-born son, and successfully manages a comeback to the sport at the age of thirty-two after an eight-year gap.
In Shimit Amin's Chak De India, there was Vidya Sharma, the captain of the Indian hockey team, who went against the wishes of her family to play for her team. Her family was happy with the government flat she initially got them but now they wanted a traditional bahu. In Gauri Shinde's English Vinglish, there was Shashi Godbole, an entrepreneur who sold laddoos but was ridiculed by her family for not being able to fluently converse in English. She craved respect from her family. "Mujhe pyaar ki zaroorat nahi hai, zaroorat hai toh sirf thori izzat ki," she says. In Suresh Triveni's Tumhari Sulu, there was Sulochana Dubey, a homemaker, whose family completely supported whatever she wanted to do in life but she did not have a specific goal. She wanted to do everything. "Main kar sakti hai," she used to say. In Panga, Jaya, a former sports player and now a clerk, has a lovely family but what she craves is respect from her self. When she looks in the mirror, she is not happy because of what all she could have achieved in life. When she sleeps, she dreams about kabaddi. Jaya feels that she has lost a part of her. Panga gives her a second chance to get that part back. And, with a combination of luck with having a supportive husband, and through her hard work, Jaya grabs the chance to achieve her dreams. 
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari has earlier made Nil Battey Sannata which was also based on the theme of dreams. Nil Battey Sannata told us, "Asal mein gareeb wo hota hai jis ke pass koi sapna nahi hota." Panga believes, "Jo sapne dekhte hain woh panga lete hain." Both Panga and Nil Battey Sannata are essentially about the dreams of mothers and the lengths they go to fulfill them. What differentiates the two films is about whom the mother dreams about. In Nil Battey Sannata, there was Chanda, a domestic help, who dreamed that her daughter Appu goes onto achieve something big in life. She does not want Appu to be a house help. Appu did not like her mother's interference in life and felt her mother was imposing her own dream on her. "Khud toh apni zindagi mein kuchh kar nahi payi aur ab apne sapney mujh par thop rahi hai," Appu says to her mother. In Panga, Jaya wants to achieve her dreams but they are about her own self. She struggles because she cannot come around to the idea of fulfilling her personal dreams at the cost of taking care of her son. "Main ek maa hoon aur maa ke koi sapne nahi hote hain," says Jaya to her friend Meenu. It is then her family who coaxes her giving the final push she needed to achieve her dream for playing again for the Indian team. 
Panga is full of little details. Jaya is still known by her maiden name—Jaya Nigam. Her husband's last name is Sachdeva, but we never hear Jaya being called by that. Jaya's mother, played by Neena Gupta, has the same frazzled hair as Jaya. Like mother, like daughter. Life without Jaya becomes a struggle for her husband Prashant and her son Adi and this is seen in the food pictures. The bhindi ki sabji is replaced by greasy aloo ki sabji when Jaya goes away. A perfectly-shaped paratha made by Jaya takes a new shape when made by Prashant that makes their's son appetite go away just by looking at it. When Adi took part in a sports competition, Jaya was not able to attend it and he is dejected. That is why it important for Adi to be there when his mother plays the game.
There is a lovely moment in Panga that shows how the framing of a scene can add to the narrative. After Jaya decides to let go of the opportunity to play in Kolkata, she is working in the kitchen and the camera frames her in one of the squares of the grills in the kitchen window. Her husband Prashant comes in and talks to Jaya. He is framed in the other square of the grill. As Prashant tries to convince Jaya to go to Kolkata, he gradually moves from his square to Jaya's square conveying the theme that he has come around to her side. The audience sees this scene from the outside. I had put this point as a tweet and Ashwini Iyer Tiwari saw it and affirmed the thinking behind the scene on her Instagram profile.

A particular motif that can be seen at different stages in Panga is the presence of shoes. Throughout the film, there are a number of scenes that involve shoes. Early in the film, the friendly neighbor Bhabhi puts to dry a pair of washed red shoes. The locket that Jaya wears also has red shoes. During the training, Meenu offers Jaya a pair of shoes. At another point, the camera focuses on the canvas shoes when Jaya makes her son ready for school. Later, there are many other shots where Jaya takes out her shoes. Jaya and her mother keep saying to Adi, "Joota khayega." To my mind, this repeated focus on shoes seems to be a kind of message to keep running after your dreams.
Notice her locket is also a shoe
At some stage in the film, Meenu shows Jaya a challenging flip move to escape from the opponent team's grip. Jaya calls it the Tiger Chan move—a combination that requires the skills of Tiger Shroff and Jackie Chan. Jaya believes that she cannot execute it due to the limitations of her body. But in the final match in the film, she performs the same Tiger Chan flip to win a victory for India. I thought about Dangal while watching this particular scene. In Dangal, when Mahabir Phogat trains his daughters, he teaches them about flipping the opponent in a rainbow-like arc that can instantly award the player five points. Towards the end of the film, Geeta remembers the same technique and performs it in the nick of time to win a gold medal for India. Another aspect that reminds of Dangal is the coach. The villainous coach of Dangal who even locked up Mahabir Phogat finds some kind of redemption in Panga where he is actually supportive of Jaya.
In the second half, Panga slows down a bit. It also feels such because Jaya was not playing, so a sense of waiting crept in as to when will she play. She gets a chance only in the final moments of the film. What keeps the film going is the performances by all the cast members. Richa Chadda is terrific as Meenu. Jassie Gill, who has one of the most infectious smiles, and Yagya Bhasin deliver great performances. But, unsurprisingly, it is Kangana Ranaut who again portrays Jaya splendidly. Her offscreen persona is so different yet she feels much in control in this role.
Jaya works at the railway station, sitting behind the glass walls, selling tickets. But Jaya is not content with that. She wants to travel, too. During the kabaddi matches, Jaya does not play as she is as a substitute. Seeing this, her coworker says, "Apni gaadi outer pe hi khadi hai; platform pe aa hi nahi rahi." Their train has been in waiting; it is not getting the green signal to come at the platform. Earlier, during one of the training sessions, Jaya's friend Nisha advises her to hire a personal 'coach' again using the analogy of railways. She says when the journey is long and one is strapped for time, they should use a double engine. She asks Jaya to find a double engine that can help her. Meenu becomes that engine for Jaya. Jaya's husband is an engineer in the railway coach factory, where he builds trains, like the support he gives to Jaya. When the train is ready, Jaya travels alone by herself, on a train, like a train. I think that is the larger point of the film—the importance of a support system to travel on the journey of dreams. Panga may be predictable but it is touches like these that elevate it, making it a memorable one. 
1. Sanjeev Shrivastva, the famous dancing uncle, makes an appearance in Panga.
2. Subtitle fun—Bam Bhole becomes Later, Alligator.
3. Subtitle fun—Vishwamitra and Maneka become Romeo and Juliet.
4. Rubik's Cube—Another consecutive entry for Rubik's Cube in films.
5. Luggage scene in Queen and Panga.
Cutting Scissors:
I am not able to find the details of the film on the Central Board of Film Certification website.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Jo sapne dekhte hain woh panga lete hain."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Chhapaak—Don't Be A Nirashavadi

In her last film Padmaavat, Deepika Padukone played Rani Padmavati. A man, insanely obsessed with Padmavati, forces her to commit the act of jauhar where she walks into fire and burns herself to death. In her new film Chhapaak, Deepika Padukone plays Malti. Here again, a man insanely obsessed with Malti, and one who cannot bear romantic rejection, burns her face by throwing acid on her. Directed by Meghna Gulzar, Chhapaak is based on the real-life story of acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal who was attacked in 2005, after rebuffing the romantic advances of an acquaintance. In N. Chandra's Tezaab, there was a tiny sequence involving acid throwing where Shyamlal (Anupam Kher), a drunkard threatened to throw acid on his wife (Suhas Joshi) when she refused to do as he wished. Due to some commotion, his wife falls on the acid bottle, gets burnt, and then commits suicide. In A.R. Murugadoss's Akira, there was another depiction of an acid attack where a young Akira (Mishiekka Arora) witnesses a group of unruly men throwing acid on a young woman's face. Akira helps the police catch one of the criminals. The film then went into a different story when Akira grows up. Chhapaak is the first mainstream Hindi film focusing solely on the issue of acid attacks.
A poster in the office of Amol (Vikrant Massey) who runs an NGO has the word survivor written on it and the film uses this term to describe the women who have faced an acid attack. Chhapaak shows the insensitivity of the entire system in treating the survivors of acid attacks. Moments after Malti is attacked, nobody comes to her rescue except a kind Sikh man who pours some water over her, while others are simply looking or walking by. In the hospital, the police inspector wants a statement from Malti immediately when clearly she is not in the mental state to give one. A lady police inspector raises questions on Malti's character as she had saved the numbers of boys in her phone, bringing the familiar concept of victim-blaming. When Malti applies for a job at a beauty parlor, the employer refuses and says that she should try for vacancies available for disabled people because people prefer to see beauty at a beauty parlor. When she goes for another job interview, the interviewer asks her that she did not mention about her attack. Malti replies that there is no category mentioned for acid survivors on the application form. The film opens with people protesting for women's safety after the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. But there is no one to protest or care for acid attacks as they don't get noticed in front of rape cases. In court, the judges had to reprimand central and state governments for showing no seriousness on the issue of acid sale for years. Later, there is also the case of the two sisters belonging to a lower caste who faced an acid attack. The nurses are so inconsiderate to their pain that Amol had to shout at them to be a little kind. Everyone in the system behaves really callously with acid attack survivors, even if inadvertently. People call them bhoot while writing words of support. Parents make their kids look away from acid survivors. Chhapaak attempts to bring empathy and compassion for these survivors. At one stage, a little kid screams on seeing Malti's face after the attack. As someone who has gone through this scene many times in life where kids called me bhoot as I have a large birthmark covering my face, I could relate a tiny bit of how it feels. It is always hard with the kids because one cannot even get angry at their ignorance.
There is a point in the film where Malti's mother is unhappy with the state of affairs as she believes the case that Malti is fighting is hampering their economic condition. Malti has to go out for an evening and her mother admonishes her as to why she is going out late. Malti shoots back; what worse could happen to her after all that she has gone through. Later in the film, Malti visits a woman who narrates her ordeal that she was not allowed to be admitted to a hospital in her hometown as she was from a lower caste. Further, there is another heartfelt scene in the film where Malti and her colleague, also an acid attack survivor, are buying some things from a department store. The colleague asks Malti as to how many surgeries she has had because she wishes to have a new face like Alia Bhatt. Malti replies that she went through seven surgeries. To this, her colleague wonders that she is struggling to even arrange funds for her second one and Malti got funds for seven. There are varying levels of privilege (caste and class) even in violence. These scenes try to project that things could be a lot worse for Malti when she had replied to her mother earlier.
Malti comes home after the surgery and the title song of Kal Ho Naa Ho plays on the radio. She does not want to listen to it as it reminds her of her life before she was attacked as she used to dance on that song. Later, in one of the best scenes of the film, Malti and her colleagues are celebrating the judgment where the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was amended and acid attacks got their own section. Amol, being his usual negative self, is peeved at the jubilant mood and questions the need for the celebration when acid is still being sold freely. Malti shuts him down by saying that acid has been thrown on her but he behaves as if the acid has been thrown on him. She wants to party and she will. I was just thinking of a similar scene from Kal Ho Naa Ho where Aman (Shah Rukh Khan) asks Naina (Preity Zinta) as to why does she feel the weight on the entire world is on her shoulders. She feels she does not have enough but looking from someone else's eyes, she has more than enough. Aman was suffering and he wants to live his life but it was Naina who was behaving like the world is ending for her. Amol behaves the same as if the entire world is on his shoulders. Like Aman helps Naina, Malti helps loosen Amol a bit. Malti does not let anyone guilt her to feel sad. If she is happy, then why does she have to pretend that she is sad. 
In Talvar, Meghna Gulzar used one of her father's films Ijaazat to depict the relationship between Ashwin (Irrfan Khan) and Reema (Tabu) who are in the midst of a separation. Reema returns Ashwin's things including their wedding pictures. Ashwin accepts them and questions her if she has seen Ijaazat. At a later stage in the film, Reema is actually seen watching Mera Kuch Saaman from Ijaazat where Maya sings to Mahendra to return not her physical items but the memories of the times they spent together. By asking her about Ijaazat, Ashwin hints to Reema about the time they spent together. In Chhapaak, there are Archana Bajaj (Madhurjeet Sarghi) and her husband (Anand Tiwari) whose relationship also provides a look at marriage with a different touch. The wife appears to be more famous than her husband. She cannot make her daughter's ponytails properly. So, her husband pitches in for the daughter, and he also makes tea when guests come around. The film uses different states of growing up of their daughter to mark the passage of time.
Chhapaak loses momentum in the second half as nothing interesting happens in this part. The film feels too simplistic. It is probably a conscious decision to not make the film emotionally draining but at the same time, it also does not go deeper into issues. There is a scene where Amol and Malti talk about how humans let evil overtake them. Acid pehle dimaag me milta hai, phir hi toh haath me aata hai. Scenes like these that explore the human psyche are far and few between; as such, the film does not have a lot going in it. Additionally, except the title song which is beautifully written, the other songs slow down the narrative and were not really needed. Talvar and Raazi were better in terms of tautness and screenplay.
Chhapaak rests primarily on the performance of its leading lady Deepika Padukone. After the attack, Malti looks at herself in the mirror. The skin around her ear is damaged preventing her from wearing an earring. The scene reminded me of the one in Piku where Piku with her kohl-lined eyes and golden earrings looks at herself in the mirror. Deepika delivers a wonderful performance; it never feels like she is acting. The other performance of Madhurjeet Sarghi as Archana Bajaj is also great. I kept wondering as to where I have seen her before and then after reading a bit about her, I got to know that she starred in Na Aana Is Des Laado, the show that used to air on Colors. Chhapaak is also a tale of sisterhood. It was actually a woman, who on the orders of a man, threw acid on Malti but it was the many wonderful women who helped Malti get her life back. From Shiraz Aunty to Archana Bajaj to Minaxi, it is women who support each other in the film that help them carry on the fight. The words ladna hai that Malti heard from Shiraz Aunty become her motto to inspire other survivors.
A journalist friend describes Amol as 'Nirashavadi', meaning a cynic. On the contrary, Chhapaak felt like a film of hope. Malti always covered her face in the sessions court but after her victory, she throws away her dupatta revealing her face to the world. The film is about these moments of fighting and regaining confidence in life. At one point in the film, Malti is watching the finale of Indian Idol. Later, she takes up a job at a book store as it was near to a music school where she planned to learn singing. She could not become the Indian Idol but she did become an Indian idol inspiring other women that that life can be rebuilt and restarted after a temporary stop because as she says, "Unhone meri surat badli hai, mera mann nahi."
1. One noteworthy thing about the film is the number of mirror scenes in the film.
2. One more entry to my thread on Rubik's Cube in movies. It is the first one where a girl is seen playing with the Rubik's Cube.
3. Laxmi Music Classes (named after Laxmi perhaps)
4. Sheroes
5. One more film for this post on mangoes in films. 
The Cutting Scissors:
I am not able to find the details of the film on the Central Board of Film Certification website.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Buraai hum sab me hoti hai, yeh pakka hai. Par aisa kya ho jata hai koi insaan apni buraai pe is tarah se kabu kho baithta hai. Kyunki yeh bhi pakka hai ki acid pehle dimaag me milta hai, phir hi toh haath me aata hai."
—Amol, Chhapaak