Sunday, April 25, 2021

Trivia Post 22

I am putting some trivia notes for the last few weeks.

1. The interesting ending credits of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Tigmanshu Dhulia, Gajrajo Rao, and Kiran Rao are mentioned.
2. The colors in Tera Zikr Hai from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish.
3. The endings of Anurag Basu's Kites and Gangster are the same.
4. Shah Rukh Khan on bridges.
5. In Anubhav Sinha's Tum Bin, when the intermission comes, there are two of Pia (Sandali Sinha) and the two of her choices. Later, the men are shown in black and white.
6. Friends jumping in the water in Abhishek Kapoor's films Rock On!! and Kai Po Che.
7. The different shades of blue in Gautham Menon's Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein.
8. The dream sequence in Satyajit Ray's Nayak.
9. Eros Cinema in Deepak Sareen's Aaina and Shekar Kapur's Mr. India.
10. Flower pranks in Farhan Akhtar's Dil Chahta Hai and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
11. Conversations in the rain in Mani Ratnam's films. 
12. Men crying while watching films—Salaam Namaste, Yuva, and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.
13. The faces behind in Mani Ratnam's Alaipayuthey.
14. The light scenes showing Murad's struggle and success in Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy.
Other Reading:
1) Trivia Post 21—Link
2) Trivia Post 20—Link
3) Trivia Post 19—Link
4) Trivia Post 18—Link
5) Trivia Post 17—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Apna time aayega."
—Murad, Gully Boy

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Jeff Bezos' Letter, Social Media, and Tamasha

Jeff Bezos recently put out his annual shareholder letter as the Chief Executive Officer of Amazon. He writes one every year talking about his vision for the company but this one is going to be his last as he is handing over the executive reins of his company to a new person from next year. There is always something to learn from his writing. In this letter, two things struck me that have implications not only for business but for life as well.

1) Create more than you consume: He writes, "If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world."
There are two aspects that he has clubbed here. The first is the aspect of creation. One has to continuously create more art than one consumes. This is not saying that consumption is not important; in fact, some of the best ideas come from consumption. When we can apply the learnings from one art form to another, it leads to the creation of new forms. That is how innovation also occurs. However, the point here is one does not have to consume all the time else there will be no time left for creation. It is only through creation that one generates a value which is the second aspect that he talks about. Value can have different meanings for people and is not calculated in monetary terms. Both the aforementioned aspects are applicable if one wants to build a social media following. One has to consistently create art over long periods of time. (I do not like the word content; it feels dehumanizing.) Not all of it will be turn out to be the best, but in the long run, it is consistency that triumphs over perfection. Secondly, having a social media account or a blog that does not really create value for its followers will stagnate. Outside of one's family and friend circle, why would anyone follow if they see no value coming out of it? Value is something that can be entertaining, inspiring, or informative. All the big social media accounts that we see usually fall in these three categories.

2) Pay a price for your distinctiveness: Quoting a passage from Richard Dawkins', Jeff writes, "For instance, in a dry country, animals and plants work to maintain the fluid content of their cells, work against a natural tendency for water to flow from them into the dry outside world. If they fail they die. More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die."

I was thinking about Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha which also said something similar to what Jeff writes in the letter. Society's rules try to make everyone average. One has to follow a set path. Ved wanted to be a storyteller in his dil but was working as a product manager in the duniya. Ved becomes an average performer in his office job because he could not connect with it. Tamasha was not saying that one should leave their corporate job and follow their passion for art. The point it was trying to make that one must feel connected and happy in whatever job they are doing else it will stop them from reaching their full potential. And, this job can be anything. The world tries to make you normal, but one has to work hard to maintain their distinctiveness. And, again, using the learning in social media, one builds a following based on their distinct voice, or as it also called unique selling proposition (USP).
He further writes, "We all know that distinctiveness–originality–is valuable. We are all taught to "be yourself." What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical–in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen. You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously."

This is precisely the most important part of the letter that many people tend to forget. Even we did not see it fully in Tamasha. The path to be yourself is not going to be easy. There is a price to pay for it. Again, applying it on social media, having a big following comes with constant scrutiny and ridicule. Being unique has rewards but it also comes with a price.
I will be back soon as busy with some other projects that I am working to finish and also trying to push away this crazy Covid anxiety. 

Other Reading:
1) 2020 Letter to Shareholders—Link
2) The post on TamashaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Andar se kuch aur hi hum, aur bahar se mazboor."
—Autorickshaw Driver, Tamasha

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Pagglait—Of Life After Death

There is a moving scene in Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox that has stayed with me all these years. Ila (Nimrat Kaur) rushes to her parents' home. Her mother (Lillete Dubey) is sitting nonplussed as her husband (unseen) has died. She tells Ila that she always wondered as to what will happen when she becomes a widow. Now that the moment has come, the only thing happening to her is that she is feeling hungry. She felt love for her husband in the initial years but gradually it turned into disgust—she uses the graphic ghinn to describe the feeling. Caring for Ila's father all his paralyzed life drained everything out of her. She now craves food. Paraathen khaane ka mann kar raha hai. The starved souls of The Lunchbox yearn for food representing the desire for the missing love in their life.
In Umesh Bist's Pagglait, Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra) has lost her husband (unseen). She is locked in her room making her relatives think that she is in mourning. Sandhya's parents come rushing to meet her but she is irritated at her mother's crying. Bas, Mummy. Kitna ro-ogi. She asks her mother-in-law Usha (Sheeba Chaddha) for a Pepsi. Moments later, her friend Nazia (Shruti Sharma) turns up who is also a bit perplexed at Sandhya's lack of emotion. Like Ila's mother, Sandhya tells her friend that she is feeling hungry. Rona bhi nahi aa raha aur bhookh bhi daba ke lag rahi haiPagglait, which as we find out subsequently, also uses the yearning for food to represent the desire for love but its form is love for the self.
Sandhya's husband Astik has died. The cause of death is never revealed. He is never seen in the film. There is neither any flashback nor any photograph. But his presence is felt throughout. The word Astik means a theist; someone who has a belief in the existence of god. In Pagglait, Astik is more a representation of Sandhya's belief in her own self. All her life, Sandhya was made to go against it. She never learned to love herself. She was made to do things that took away this love. When Sandhya fell from a bicycle in the sixth grade, her mother returned it because if an accident happens, no one will marry her. Her mother made her follow superstitions because she believed those helped her score well rather than Sandhya's own talent. Sandhya was forced to do an arranged marriage. Five months into it, she has still not adjusted to it.
When Astik dies, Sandhya finds out that he was having an affair with Akansha (Sayani Gupta). She wants to meet her. Sandhya pours her heart out to Akansha and reveals that she did not speak much to Astik. She thought things like love happened earlier in life and she never had the courage to love. She further adds, "Hamari tarah, Astik ko bhi pyaar karna nahi aata tha." Like herself, Astik also did not know how to love. She never loved herself. She wants to now know what Astik was like. She is surprised to learn about the innate romance between Astik and Akansha. It is an affair between two individuals but it is also an affair between two emotions—Astik (meaning belief) and Akansha (meaning desire). In her quest to know more about Astik, Akansha becomes Sandhya's akansha. Sandhya is completely enamored of her. She copies the way she uses her hands, the way she dresses, and the way she looks. When Sandhya visits Akansha's home, she learns that she lives all by herself. She sees her own reflection in Akansha's photograph. In the beautiful poster of the film, Sandhya sees Akansha in the mirror. In the cafĂ©, Sandhya orders the same thing as Akansha. The belief was always missing in her life but she has now found a face to her desires.
In the thirteen days after death, the soul liberates from the body and prepares for a journey to Yam Lok. In those thirteen days, Sandhya's soul liberates her and prepares for a journey to meet her desires. Pagglait juxtaposes these two journeys splendidly. An earthen pot is kept outside the house with food to feed the soul during this time. Sandhya is forced to eat the bland flood during this time. On the fourth day of mourning, Astik's ashes are dispersed in the river. Side by side, there is Sandhya eating gol gappas again underscoring that she is taking steps to fulfill her long-suppressed desires. On the tenth day of mourning, the soul becomes whole again. Pind daan is performed for Astik. The earthen pot is broken and the soul is released. During this time, Sandhya learns more about Astik and Akansha. She goes through a plethora of emotions. Like the soul is without a body in this period, Sandhya is seen in shadows and reflections in this period. Phire Faqeera depicts her confusion. On the tenth day, Sandhya forgives Astik and, finally, cries. On the thirteenth day, all rituals are completed for Astik. The soul moves away from the family. Sandhya runs away from her family forging a new path for herself.
The Two Journeys
The film is not afraid to call out the hypocrisies, superstitions, and stereotypes of its people. Early in the film, Tayya Ji (Raghubir Yadav) is seen reading the book Atoot Bharat, a euphemism for the term Akhand Bharat, a pipedream of the Hindu nationalist. Later, he is seen reading Aryo ka Aadi Desh, another book with a similar ideology. He forces his nephew Alok (Chetan Sharma) to eat bland food during mourning but secretly enjoys a drink himself; which Alok also points out to him. He takes pride in having an open-minded family but when Nazia who is a Muslim comes to the house, all this openness turns to hesitation. She is served tea in a different cup. She is made to eat outside the house. Parchun (Aasif Khan) offers to take her out for biryani but she says she is a vegetarian. "Har Sachin, Tendulkar nahi hota." This is something that many progressive and urbane shows also espouse. In the recent Bombay Begums, the big shot executive Fatima (Sahana Goswami) has lunch and the camera pans to show that she is eating biryani; the implication being that she is a Muslim. At a later stage in Pagglait, Astik's father (Ashutosh Rana) goes for his son's last rites and a bunch of Pandits almost harass him while offering their services. Death is a business. Even the family members are more interested in the insurance money. The only people grieving are the parents of the deceased. It is precisely the way it works in life. Even the attitude of Sandhya's mother (Natasha Rastogi) undergoes a change when her daughter gets the money.
Pagglait creates tension in some scenes using noise and silence. When Astik's uncle (Rajesh Tailang) arrives with his family, he starts a war of words with his brother. While the people fight, the uncle's daughter keeps on banging the toilet door, adding more tension to the proceedings. And, the other scene is when Sandhya gets the insurance money. The entire family is gathered quietly but the tension was so thick that it could be cut with a knife.
The film also weaves tiny details in the narrative beautifully. It opens with the squeaking sound of the spring in the cycle seat. The house is named Shanti Kunj. The grandmother used to take Usha's name throughout but she starts taking Sandhya's at the end. Usha stands for dawn and Sandhya stands for dusk. Sandhya was doing embroidery throughout which turns out to be a smiling face as revealed in the end. When she goes to the bus stop, there is an old woman who is driving the rickshaw. It is rare to see someone like her in films. I was thinking of Tumhari Sulu that also showed all the drivers in the film to be women. At different stages in the film, Sandhya keeps looking at Astik's nicely lined shoes, perhaps, another hint of her plans.
Pagglait uses other films to add humor to its situations. Early in the film, Parchun mentions Alok looking like Ghajini from Ghajini. The doorbell at their house is a character of its own and plays Ooh La La from The Dirty Picture. Bua mentions Dolly Ki Doli after learning the life insurance money given to Sandhya. Finally, the film's funniest line is spoken by Tayya Ji where he invokes Pad Man during a discussion on Sandhya's pregnancy.
One thing about the film was that it relies too much on exposition. I wish there was less of it. For instance, when Sandhya finally cries, she also says to her friend, "Mujhe rona aa raha hai." One cannot see her hunger, but one can see her tears. There is no need to explain it. In another scene, Astik's father talks to his mother about the meaning of the word Astik. These details can be discerned by the audience. When she runs away, Sandhya spells out her motivation in letters (accompanied with a voiceover) to her relatives. And, then, there was the music. Beautiful on its own, but here, it becomes a way to explicitly voice Sandhya's inner feelings. I also felt the music did not get along with the tonality of the film. Phire Faqeera is gorgeous though.
In Pagglait, there is a focus on Sandhya's hands. She sees Akansha's perfectly manicured hands and becomes conscious of her own, and tries to hide them. At the doctor's clinic, she stops Nazia from fiddling with her hands. This was reminiscent of Ritesh Batra's Photograph, where Sanya Malhotra played a quiet Miloni and there was the focus on her feet. Whenever she seemed to be nervous, there were shots of her twitching her feet. As Miloni does not articulate her thoughts and prefers to be silent, these images of her feet indicated her nervous state. Sandhya is an extension of Miloni in some ways. They both are obedient pliable people who have followed whatever has been told to them. They always acquiesced to their parent's choices. In an early scene in Photograph, Miloni decides to buy what her family thinks looks good on her. The time she is asked about her favorite color, she is unable to answer. In Pagglait, Sandhya sees Astik only had blue shirts. He never wore anything else. After a heated meeting with Akansha, she comes and wears one of his blue shirts. Towards the end, she reveals that her favorite color is blue. When she runs away, she wears blue. She was struggling to embrace it but with Akansha, she has found Astik—the belief in self—and is ready for a new journey. An ending also signifies a beginning. In death, Sandhya also found life.
1) Sandhya is reading The Pleasure of Ignorance by Robert Wilson Lynd.
2) Nakul Roshan Sahdev who plays Aditya in Pagglait was also Salman in Gully Boy. In both films, he is gamed by women into marriage. Like Sandhya, Safeena (Alia Bhatt) forces him to agree to marry her to buy more time till she figures out her plans with Murad (Ranveer Singh).
3) When Sandhya is reading comments on Facebook, she speaks a couple of lines from this poem.
"Ek suraj tha ki taron ke gharane se utha, 
Aankh hairan hai kya shakhs zamane se utha.
4) A few lines from Shakespeare's King Lear are also mentioned in the film:
"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; 
They kill us for their sport."
5) I loved the story behind why the ashes are submerged in Ganga. I never made an effort to learn about it.
6) The half faces of Sandhya in Pagglait.
7) At places, Pagglait reminded me of Sukhwant Dhadda's Ek Chadar Maili Si. Starring Hema Malini and Rishi Kapoor, the film is about a woman Rani whose husband is murdered, and then due to poverty, she is made to marry her brother-in-law. When Rani's husband dies, she is in a state of shock and then women bring some onions to make her cry. The love angle between Alok and Sandhya made me think that Pagglait is also going to take the route of Ek Chadar Maili Si but it avoids that.
8) Sanjoy Nag's Memories In March starring Rituparno Ghosh and Deepti Naval shows the bond that develops between a man's mother and his boyfriend after his death. It is about how people have a secret life of their own.
Other Reading:
1) The post on The LunchboxLink
2) The post on PhotographLink
3) The post on Tumhari SuluLink
4) The post on Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921)—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Main ragreez, kumhaar bhi main hun,
Nafrat main hoon, pyaar bhi main hun,
Mujhme saara satya basa hai,
Kann hoon, main sansaar bhi hun.
Phire Faqeera, Pagglait