Saturday, September 18, 2021

Themes In Geeli Pucchi from Ajeeb Daastaans

American lawyer Kimberle Crenshaw first proposed the concept of intersectionality in 1989, when she published a paper in the University of Chicago Legal Forum titled Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex. She argued in the paper that the law seemed to forget that black women are both black and female and thus subject to discrimination based on both race, gender, and often, a combination of the two. "We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What's often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts," Crenshaw said. Her theory gained acceptance gradually and received widespread attention during the 2017 Women's March, where organizers noted how women's intersecting identities meant that they were "impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues." In the anthology Ajeeb Daastaans, Neeraj Ghaywan weaves in intersectionality in his film Geeli Pucchi. There is Bharti Mandal (Konkona Sensharma) who is a woman, a queer, and a Dalit. She faces discrimination at work and in life by virtue of her three identities—gender, caste, and sexuality. She works in a factory. She is often treated with rudeness by her coworkers and managers and does not even have a separate toilet. Despite having the right qualifications, she is not selected for the post of data operator. A new upper-caste woman, Priya Sharma (Aditia Rao Hyadri), is hired for the position. 
Geeli Pucchi also uses the theme of food throughout its narrative to bring out the differences between its characters. The relationship between Bharti and Priya begins when Priya comes down to the canteen (interestingly positioned) and has lunch with her on her first day at work. Priya offers Bharti the stuffed okra that she brought from her home, but she refuses. Bharti eats food from her square steel lunchbox. Priya then asks Bharti about toilets for women, but she curtly replies that there are not any women around to have separate toilets, forgetting that she, too, is a woman. Later, the friendship of Priya and Bharti starts to blossom and they go to have dahi vada. Priya asks the shopkeeper not to add saunth to the plate for Bharti while asking him to add saunth and make it spicy on her plate. The camera pans to the two dahi vada plates (like the earlier instant when workers took food from the factory). A similar scene was also seen in the beginning moments of the friendship between Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) and Shalu (Shweta Tripathi) in Neeraj Ghaywan's debut film Masaan. Vicky and his friend gifts a teddy bear gift to Shalu's friend while they are having a snack on the road. Shalu is arguing with the seller that he had not added enough chutney.

Bharti and Priya then become good friends. They now have lunch together. Priya offers Bharti food again from her spoon. Bharti feels a bit shy but then eats it. Later in the film, Priya invites Bharti to have lunch in her chhota sa kona where no men are allowed. This time, even Bharti offers her lunch to Priya. This shows the different stages of their relationship through food.

There are more food-related scenes in the film that bring out the associated caste-related prejudices. Bharti invites Priya to her home, where she makes chicken for her. Priya is not allowed to have it in her house as upper-caste religious families avoid non-vegetarian food due to notions of impurity associated with it. The film's title Geeli Pucchi, meaning sloppy kisses, is also based on this when Priya kisses Bharti's hands after she tastes the chicken made by her. The aspect of eating vegetarian food in an upper-caste household is further depicted during Priya's birthday. Her husband announces to everyone that his mahant father does not eat eggs. Therefore, he makes an eggless barfi cake to celebrate the birthday of his wife.

An actual cake is later cut for Priya at work, where her manager and colleagues celebrate her birthday. Bharti is not invited to the celebration as Priya asks her to remain outside. A heartbroken Bharti watches the proceedings from outside. After a while, she is called in to distribute the cake to all other factory workers. One of the men puts a soiled napkin on the serving plate, which disgusts Bharti. She is treated with little respect.

In the film's final moments, Bharti comes to visit Priya after the birth of her baby. Priya's mother-in-law asks her to convince Priya to leave her job. Bharti is offered tea in a different steel cup. It is a common practice in many households to keep separate sets of utensils for lower-caste people. It is worth noting that Geeli Pucchi starts on a note of sharing of utensils and food concludes on a note of separation of the same. Earlier this year, Umesh Bisht's Pagglait had a scene where the Muslim friend was offered tea in a different cup by the Hindu family. Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat also had this scene where Munna (Prateik Babbar) meets Shai (Monica Dogra) at her apartment, and her domestic help serves him tea in a glass while bringing a ceramic mug for her. Shai is embar­rassed and reverses the serving.

Geeli Pucchi also depicts many contrasts between Bharti and Priya. Bharti lives by herself in her house. Her only companion is the street dog. Priya stays with her family in a place where there is not much space, and she sleeps on the floor with other family members. She and her husband do not even have a few moments of privacy as they have sex in the bathroom. (This lack of space is something that Alankrita Shrivastava has also depicted recently in both her films Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare.) In another contrast, Bharti chooses to dress the way she wants in line with her butch personality and wears darker shades. Priya, on the other hand, is dressed in traditional feminine attire in brighter colors. At one stage, her mother-in-law helps her wear a saree while warning her to maintain a friendship only with people of a similar stature symbolically representing that Priya is not really free and bound by the rules of her family.

While Masaan left one with a punch in the gut and ended on a note of poignance, Geeli Pucchi feels a little distant. Maybe, it was because the characters and their actions lay in the zone of grey which prevents them from being fully embraced. None of them are victims, or all of them are victims. However, the one thing that unites Neeraj Ghaywan's characters is their loneliness of love. Deepak and Devi from Masaan and Bharti from Geeli Pucchi mourn the death of a relationship that could have been so much more and possibly could have changed their future. But life had future plans. Like they said in Masaan, "Mann kasturi re, jag dasturi re, baat hui na poori re." Like the musk deer, the heart doesn’t get closure.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Tumhe apne sach ko maan lena hoga."
—Bharti, Geeli Pucchi

Monday, September 13, 2021

Podcast on Writing with Rahul Desai

I got an opportunity to speak to one of India's finest writers Rahul Desai. I have read a lot of Rahul's writing from the year 2015 when he used to write for Mumbai Mirror but have personally known him since 2016 when I started contributing to his site India Independent Films. We have never spoken to each other in the last five years except via email. I love talking to writers about their writing process. When he suggested a podcast, I thought it will be a great opportunity to learn from him. There is a bit about me in the end as well. Check out the following links for more details. 

Rahul's reviews and other writing mentioned in the podcast:
1) The review of October: Link
2) The review of First Man: Link
3) The article on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindLink
4) The article on Amélie: Link
5) The article on Gully Boy (was not mentioned but I wanted to talk about it): Link
6) The article on film reviewing: Link
7) The tweet on his personal films: Link
8) His blog: Link
9) His recommended reading from the film writing course on Film Companion
Other Reading:
1) Conversations With Baradwaj Rangan on India Independent Films: Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth."
—Paula Danziger

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Trivia Post 25

 Some trivia notes for the last few weeks.

1. A beautiful frame from Shakun Batra's Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.
2. In Seema Pahwa's Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi, Supriya Pathak and Manoj Pahwa played the role of a mother and a son, respectively. In Laxman Utekar's Mimi, they play the role of a wife and a husband. Mimi did not work for me but I liked the bits of meta-commentary on the film world. Mimi (Kriti Sanon) did not get into films but there was another film going on in her life.
3. Lido cinema theater in Farah Khan's Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om.
4. The dancing moon in Farah Khan's Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om.
5. The poses of Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
6. Sanjay Leela Bhansali adorns Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela Bhansali with peacocks all through the film. When Ram (Ranveer Singh) meets Leela (Deepika Padkuone) in the Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired balcony scene, a peacock is there right beside her which flies away when Ram enters. Later, when Ram enters Leela's room, the conversation they have is filled with peacock-related metaphors. Leela's sister-in-law Raseela (Richa Chadda) knocks on the door and says, "Tera mor nikla nahi abhi tak", comparing Ram with a peacock. The cushions and the pillows in Leela's room are all of the colors of the peacock. Again, the song Mor Bani Thangat Kare plays in the background. Like peacocks climbing the trees, Ram and Leela perch on the trees. When Leela is forced to come back, she recites a number of messages and one of them reads, "Morni bina mor kis kaam ka, yeh sindur hai Ram naam ka." At another point, Leela's mother Dhankor (Supriya Pathak) invites Ram to her place, she sends a dead peacock to Ram and says, "Humare beech me mor bahut bolne lage the, lekin ab dushmani no more." After Dhankor cuts Leela's finger and she is lying in her bed, Ram comes and puts a blood-stained mark on her window as if he has cut his finger too as he wants to go through the same pain Leela is going through. When she wakes up and goes out to the balcony, a peacock is seen fluttering its winds symbolizing that Ram is the peacock that came to visit her. In Tattad Tattad, Ram's signature dance move of hand behind the head is symbolic of a peacock's dancing. In Lahu Muh Lag Gaya, Ram's neck is peacock colored. Even Leela's earrings are in the shape of peacock wings. In Nagada Sang Dhol Baje, they sing, "Baagon mein bola, bola re bola mor, badla re dil ka bhoogol." All other songs in the film have imagery associated with a peacock. In the final scene of the film, when Ram and Leela are being carried away, we see a peacock on the terrace again. And, finally, even the film's poster with Leela in her flowing green dress looks like a peacock. Peacock is a symbol of pride and has been a motif in all of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films as written in the post on Padmaavat. More on Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela Bhansali here.
7. Before starring in Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox, Nimrat Kaur has worked in:
    a) Kumar Sanu's Tera Mera Pyar song.
    b) Shoojit Sircar's Yahaan.
    c) Sameer Sharma's Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.
8. The two similar train scenes in Karan Johar's films where the beloved departs in front of the lover—Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.
9. In Ashutosh Gowariker's Swades, the name of the fictitious village is Charanpur (charan meaning feet) which was so named in the film because of the presence of the footprints of Ram and Sita. Just like Ram came back from exile, Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan) came back to Charanpur after many years of living in the US and he is welcomed by the chants of Ayo Re, Ayo Re. Mohan is the idealist Ram for whom his duty comes first. For that, he will even leave Gita, (Gayatri Joshi), like Ram leaves Seeta, to finish his work. In fact, the whole song Pal Pal Hai Bhari depicts the Ramayana where Sita is played by Gita. After that song, Mohan will kill the Raavana—the darkness and the slumber of the village, and bring light to the families (literally and metaphorically). As they also said, "Mann se Raavan jo nikale, Ram uske mann me hai." In another scene, Gita and Mohan stand with their charan (feet) in the water of the pond at the same spot where the footprints of Ram and Sita were shown like they too are Ram and Sita. Later, we see that when Mohan is back in the US, he feels something is amiss in his feet; he is missing standing there. The film ends at that same spot as Mohan and his feet have come back forever. More on Swades here.
10. One of the many things I like about Ayan Mukerji's Wake Up Sid was that all the time Aisha (Konkona Sensharma) kept saying that Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) is a kid. But then, one day, her boss Kabir (Rahul Khanna) says the same to her that she is a kid, too, when she did not enjoy Jazz. There is a child in all of us, just how much we show it varies.
11. I love the characters of Debbie (Shruti Bapna) and Lakshmy (Shikha Tulsania) in Wake Up Sid. Debbie reminds Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) of his privilege; Lakshmy reminds Sid of empathy.
12. Saajan (the lover) brings saawan (the rain):
    a) "Saajan aayo re, saawan laayo re, main poori bheegi re, mann behkaayo re." — Shaad Ali's Ok Jaanu
    b) "Aoge jab tum, O Saajna, angana phool khilenge. Barsega saawan, barsega saawan, jhoom jhoom ke." — Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met.
13. Shakun Batra's Kapoor And Sons is full of photograph-related scenes which are representations of memories of the characters. The dying wish of Dadu (Rishi Kapoor) is to have a picture clicked with his entire family. The family bonds with each other while singing Chand Si Mehbooba and looking over old photographs, that help them discover the good times of the past. At one point, the father Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) is looking at the pictures of his honeymoon and says that they were in Gulmarg, but Sunita (Ratna Pathak Shah) corrects him that it was Sonmarg. The first thing that Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun (Siddharth Malhotra) do when they go into their rooms, is to look at their old things; Arjun is disappointed that his room is not kept the way he. In many scenes, Arjun clicks pictures from his cellphone. He clicks Rahul's picture when he is smoking; later, when Rahul bangs the car, he poses to get his picture clicked as if that too is a memory worth remembering. Arjun's friend is also a photographer. Later, Rahul is looking at the pictures on the wall of the house. In another scene, Arjun also looks at Tia's (Alia Bhatt) house, which is full of her pictures with her parents. Sunita finds about Rahul's secret through his photographs. After Harsh's death, a life-size cutout takes his place in the family picture, quite symbolic that he might have gone, but his presence in their life is eternal, and his cutout picture epitomizes this presence. Whether it is a pack of sweet cigarettes of Tia, or a bunch of Barely Legal adult magazines of Arjun, or the number of times that Dadu remembers he has watched Raj Kapoor's Ram Teri Ganga Maili, these people hold on to every memory of theirs. "Un yaadon ko main sau crore ke liye bhi na bechu," says one of the characters. Nostalgia is a significant part of their lives. More on Kapoor And Sons here.
14. The title of Zoya Akhtar's Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara is taken from the song in Abhishek Kapoor's Rock On. The title of her Dil Dhadakne Do is taken from the song in Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara. The title of Farhan Akhtar's upcoming Jee Le Zaraa is taken from the song in Reema Kagti's Talaash.
15. The themes in the poster of Govind Nihalani's Party and Gustav Klimt's painting Hope II.
16. A beautiful frame from Nikkhil Advani's Salaam-E-Ishq. Anil Kapoor played a similar role in Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do.
17. In the song O Mere Dil Ke Chain from Ravikant Nagaich's Mere Jeevan Saathi, the lyrics say, "Apna hi saaya dekh ke tum tum jaan-e-jahaan sharma gaye." And, then we can see the woman's reflection in the mirror and the man's reflection on the glass.
18. The amazing women of Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedi's films: Biji (Kamlesh Gill), Chaubi Massi (Moushumi Chatterjee), Vidya Iyer (Gitanjali Rao), and Fatima Begum (Farrukh Jaffar).
19. Some interesting ways of writing the film's title in the opening credits: Gulzar's Angoor, Shakti Samant's Kati Patang, B.R. Ishara's Ek Nazar, Manik Chatterjee's Ghar, Gulzar's Maachis, and Ramesh Behl's Pukar.
20. Reading books upside down in Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
21. The tie in Shakun Batra's Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu—At some stage in the film, Rahul (Imran Khan), who cannot take his own decisions, goes to his dad's room to ask his opinion on the color of the tie he should wear. His dad (Boman Irani) selects the tie for him and slides the knot of tie up till his neck as if tying a noose. He asks Rahul to marry a girl who would be suitable for his business dealings. This is another indication of the father's power over Rahul's life. In the climax, when Rahul finally learns to stand up for himself, he takes off his tie and throws it away as if he is breaking the invisible manacles that fettered him to his dad. The tie 'tied' him. It was a metaphor for his freedom.
22. Om Puri on the posters in Govind Nihalani's Ardh Satya and Aghaat. And, the stunning poster of Nihalani's Drohkaal.
23. Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan) and the windows in Pradeep Sarkar's Parineeta.
24. Pradeep Sarkar's Parineeta recreates the swing scene from Satyajit Ray's Charulata. Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) sings Rabindra Nath Tagore's song Fule Fule Dhole Dhole. Parineeta (Vidya Balan) sings, "Baagh main papiha bole, pihu pihu piyu kaha."
25. Krishna in Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan (Radha Kaise Na Jale) and Jodhaa Akbar (Man Mohanaa). There is also a thoughtful description of the song Man Mohanaa on Sony Music India's YouTube page.
26. Three scenes from three of my favorite films where the women are thinking about something related to their life. In Shoojit Sircar's Piku, Piku (Deepika Padukone) thinks about her late father Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) while sitting on his bed. In Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance, Sona (Konkona Sensharma) thinks about the time when Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) told her that if she will not even try, she will have zero chance of winning anything. In Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar, Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai) thinks about the future where she is asked by her father to marry a king Akbar (Hrithik Roshan) from a different religion to protect his people. She pleads to God to show her direction.
27. These men never come from the front door and always enter via the roof/window: 
    a) Sunil (Shah Rukh Khan) in Kundan Shah's Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.
    b) Bubla (Ayushmann Khurrana) in Akshay Roy's Meri Pyaari Bindu.
    c) Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) in Anurag Kashyap's Manmarziyaan.
28. This nice scene from Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do.
29. In Sujoy Ghosh's Kahaani, during the first watch, there is a possible reason we think to why Vidya (Vidya Balan) cries when Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee) tells her that she will be a good mother. In the end, it takes a different meaning and it is clear to us why she was crying. It all makes sense.
30. The presence of diyas in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films: In Devdas, Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) goes to London for his studies, and Paro (Aishwarya Rai) lights a diya in his memory. For ten years, she lights a lamp, and not even for a moment, she let it extinguish, protecting it from everything. The lamp symbolized Dev. Paro takes the diya with her even after her wedding, because her love for Dev does not end with her marriage. She made sure to keep it burning till the end, and it only gets extinguished when Dev dies. When Dev gets to know about the lamp, he tells Paro, "Diya tum jalati thi, par jalta toh main hi tha.In the flame of the lamp that you lit, it was I who burned. At some other point, Paro's mother Sumitra (Kirron Kher) tells her, "Maine tujhe diye ke saath saath Devdas ke liye jalte hue dekha hai." With the lamp, I saw you burn for Devdas. The lamp symbolized the burning desire for the lover. In Bajirao Mastani, too, there is the presence of diyas. When Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) returns to Shaniwar Wada, Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) lights diyas. Later near the end, when Kashibai tells Bajirao to not come into her chambers anymore, she is trying to light off the diyas. She cannot reach the height, so, Bajirao takes the stick and puts them off, just like their relationship that seems to have to run its course.
For more such trivia, follow my account on Instagram: @readingfilms.
Also, here is the link for my book on Dil Chahta Hai—The Heart Wants It. The book page is now also on Goodreads.

Other Reading:
1) Trivia Post 24—Link
2) Trivia Post 23—Link
3) Trivia Post 22—Link
4) Trivia Post 21—Link
5) Trivia Post 20—Link

Dialogue of the Day:
"Dil se faisla karo tumhe kya karna hai, dimaag tarkeeb nikal lega."
—Farah, Dil Dhadakne Do