Saturday, March 26, 2022

March 2022

I try to write something here every two weeks but have not been able to do so recently. I wanted to write on some topics. But I had to study for a few technical exams recently (which I thankfully cleared). I have also been a little occupied at work. Therefore, I have not been able to dedicate time here. I also did not feel like writing because something I was hoping for did not work out. Life finds different ways to humble us. I want to write more about what happened but I don't think I have the courage to express myself freely. Ten years ago, I would have done that easily. But now, I don't feel comfortable sharing my life here. Expressing vulnerability has become very hard for me. I feel comfortable remaining silent. Alisha in Gehraiyaan keeps saying that she feels stuck. I keep feeling the same thing. Not being able to see a future for yourself is really hard. I will be fine in some time after I figure out a way to get the things I want in life.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Do my choices even matter, Papa?"
—Alisha, Gehraiyaan

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Looop Lapeta and the Legend of Savitri and Satyavan in Cinema

Looop Lapeta (2022)
Our lives are determined by our choices. And, the choices we make in the tiniest of moments have the potential to change the entire course of our lives. "Bas ek moment lagta hai life badalne mein," surmises Aakash Bhatia in his whimsical and colorful Looop Lapeta. His film tells the story of Savi (Taapsee Pannu), who races against time to save her boyfriend Satya (Tahir Raj Bhasin) after he loses a significant amount of cash belonging to a mafiosoLike the three Os in its title, Looop Lapeta provides three different perspectives of the same story, where the different choices of its protagonists impact their eventual destiny. While the film is the official Hindi remake of Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run, Bhatia adds some perspectives and concepts that are uniquely Indian. For instance, at one stage in the film, Satya narrates the mythological story of Savitri and Satyavan to Savi. He tells her about how Savitri managed to trick Yamaraj into giving her a boon that led her to save Satyavan's life. Looop Lapeta is also the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Savi is named after Savitri. Satya is named after Satyavan. Like Savitri, Savi uses all her thinking to prevent Satya from dying. Savi is the one who devises the strategy to get back the money that Satya lost. At one stage, she even throws a stone at a billboard of Yamaraj.
Looop Lapeta (2022)
The tale of Savitri and Satyavan is well known. During the festival of Karwa Chauth, the Savitri-Satyvan katha is often narrated to women who keep a fast for the long life of their husbands. The story was first told by Rishi Markendeya in the Mahabharata when the eldest Pandava, Yudhishter, questioned if there has ever been a woman who had the dedication and love for her husband equivalent to that of Draupadi's. Rishi then narrates the tale of Savitri and Satyavan to Yudhishter. Savitri was the gift from the Sun God Savitr to King Asvapati. She was so beautiful that she intimidated all the men. When she reaches the age of marriage, no man asks for her hand, so her father Asvapati tells her to find a husband independently. She sets out on a pilgrimage for this purpose and finds Satyavan, the son of a blind king. Savitri returns to tell her father that she will marry Satyavan. Narada tells Savitri that she has made a wrong choice as Satyavan is destined to die one year from that day. Her father pleads with her to choose a more suitable husband. Savitri, however, insists on marrying Satyavan. They get married and stay together for a year. When the day of his death arrives, Yamaraj comes to take Satyavan, but seeing Savitri's devotion, he grants her a few wishes. Savitri asks him that she wishes to be the mother of a hundred sons. Yamaraj grants her wish. Since becoming a mother would not have been possible without Satyavan being alive, Savitri tricked Yamaraj and saved her husband's life.
A painting of Savitri and Satyavan
Over the years, there have been many representations of the legend of Savitri and Satyavan in popular culture. When cinema was in its nascent stages in India, the visionary Dadasaheb Phalke made his second film Satyavan Savitri based on the legend in 1914. His film was also mentioned in Prakash Mokashi's Harishchandrachi Factory (2010)which depicted the life of Dadasaheb Phalke. In 1923, Madan Theaters teamed up with Societa Italiana Cines to make India's first-ever international co-production, Savitri Satyavan. The silent film was directed by Giorgio Mannini and starred Italian actors Rina De Liguoro and Angelo Ferrari, playing Savitri and Satyavan, respectively. In 1937, Himanshu Rai, another pioneer of Indian cinema who, along with Devika Rani, founded the studio Bombay Talkies, produced the film Savitri. The film was directed by Franz Osten and starred Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar in the lead roles. Post-independence as well, many other films depicted the story of Savitri and Satyavan. These include Dinesh Rawal's Satyavan Savitri (1963), Shantilal Soni's Sati Savitri (1964), Chandrakant's Mahasati Savitri (1973), and Girish Manukant's Sati Savitri (1982).
Satyavan Savitri in Harishchandrachi Factory (2010)
Savitri (1937)
Mahasati Savitri (1973) 
Starting in the 1990s, there have been a few contemporary adaptations of the story of Savitri and Satyavan. In 1992, Mani Ratnam made Roja, starring Madhoo and Arvind Swami. The film depicted the story of a simple girl Roja (Madhoo), who gets married to Rishi (Arvind Swami), a cryptologist working for India's intelligence agency. Rishi is kidnapped by militants during a secret mission in Jammu and Kashmir. Roja makes herculean efforts, running all over the country, to find her husband and get him released from captivity. The film's theme is inspired by the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Rajiv Menon, the cinematographer of Roja, who was also offered the role of Rishi, said in an interview, "Roja was not the story of Farooq Abdullah or the Kashmir problem, but the story of a young girl who was trying to get back her husband. It was Satyavan, and Savitri re-enacted." In Another Savitri: A Critical Study of Mani Ratnam's Roja, writers Vaibhavi Chaturvedi and Kriti Anand compare and contrast the characters of Roja and Savitri. They write, "Being a modern-world equivalent of Savitri, Roja's devotion is deemed one of the reasons for her husband's emancipation. It is her incessant efforts and dedication that ultimately unites Rishi and Roja. She is depicted as a character synonymous with Savitri, an ideal wife whose life revolves around her marriage."
Roja (1992)
Vikram Bhatt's horror film Raaz (2002) told the story of a couple, Sanjana (Bipasha Basu) and Aditya (Dino Morea), trying to save their failing marriage. They move to Ooty, where Sanjana gets haunted by a woman's spirit. She soon finds out that her husband is connected to the spirit. Sanjana has to race against time to stop the spirit from killing Aditya. Many commentators have compared the angle of Sanjana saving her husband to that of Savitri and Satyavan. In the book Bollywood Horrors: Religion, Violence and Cinematic Fears in India, Aditi Sen writes, "Raaz was a trendsetter; it rehashed established Bollywood tropes, added folklore, and mythology, and introduced the audience to an amalgamation of familiar ambience with subversive content. Raaz uses every formula to first scare the audience, then twist the Savitri and Satyvan story and transform Satyvan into an adulterer. Finally, it appeases the audience by glorifying the sanctity of marriage and reestablishing the patriarchal order." The film's scriptwriter, Mahesh Bhatt, also added in an interview, "The suspense element combined with the age-old attraction towards women who do anything for their husbands, almost like the mythical character Savitri, good music and some nice performances made Raaz such a success."
Raaz (2002)
Param Gill made another modern-day adaptation of Savitri and Satyavan in his film Waarrior Savitri. Released in 2016, the film was the story of Savitri (Niharica Raizada), a martial arts expert who falls in love with Satya (Rajat Barmecha), a US-based guy, and wishes to marry him. However, Savitri's family pandit opposes the wedding as he believes Satya will die soon. Savitri, however, is not convinced and decides to marry Satya. Post their wedding, Satya starts experiencing a series of near-fatal accidents. Savitri becomes his savior and negotiates with the modern-day Yamraj (Om Puri) to let her husband live. He denies the request, and Satya dies in an accident. By some turn of events, she dies and goes to heaven to ask Yamraj if her husband is alive, she should be allowed to live. Given her courage and bravery, Yama grants her wish and sends her back to earth to be with her husband.
Waarrior Savitri (2016)
In NH10 (2015), Navdeep Singh portrayed the story of a young couple, Meera (Anushka Sharma) and Arjun (Neil Bhoopalam), whose road trip goes awry after encountering a group of violent men on a highway near Gurgaon. The men badly injured Arjun, leaving Meera scrambling all over to save his life. The film dealt with the themes of honor killings and violence against women. At one point in the film, a group of villagers celebrates Republic Day. On 26th January 1950, India's new constitution came into effect; henceforth, that day is celebrated as the day the Indian republic came into being. The villagers were celebrating the constitution at a place where the cop says the constitution does not really exist. It is a depiction of irony. The constitution's preamble states the equality of all citizens, but here at this place, equality is a joke. A girl is not allowed to marry someone of her choice. One of the men on the stage narrates the story of Savitri. He says that Savitri was asked by her father to choose her own husband. She could find a husband on her own, and everyone was happy. We see, then, that a few women start dancing on the stage. It is another depiction of irony. The villagers revere and celebrate Savitri, but when Pinky, the daughter of the sarpanch Amma Ji (Deepti Naval), chooses to marry someone, she is killed by her brothers. There are echoes in the story of Savitri and Pinky. Both the girls wanted to marry a man of their own choice, despite their family's opposition. In addition, the stories of Meera and Savitri, too, have a few similarities. Both the women do all they can to save their dying husbands. In fact, in one of the interviews, Navdeep Singh hinted at this angle where he said, "NH10 is more like a road trip gone wrong, but that's just the basic premise as it has much more than that. It's a hugely popular genre in the West, but we don't have many such films here, and that's precisely why we are so excited about NH10, but it's about other things as well. If you recall the mythical story of Savitri-Satyavan, then you'll find some similarities in both the stories."
NH10 (2015)
More recently, Paatal Lok (2020), created by Sudip Sharma, who also wrote the script of NH10, added a few elements of the story of Savitri in the web series. Based on Tarun Tejpal's book The Story of My Assassins, the series depicts the story of a disillusioned cop Hathiram Chowdhary (Jaideep Ahlawat), who lands the case of an assassination attempt of a journalist Sanjiv Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). His wife, Dolly (Swastika Mukherjee), regularly feeds a stray dog named Savitri, who always stays outside their gate. Dolly is prone to anxiety attacks and finds solace in looking after Savitri. Sanjiv's assassinator Hathoda Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee), does not kill him as he sees him interacting with Savitri. "When a dog love (sic) man, he's a good man. When man love (sic) dog, he's a good man," Tyagi had believed and decided to let go. Yet again, a Savitri saves the 'husband.' Sudip Sharma, in an interview, also added. "We wanted to draw an inference from the story of Savitri and Satyavan. The way in which Savitri saves her husband, Dolly does the same thing here."
Paatal Lok (2020)
Over the years, Savitri has turned into a stereotype of a woman who is a simpleton devoted to her husband. This simplistic view ignores her many amazing qualities. She married a man she found on her own, even though her family was against it. She won over Yamaraj with her intellect by asking a cleverly worded boon. It was her will and quick wit that Yamaraj honored when he gave Satyavan back. It is always worth keeping in mind that there is a lot more to Savitri than her 'Sati Savitri' image.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Day nahi bas ek moment lagta hai life badalne mein."
—Savi, Looop Lapeta