Notes on Ijaazat (1987)

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to be exposed to good Hindi films beyond the usual masala mix. I remember watching Shabana’s superlative performance in Arth, on a bad VHS tape on a borrowed VCR/VCP (it was a rage those days, to borrow it from the Video store for 12 hours, mostly night hours, and watch 3-4 films back to back, and return it all early morning). I remember Nasir’s nuanced portrayal of a visually impaired man in Sparsh. I remember Anupam Kher’s stinging rage in Saaransh. All these films I watched for the first time with not a lot of understanding of films, but their almost visceral quality meant I didn’t need a lot of it. It was almost instinctive. Then there were a bunch of light but meaningful, semi-realistic movies directed by one of the three talented directors : Sai Paranjape (Chashme baddor, Katha), Basu Chatterjee (Rajneegandha, Piya ka ghar, Choti si Baat, Baaton baaton mein),  Hrishikesh Mukherjee (too many to name). And so on.

All this was a backlog, mostly, that I cleared up before moving on to more contemporary movies. Meaning, these were the movies already released before I started watching movies (before I was 10 years old, as well). Then there were directors I grew up with, who made meaningful cinema, that I had started to understand more and more, thanks to a lot of decent movies already consumed — people like Govind Nihlani, Tapan Sinha, Ketan Mehta, Shyam Benegal, Jabbar Patel (Marathi, mainly). And of course, there was Gulzar. A poet/writer turned director, who gave us a bunch of fine films. But for some reason, his one movie that has really stayed with me was Ijaazat.

I don’t recall when I watched it first. Definitely not when it came out in theaters. I was 11 then, and the movie wouldn’t have made sense. But few years down the line, I caught it on another marathon VCR session, when some of my elder cousins were visiting. And the timing was just right for me. Given the times, and the place, the movie seemed progressive to me, with two female characters who were strong in their own ways, and with non-conventional relationships, and open discussions about love, an almost poetic portrayal of love, longing, acceptance, and limits of it all. (If you haven’t watched Ijaazat, stop right now. For one, you should be watching it. Plus, there will be enough spoilers, and enough assumptions)

ijaazat_poster

I will not even say that Ijaazat was Gulzar’s best film, but for young people in that era trying to get a sense of love, it was a fascinating movie, for it’s time, at least. And yet, when I look back at it now, I’m tempted to re-examine/deconstruct the movie (always a bad idea).

One of the questions that has bothered me all these years is – why is the character played by Anuradha Patel named Maya? I mean, a free-spirited girl has to have a name that signifies unreal/illusory? Is it a subconscious belief of the writer that such a girl has to be illusory? Contrast it with the names of the other two main characters: Mahender and Sudha. More earthly, not philosophical.

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Ijaazat, if you look at it from this angle, is a story of a typical Indian man (because make no mistake about it: while Maya is atypical Indian women, Mahender is a typical Indian man) who wants exotic girlfriend and settles down for homely wife, due to social factors. I know that’s very reductive. Because, Mahender wanted to marry Maya, but at the moment of decision, she is nowhere to be traced. But consider this, for five years, he has stretched the engagement with Sudha, and it’s clear to everyone she’s not his first choice. And still, when his grandfather picks up a wedding date like rabbit out of a hat, he goes ahead with the marriage because he can’t trace Maya. Now let me get this straight, if he could have traced Maya, she still wouldn’t have married him, being a free-spirited crazy feminist. What then? Was he just waiting for her ijaazat to get married to Sudha?

Its clear to both Mahender and Sudha, and also to viewers, that it’s a marriage of convenience.  And still they go through it, and try to make best of it. But it’s no wonder that it cannot survive the return of Maya. And when she does return, cracks do start appearing, especially as her presence is there even in her absence. And Mahender is not content with the convenience. He wants it all. The homely wife and the exotic girlfriend. And so he is even ready to impress on his wife what Maya is, and what she means to him. Trouble is, the relationship is not at that level of maturity to really survive that. And Mahender has made no real visible efforts to insure that level is reached, or even attempted. For him, it’s something that just has to be.

Another scene I want to deconstruct is the one before the climax, when Mahender is updating Sudha about what happened after she left him, about Maya’s death. I wonder if Maya’s end is symbolic of something? Free-spirited girl, riding a bullet, being killed by a scarf getting into the spokes? Just accident as usual? Or something more? I leave it to you to decide for yourself, but I smell a big rat. Besides, what was the need to kill Maya? To get sympathy for Mahender, who couldn’t choose between contradictory wishes (Grandfather’s wishes, his vow to his wife, his love for Maya), needed a redemption, I guess. But why? Because, and that’s where we come to the climax, Sudha needed to be able to ask him his “blessing” for her new life, and to be able to touch his feet (seriously, in the same film that has Mahender living with his girlfriend, an ultra feminist?) while doing that. For her to ask his Ijaazat, she had to forgive him first, and what better way than portraying poor Mahender who lost it all to accidents and misunderstandings?

Ah, that’s a load off, that I’ve been carrying with me for god knows how long? Because, while I completely loved the movie, the multiple times that I have watched it, some things have always nagged me. And now I realize that I had fallen for a stylized patriarchy. You guessed it, this was targeted for 8th March, but lazy me couldn’t finish it in time. But while I call out its latent patriarchy, I must applaud Gulzar for creating one of the most fascinating female characters of the era, even if named Maya. So, let’s raise a toast to this conflicted film, and to all Mayas, and Sudhas, and to a world where Mahenders would be strong enough to make their decisions without being constricted by their umbilical chords.

 

His Own Fan: Review of SRK’s Fan

SRK has done it all — especially where double roles are concerned. He’s done the normal bread-and-butter ones. He’s done double role with reincarnation. He’s done a “not a double role” double role, where his character fakes a double role that his (character’s) wife falls for. But in Fan, he’s gone and surpassed it all. His character plays his (SRKs) own double role, and another character plays that character’s double role. And what’s more, one character loves the other character!

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I’m not panning the movie. Not yet. In fact, given his recent woeful run of “I’m a star so I’ll prove I can get away with anything” movies (two with Rohit Shetty, one with Farah Khan), I’m glad he picked up a script that’s not juvenile to begin with. It’s another matter that … Like I said, I’m not panning the movie. Yet.

 

 

What I’m going to do here is to review two halves. This is a double-role of a review.

Role 1:

First half. Gaurav Chanda, a Delhi boy — just like his God, the actor Aryan Khanna (the double role of real life SRK, who’s also a Delhi boy) — is known in his  mohalla for playing “Junior” AK (Aryan Khanna, not Arvind Kejriwal, although I’m not sure the choice of initials was accidental)  in yearly mohalla competition, which interestingly, seems to have the budget of whole ward completely assigned to it (AK?) for their annual talent competition. In the part time that he gets between watching AK movies, collecting his memorabilia,  he runs a cyber-cafe. Okay, runs is too generous. But still.

The year in question, he again wins the competition, and gets twenty thousand cash prize for it, with with he decides to visit his object of affection, to present his trophy as B’day present to Aryan Khanna. Predictably he doesn’t get to meet him. Just in time, for him, comes a AK’s spat with a rising star. And he decides to switch to next level of fanaticism, to meet AK. It turns all bad for him, with Aryan breaking his heart.

Again, I’m not panning the movie. This part is actually quite good. SRK as Gaurav is quite a performance. A bit over the top, but intended, and carried out well. The story is almost all believable till this point. Execution is tight. Excellent buildup, to interval. Maybe 7/10 all combined. And for SRK movie, coming from me, that’s seriously lot. And I had begun to feel hopeful.

Role 2:

Post interval, we start an year later, for some reason. That gap has changed Gaurav. No one has bothered to give us a peek into this transformation (except for the dramatic exchange pre-interval), from a broken, dejected, angry fan to a revenge machine. Not that it’s hard to extrapolate the emotional leap, but more importantly, a not-so-bright, starry-eyed, mumma’s boy turning into a very competent (in the dark sense, but still), at home in the foreign land (yes, we move out of India for some reason), smooth operator. No questions should be asked. This is Bollywood after all. You see, you got the warning as Gaurav mouths Aryan/SRK line: the real drama will start now. And so it does. As a catch-me-if-you-can saga starts, you even get a literal taste of it, for what seems like an eternity of a running chase, as the script decides to trade action for everything else. There is just not enough content to give justice to the build-up of the first half. And Fan falters, and runs around like a chicken with its head cut. Finally ending on a predictable note — the way most of the negative protagonist stories do.

As tight the first half is, the second is a contrast. It’s well paced, I give you that. But it’s vacuous. Show-offish. And ultimately underwhelming. Nothing much believable happens. We move from one foreign location to another. The story never catches up.

I’d give this half 4/10. And I’m really being generous here. Because there were no songs.

*

It’s a brave effort, though, all said and done.

Going without a song/dance/humor. Trying to stick to a semblance of a story-line, which is missing in the big star movies lately. Something that no StarKhan looked likely to bite at, given present 300 Cr race. For that I really want to applaud SRK.

But, if you really look closely, it is an SRK showcase, literally (consider this: the film has really no other actor with any meaningful role). Not just of his talent, but of his achievements from past, his legend, his “I’m the king” persona off screen. In a scene, in the second half, his manager/assistant/whatever tells Aryan, “woh (Gaurav) sanki hai”. He looks almost hurt. “Phir mein kya hoon?” he asks. Reminding us of SRK who has boasted in past of his pathani temper. You gotta take him as he is. Just as you gotta take Aryan as he is. Just you have to take lot of idiotic stuff in the second half.

Fan is SRK’s love affair with himself. Or SRK’s love affair with his own stardom. But for a king of romance, it’s hardly a tribute to his best. It’s just canonization of SRK the super-star/super-hero/super-ego. Through Aryan Khanna. It’s a triple role, if you see it from a certain vantage point.

Verdict: Worth a watch, for the first half. But nothing you’d regret for having missed.

 

 

 

 

 

I am Happy, Mr. Superman (a not-quite-review of Bombay Velvet)

In Ayn Rand’s teen favorite book, The Fountainhead, the uncompromising hero Howard Roark is looking at the Enright House, a building he has designed, when a young photographer notices him, or more precisely the look on his face.

[H]e had always wondered why the sensations one felt in dreams were so much more intense than anything one could experience in waking reality–why the horror was so total and the ecstasy so complete–and what was that extra quality which could never be recaptured afterward; the quality of what he felt when he walked down a path through tangled green leaves in a dream, in an air full of expectation, of causeless, utter rapture–and when he awakened he could not explain it, it had been just a path through some woods. He thought of that because he saw that extra quality for the first time in waking existence, he saw it in Roark’s face lifted to the building.

It’s not surprising that I should be reminded of Ayn Rand while talking about Anurag Kashyap’s movie. Yes, Kashyap is no Roark (no one is Roark, is what teens, who idolize Rand realize when they get their taste of the real world — no I don’t say this in a judgmental way, only through the hindsight of experience). But he is as Roarkish as anyone can be, outside the reel life, that is.

To continue the story, for those who haven’t read the book, that photograph of Roark (mentioned in the above quote) makes it to the tabloid years later, when Roark builds an unconventional temple and gets sued by the client for building a non-temple/sacrilege. The photo runs with a caption: “Are you happy, Mr. Superman?”

Yes I repeat, Anurag Kashyap is no Howard Roark. And Bombay Velvet is no Stoddard Temple. It’s not even Aquitania even — a hotel in the novel built by Roark that gets stalled, and known derisively as “unfinished symphony”, till it finally gets built.

But what strikes me about the movie is how the critics received it, going after it lock, stock, and smoking barrel, as if they wouldn’t get another chance. When all they needed to do was to publish a photograph of Anurag Kashyap, with his oblivious-of-the-existence-of-the-world smile with the caption: “Are you happy, Mr. Superman?”

Are you happy, Mr. Superman?

I watched Bombay Velvet on the doomed first weekend. On a Sunday, the theater was nowhere close to filled. I got a ticket despite reaching five minutes before the start. I went in having deliberately not read any review, although I knew it was already panned by the popular critics (yeah, we have such a thing in India).

On the outset, Bombay Velvet is the story of Johnny Balraj, and Rosie. Both grown up used by people, and abused by life in general, but wanting entirely different things. Balraj, who later on takes the name Johnny to suite a new persona lent to him by Kaizad Khambatta (a parsi businessman — with all the connotations of the word in Bombay of then, and even now — played decently by Karan Johar, against my expectations, although his dialog delivery does make you squirm at times), as the owner of a club — a symbol of the Bombay’s aspirations; Jazzy, and coveted (everyone who is worth anything comes here, says a side character of the club) — is basically a hustler, trying to set his own price, has no compunction  about being used. He’s looking to be a big-shot. He’s ready to pay the price for that. Any price. Rosie, a Jazz singer with amazing voice, and a painful past, and present, is a looking for survival, and love. Yes, it’s love at first sight for Balraj, while a cautious and curious one for Rosie, who’s very much used to being used by men. She’s ready to pay that price for being alive. (Spoiler: when Balraj is in danger, Rosie is even ready to leave it all. Love is good enough for her. But Balraj is already mired into his “big-shot” hunt, and his personal scores, to take a heed. Do you know what is outside Bombay, he asks. And answers: India. Starving, naked India. He will take no less than Bombay).

But as their love story moves ahead, at languid place, the real story emerges in the background — the story of the growth/decay of Bombay. The story of reclamation, of greed, or politics, of class. The Bombay of those who owned it, and the Bombay of those who wanted to be among them, the Bombay of Bollywood movies, of CID inspectors, and union leaders, and editors of tabloids, and smugglers, and prostitutes, and politicians, and businessmen cozying up to them, of refugees, and street fighters …

The problem with Bombay Velvet is that it tries to be everything. The dream is too big to be harnessed, too risky to be pulled off. Kashyap should have just named it Bombay Dream, because that’s what it is. It’s not an authentic history, or a period drama, it is not a love story, it is not a gangster movie, it is not a thriller, it is not an art film, and alas, it is not a commercial film, while trying to be all of it. Embellished by amazing cinematography, endearing recreation (albeit too glamorous, one suspects) of the city we all secretly love, and all the technical proficiency you come to expect from a Kashyap movie, that dream is a worthwhile retreat for the 149 odd minutes that it lasts.  For me anyways.

One thing Anurag Kashyap has delivered in every movie (with the exception of The Girl in Yellow Boots, because there was just no scope) is a fantastic, even haunting music, irrespective of the music directors. But the best music score to survive outside the context of his movies is probably Dev D. It’s been a long time since they paired up, and Amit Trivedi doesn’t disappoint. Only the soundtrack is very contextual, and hard to survive by itself. But once you have watched the movie, tracks like Dhadaam Dhadaam really light up, and refuse to go away. The peppy Jata Kahaan Hai Deewane (cover of O.P’s song from CID) picturized flawlessly, keeps making you go back to it. The unconventional Sylvia reminds of the inimitable Usha Uthup. The only non-retro song, Behroopiya is a kind of masterpiece that you expect from Trivedi, but the way it’s shot brings the best of Bollywood love songs tradition to the screen. And then there is Mahobbat Buri Bimari. Three distinctly lovely versions in the official soundtrack. Even the relatively benign Naak Pe Gussa is still very very good. The soundtrack is a labor of love, and I pity Amit Trivedi that its launchpad went up smoke.

The performances are pretty much what one expects from Kashyap movie. Anushka, not known for her acting abilities, is fabulous as the public Rosie — while the private Rosie, restrained and fragile is also played very competitively by her. Ranbir’s Johnny seems effortlessly done, although, it’s obvious a lot of effort has gone in. Kay Kay is somewhat wasted, playing a Bollywood CID caricature of sorts, something he can play sleepwalking. Manish Chowdhary, Siddharth Basu, and Satyadeep Misra are more than competent.

It’s the scale which hurt the movie in the end, because unlike Kashyap’s other ventures that never seem to overwhelm the story with other elements (although present for sure), Bombay Velvet seems to have done the mortal sin of letting the story be flooded by the effects. And yet, what has remained with me the day after and later, is still the story, with all its flaws. And I’m very much ready to forgive Kashyap that sin, for the end product, for me, was still worth savoring. The now infamous Tommy gun sequence included. Give me more  of this any day, over the senseless multi-hundred-crore grossers from the khan-club, or the insipid light-hearted comedies made from Bhagat’s books, or it’s equivalents like Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Kashyap’s still my man.

 

Che-Naahi! Express

The Power of Halwai — review of Chennai Express

So yes, I watched my first film in theaters after four years. Or five, maybe. The last one was Quantum Of Solace, which I watched thanks to my wife’s cousins who wanted to watch a movie. Any movie. It fit the requirement quite well — and that’s about it. Today, it was thanks to my wife — one of the biggest SRK fans. I went in with a lot of trepidation. How does one tolerate three hours of one Mr. Shetty — who makes David Dhawan look like a quality film maker, and one Mr. Khan — who given such directors, is like a maniac on steroids.

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Power of ‘common man’. The common man is in front with the hot girl. In the background are all the uncommon species.

But, my fears were proved entirely unwarranted. Not that the movie wasn’t everything I feared it to be (it was more!). But after first few minutes, the fear kind of became irrelevant. And what got me really excited was the mouth-watering prospect that this was a critics movie.

Yes, you heard it right. This is no movie for the masses, mind you. This is a movie made for the critics. In first few minutes you’d have those fun hating snobs salivating at their mouths at the prospect of a perfect 10 — for reviewing the film, that is.

Continue reading

Gulaal – The Fringe Bollywood

I am an unabashed fan of Anurag Kashyap. I guess I’m one of the few who believes Black Friday is his sleepwalking film, and weakest, and that No Smoking is his best film. And yet, I did not watch Gulaal for a long time. Big mistake.

Set in Rajasthan, this is another Kashyap masterpiece, although it (understandable – as even though it released just after Dev D, it predates all his released movies, in terms of production, and is raw) lacks the finesse of some of his later work. But that’s more than made up by the sheer display of brilliance. Continue reading

Khoya Hua Chand

Sudhir Mishra’s Khoya Khoya Chand is another gem that’s lost to the dreaded anonymity of Bollywood. When I was a kid, I used to hear this phrase: “dabbyat gela” (lost into a box), about movies and believe that there is some big box where they throw these movies (and from where the Doordarshan fetches and plays them). Sigh, there really is a box, albeit metaphorical.

I wanted to watch KKC in theaters, too, just like No Smoking. But in two weeks it seemed to have vanished, staying true to its name. So I was left with having to watch it on a DVD. The film is an almost lyrical and yet hard-hitting portrayal of the Hindi film industry’s golden past.

If Farah Khan’s OSO was a tongue-in-cheek insider joke on the industry, KKC is a slightly frosted mirror, that might add it’s own anomalies, but still tells the story. KKC is a story of Nikhat (Soha Ali Khan), an aspiring actress who is spotted (and used) by a star actor Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor), and gives her her first real break. Enter Zaffar (Shiney Ahuja), a writer from UP, who is a man who lives on his own terms. The love story unfolds, and with that unfolds the story of an era — of dreams, back-stabbings, heartbreaks, using-and-being-used, and the indefatigable spirits that shine through. It’s the story of the troubled men and women who made that era special.

Like most movies, it’s not even close to perfect, but Khoya Khoya Chand is still a gem, for what it has tried to do. The direction is, of course, top-notch. The performances are a mixed bag, with Soha at once charming and disappointing (especially in her dialog delivery). Rajat Kapoor is competent, Shiney uninspiring yet measured for the most part, and Vinay Pathak a little underutilized. Sonya Jehan plays a cameo which wants you to see more of her, alas it’s a very short cameo.

The music is such a binder for this movie, with an excellent title track that sets up the love story, and Pakhi Re – Sonu Nigam’s haunting rendition, and couple of jazzy numbers… Hardly a song seems misplaced or lingering longer than needed.

This is by no means an easy movie to watch, because it doesn’t have a story to speak of. It’s the nuances that set it apart. It’s no surprise that it bombed on the box office. Still, I feel sad, for this is an accomplished work of art. My review is hardly convincing, yet, to those who enjoy intense cinema, this is a must watch.

Acting: (3/5)
Dialogs: 4/5
Scrips: 4/5
Direction: 4/5
Music: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Jab We Yawned

Finally I watched one of the biggest hits of the season, Jab We Met, despite my reservations (more than two hours of the ever irritating Ms. Kapoor!). And by the end I wondered what made it a hit? I had loved Imtiaz Ali’s earlier movie, Ahista Ahista, which stayed true to its name, and was paced really slow. Still, it had a lot to take away from. I could empathize with the characters, and their struggles. The lead character of Abhay Deol was not a buttered up, huge hearted hero, but just a normal guy with a selfish streak, and the chemistry was good. It almost reminded me of Rajanigandha. JWM, on the other hand left me dry. The only saving grace was Shahid Kapoor’s effective underplay.

If Mr. Ali had told Kareena to do an underplay, it would have perfectly worked: the left over over-acting then would have been just about enough. Unfortunately Ali seems to have forgotten the “level” at which Kareena acts, and the over-the-top character goes so over the top that the chappar goes off. Thankfully I had read a couple of reviews which told me that the overacting just lasts about 2 hours, so I had something to look forward to.

The storyline seems like a remake of Ahista Ahista, with reshuffle and a little morphing. Common threads? Middle class naive girl running away from home to get married to her flame, a noble knight to save her when she’s in distress, the girl’s boyfriend ditching her (by accident or design), the girl gravitating towards the knight, the boyfriend coming back … even love changing the knight: who shades of complacency/dejection. I guess the bitter pill that Ali had to swallow after Ahista Ahista must have made him tell the story in a different way. It seems to have worked for most, however I am lamenting demise of another sensitive director.

All in all, it’s a thumbs-down. The movie is neither entertaining, nor does it have depth, and it hangs like a trishanku in a no man’s land. The cinematography and the like are definitely better, couple of songs are haunting (actually just one), but in most departments that matter, the movie is disappointing.


Acting: (3/5: Minus Kareena of course)
Dialogs: 3/5
Scrips: 1/5
Direction: 2/5
Music: 2/5
Overall: 2/5

Na Ja, Bach Le

Look at this cast: Konkona Sen, Irfaan Khan, Raghuvir Yadav, Vinay Pathak. Now, try to remember the most uninspiring performances by each of them. Now try to imagine all these uninspiring performances in one film. Still, you’d be ill prepared to handle this “mummy returns” movie. That, in nutshell, is my review of Aja Nachle.

If you still haven’t watched the movie, stay away. If you still want to know more: the script is pretty lame, characters are pretty underdeveloped, music is uninspiring, the dialogs are worse. And to top it all up, dances are a big letdown: imagine, with Madhuri around! No I’ve never been a fan of her acting, but dance she can! Or could, if this latest effort is a sign of things to come.

The storyline is juvenile to say the least. A small town girl runs away with an American photographer after a breezy romance started by some mirchi-pakoras, and some desi-gobar. Her family leaves the town in disgrace. A few years later she’s back (properly divorced and with an annoying pre-teen daughter, and a brand new NRI outlook, complete with understanding of Indian culture and all) in search of her guru who’s died just in time, to save us all from a melodramatic reunion (about the only god’s grace in the whole movie – however we still have to bear with his parting shot, recorded on a film-reel and all), to find the dance and play theater facing a demolition order for building a shopping mall. Since in America, they don’t do such things, the lady is up in arms, with nothing but her arms and feet at her disposal. And what a battle it is. The local politician leader, a la bajrang dal character, is converted in a minute into a character in the play — a play that stands between the theater and the mall, thanks to a childish challenge taken up by the friendly neighborhood villain, the ever smiling, pizza-making son of the local ex-raja. Oh yes, then there is the old flame who’s re-charmed: err, to take part in the play (what did you think?). The good, as always triumphs over the evil, and they all live happily ever after, and so do you — after getting a peak at such an immense boredom, life seems a tad better.


Acting: 2/5 (or 1 or 3, I don’t really care to quantify)
Dialogs: -5/5
Scrips: What?
Direction: Come again?
Music: 1/5
Overall: 1.5/5

No Smoking – Review and more

I wanted to catch No Smoking in the theaters, but I’m a lazy guy. By the time I actually checked out the papers for current movies, it was off the screens. Then last week I went to the DVD store to check out if Jhonny Gaddar’s DVD was out. It was, so just on an impulse I asked if No Smoking is out, and it was too. I guess, once it was out of theaters in a week or two, I should have expected that.

I haven’t watched Black Friday yet. I guess that was a good thing, because when I watched No Smoking, I had no expectations whatsoever of Anurag Kashyap. Sure a lot of people had praised Black Friday, but I tend to keep my mind clean of such praise/scathing. To the extent possible, that is.

Yesterday, finally, I picked up No Smoking DVD. I was alone at home, with nothing better to do (too tired to read, even), and decided to pick up the movie. No Smoking pulled me in right in the first few scenes. And two hours later, I was a satisfied man.

A few days back, I had checked out Kashyap’s post on PFC, and Khalid Mohamed’s review, and some more posts on PFC, castigating Khalid. I ended up satirizing the whole episode on my other blog, KandaBatata. Today, I realize Anurag’s angst, and angst of all those at PFC, who have been supporting him.

I can understand people not ‘getting‘ the movie. I can even understand reviewers not getting the movie. What I cannot understand is the thrashing, the venomous, spiteful dismissal of a work that is as audacious and undertaking as any in the recent past. I cannot think of anything that comes even close.

No, No Smoking isn’t the perfect movie. But then, which movie is perfect? What No Smoking is, is a very intelligent movie. Indulgent, but engrossing. It makes you think. While leafing through some online reviews of the movie, I caught names like Matrix, Memento. But Matrix is a very simple action movie with a little bit of metaphysical expropriation from some Vedic concepts (or its parallels), and a little bit of science fiction thrown in to complete a package. And Memento just had a clever twist in a very normal story played backwards. The film that comes to my mind (and some bloggers have mentioned Lynch, too), is David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Incidentally that film is on my top ten list. It’s brilliantly conceived, and there are so many layers, so many interpretations, so many meanings, and yet it’s not random. Watch it intently, and you’ll get it. Get enough of it, anyway, to make sense. And you’ll watch it again, and again, to get it all.

No Smoking, in contrast seems to have a central meaning that’s much more obvious. Sure, there will be many interpretations, but Anurag has left enough clues to drive home what he intended (and then has even spilled the beans in his posts). I cannot claim to have understood the whole movie. It’s definitely a movie to be watched couple of times if not more, going back and forth. Still, it wasn’t that hard to get. Not even for me who hasn’t watched much of European on independent cinema, or Korean or whatever cinema for that matter; who isn’t much versed in the vocabulary of film-making; who isn’t much of an avid movie-watcher (give me a book anyday). And that’s why I cannot really get the likes of Khalid Mohamad pissing all over the pages, and taking pleasure, like a kid taking pleasure in dismantling a meticulously created house of cards.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for criticism. But how many films even try to go where Kashyap has gone? Surely, in an industry where people make meaningless films day in day out, one, even if misplaced attempt (in his evaluation), isn’t going to harm the industry as a whole, or the sanity of the viewers, even? Why this vehemence:

“Too in-depth man, too in-depth, puffing, driving, the sex act, the sex act, fingers being chopped. Kcuf, kcuf.. what’s happening out here? You can’t make out, you don’t care, and you’re fed up of the affectations, the self-indulgence, and the fact that you even bothered to see this Dhumrapan Nishedh bandhi which tells you about Socrates, Plato and then goes Do be Do. I swear on Sinatra’s head. Hey, Kashy actually hears retro-music and wants us to know. Niiice.”

This is a review?

Or:

“Ayesha Takia has to stop looking plump.”

WTF? I mean WTF! This is seriously the nadir of mainstream media. This is rotten reviewing (and the fact that it gets through!). This is personal vendetta (and the fact that it gets through). This is absolute misuse of the vantage point (and the fact…). I mean I was never a fan of Khalid Mohamed, but there is harmless idiocy, and there is spite. Make no mistake about it, this isn’t idiocy.

Then there are bloggers who tout like experts calling this film demented and what not! Raised over a spoon-fed pulp of overcooked apple (with strawberry syrup as topping), it’s not totally surprising that these self-proclaimed media-readers will side with the establishment. After all that’s where they want to go, for all the talk of blogging as alternative media. It’s okay not to understand, but please for god’s sake don’t nip in bud experimental cinema that’s ahead of its time, at least in Indian context, just because you don’t understand it.

A prominent blogger in the Indian blah-go-sphere has this to say about No Smoking:

“… yes, it’s a “hatke” film but the problem here is that it is so “hatke” that audience (if any left) ka dimaag satak jayega..” (No Smoking – Injurious to Head)

So it’s okay to be hatke, but just enough hatke for every lazy layperson can understand it while munching on his/her caramel flavored popcorn. Will this all-too-powerful audience ever move a head muscle? Or are they going to be perennially happy watching ‘butts’ and supremely original stories love stories?

And like KM, there is the unnecessary jibe at Takia’s figure:

“Ayesha Takia – Someone please enroll her at the nearest gym”

WTF? I mean, WTF? Yes, I’d love to see her shed a few kilos, but surely she isn’t in this line for her figure. Knowing her potential, post Dor, this has been an easy role for her, but what’s utterly lost on most reviewers is the deliberate “unreal” acting in her role as the secretary. Enough, I’m not going to explain the movie.

No Smoking is a big milestone for Indian cinema, because it has broken the “start-middle-end” monopoly of our scripts. Sure, “Waisa Bhi Hota Hai – Part II” tried similar things, but it didn’t have half the thematic brilliance of No Smoking. It doesn’t make the audience think, beyond maybe exercising a few muscles trying to keep the different threads in mind, but not where it counts: it doesn’t make the viewer think about the larger issues. Not since the demise of the so called parallel cinema have we seen anything close to this. It’s the first metaphorical cinema in a long long time. Least we could do, is be sympathetic to it. For all the emergence of “new cinema”, if people don’t understand this movie, the future is bleak.

Ironically, Anurag Kashyap, who said in one of his blogs that “to be Howard Roark you have to first kill your family”, has made an apocalyptic film, about himself! I just hope, that he’ll have enough perseverance to swallow this bitter pill and move on. Because, if he trusts himself, I think one of these days, we’ll get one of the finest films ever made on Indian screen from this man (the only other contender, albeit strong one, on resume, is Vishal Bharadwaj). I just hope, he’ll survive till then. I’m even ready to pray to a God I don’t believe in. Anurag, hang in there. We need you.


Plot-Theme integration: 4/5
Direction: 4.5/5
Music: 5/5 (Vishal, you rock!)
Acting: 4/5 (John Abraham: 4/5, whatever anyone says)
Vision: 5/5
Dialogs: 4.5/5
Entertainment: 5/5 (intelligent entertainment, that is)
On the whole: 4/5Some reviews that I found useful:

Watch it, and judge for yourself. Don’t let the media-savants tell you what’s Good cinema and what’s not. At most you’ll blow up 80 bucks and two hours.


Spoilers and random thoughts ahead (will add to this space):On PFC, someone asked: “For eg. How does the ” eunuch throwing coins at John as he awaits a signal” fit in ?”It’s very interesting, when K says he hasn’t got change, the eunuch says he has it and throws it at him saying “kaam aayega”. In the end, K never uses that change (remember 1 rupee cash payment he never did?). Is the change common sense/symbol for conformism? Is the change surrender of the ego? Afterall K never pays a single penny by his volition. He never “chooses” to leave smoking, he just thinks about it. Those who have paid the “bills”, or the change, are exempt from the final wash (out). Of course, that’s my interpretation, but that’s the beauty of this film.