Masaan: Profound, a film about hope [Hardly any spoilers]
I watched Masaan six days ago and my brain is still processing it. That’s the way the narrative is fed to the viewer, slowly and subtly in even measures; loaded with detail and yet very clean and sharp. I haven’t seen a film with so much clarity in a long time.
Masaan is a film about hope, not despair. It’s about the ability that humans have to rise above the depths of grief and anguish. It spoke to me because it underscored that the plunge into the abyss is but part of the experience of life. And death, that too is just what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.
In particular, I liked that the women in Masaan are stolid and yet ordinary. In Devi’s (played by Richa Chadha) silence- one that has been interpreted widely as strength- I saw simply a profound grief. At losing her love, at being deeply misunderstood and wrongly accused. In Shaalu’s recognition of Deepak’s sincerity (played by Shweta Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal respectively) and her courage in wanting to overcome what certainly are overwhelmingly large taboos of caste, I see a rare independence and ability to take risk. These are strong women emerging from the deeply conservative landscape of a small city; they forge an independent path without an iota of self-consciousness. How can they not make a profound impact?
Deepak’s story is the stuff of inspiration. Despite numerous obstacles and a debilitating experience of personal loss, he perseveres to make himself and his family proud by being the first to rise beyond his low-caste occupation and get a white collar job. What makes Masaan special though, is that its the small details that come back to you later. In all the light-hearted banter of Deepak’s friends circle and in the midst of the masculinity exhibited by the small town male- roadside flirtations, catcalls and comments, social media stalking- there is also the space for a heart-rending outpouring of his grief. I appreciated that nuance shown in the relationships between young men even more perhaps because of the stereotypical portrayal of youth in Hindi cinema.
And then there is the river. The Ganga. As a vessel of sorrow, as a rejuvenator, a forger of destinies and above all, a harbinger of hope. The quality of cinematography in Masaan played no small role in highlighting the poetic parallels between the river and the ebb and flow of life.
‘Piku’: A review of reviews and some of my own thoughts
Adults in our family (Rahul, me and the mums) are generally in the habit of making trips to the cinema hall without our children. Frankly, except for animation films made for kids (and even they have so much dialogue that is lost on the little one, and so much violence), it’s hard to find films that we think children should watch. Piku, after a long time, was a weekend trip with the kids in tow (watch trailer). Aadyaa was highly excited about being allowed to watch a movie with us and highly intrigued with what little she had heard about Piku. “Is he really obsessed with his potty?” she kept asking me the entire Saturday morning after I’d broken the news of our little outing.
In the cinema hall, I saw families helping their elderly up the stairs into the multiplex and several children milling around. The sense of excitement (and star worship) was not quite the same as I see for the typical Khan-type Bollywood multi-starrer, but there was a curiosity in the air and a level of comfort that was palpable.
What I loved about Piku (in that order)
The stunning ordinariness of the characters: The experience was a bit like watching a movie with a very large extended family. Everyone identified with someone or the other. In Piku (ably played by Deepika Padukone), some saw their own struggles with aging parents reflected. In Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh par excellence), people identified an eccentric uncle, an endearing patriarch, a dearly missed grandfather. Piku dusts cobwebs, Rana (Irrfan) yells unbecomingly at his mother and sister, Piku’s house has a normal and reassuring level of unkemptness but is spruced up to entertain guests for lunch, etc etc.
Functional dysfunctionality and the wonderfulness of family: But more than that, the film needs to be applauded for bringing home the wonderful way Indian families (and perhaps families in general) accept and live with the eccentricities of their own. I wasn’t entirely convinced about Baradwaj Rangan’s description of Piku as “An irresistible amble with a dysfunctional family” because I cannot think of a single family that is “functional” really! Perhaps it is our identification with this functional dysfunctionality that endears the film to us so! To me, Piku’s biggest achievement is that families, from the youngest to the oldest, could watch together a wholesome, funny entertainer without the usual crassness that we have to swallow as necessary in run-of-the-mill Bollywood fare.
A new way for mainstream cinema to look at women: Piku’s team was evidently quite confident of the wholesomeness of their script, for writer Juhi Chaturvedi has boldly taken the opportunity to speak a very different language about how women can be in Indian society. As one of my favorite feminist bloggers puts it, Piku is among a new set of movies “that acknowledge women as people” (Read IHM’s review titled Piku in Patriarchy) and do not make women fit into the ideas that society has of them, rather letting them break out and be what they will.
Nivedita Mishra’s HT review points out that it’s easy for a priviliged upper class Delhi girl to be ‘independent’. Even so, I think Piku’s character and her manner of negotiating her relationships goes beyond privilege and speaks to her ability to remain headstrong and stubborn in a world that is still largely patriarchal, even for the privileged upper class woman.
Jugal Mody, in his excellent post on The Ladies Finger, also points this out, especially referring to the friends-with-benefits relationship that Piku has in the film and the strength of the film’s other female characters. Particularly, he picks out the film’s ability to highlight how feminist men like Bhaskor (Piku’s hypochondriac dad), though supportive of women in their lives, constantly feel the need to control them. The film, he writes, points out “the irony of men who want to be feminist allies to the women in their life. In the long family banter scenes, they keep interrupting the women who are talking about what they want only to tell them about independence.”
Within this theme, I come to what I loved particularly about Piku. In a setting when Piku is forced to travel with a man she doesn’t particularly like (Rana Chowdhry, played by Irrfan), a man who has an uncanny way of getting under her skin and really understanding her, one would expect a romance to kindle in the style of Mills & Boon (which is absolutely full of these strong silent characters who are drawn to each other after a series of misunderstandings). But no, the knight in shining armor (I was really wondering, when the Tullu pump was being repaired in the minutes before Rana leaves Kolkata!) does not gallop in on a white steed and carry away the Princess to ‘happily ever after’; instead, they exchange friendly knocks with badminton rackets in the closing scenes, which shows their growing friendship but nothing more.
What I didn’t quite get about Piku (in no particular order)
Everything about the film was subtle, so subtle that somewhere on their journey to Kolkata, I found my attention slipping. Aadyaa was restless besides me: “When will they reach Mumma? how many hours in real, how many hours in the movie?” The events on this journey seemed to me haphazard, but I’m sure that chaos was also part of the charm. I certainly have no suggestions for how this could be improved!
I thought the film could have highlighted a bit more Piku’s pleasure in re-connecting with the city of her childhood, Kolkata. It could have been an opportunity to show another side of Piku, the contrast to her severity and wilfulness might have rendered her even more lovable. Even her sudden change of heart about retaining (and not selling) their ancestral home came through, to me, as abrupt (close after her conversation with Rana about this, it came across as if he was overtly influencing her, which is at odds with Piku’s character). If this was an important part of the subtext, the connection with their home and their old life, it merited a bit more attention perhaps.
Kudos for telling new stories, and not rehashing the formula
I’m saying nothing new here and I admit I’m biased, having known Juhi for a long time. But truly, Piku is a brave story, a real story. Kudos to Juhi for writing it and to Shoojit for putting it together so beautifully.
Piku could be my story or yours; and it’s impossible not to love it. After Vicky Donor’s bold humorous take on a taboo subject, Juhi’s fresh take on the ordinary madness of life’s relationships in Piku deserves all our praise. I can imagine the catharsis she experienced in writing this, the long hours that went into the detailing it and the uncanny instinct that helped focus on that one thing that Indians love to obsess about- Potty!
I know, as the daughter of a gastroenterologist. I grew up hearing stories from my dad on the strong links between the bowels and the emotions, especially in Indian culture. On how the cures he offered were less about medication than about listening to his patients and counseling them. On how bowel movements were a reflection of relationships, of a person’s status in their family, of their self-esteem, a whole bunch of stuff that was way beyond anatomy and digestive processes. So Juhi, spot on! My father is smiling at you from wherever he is, and that’s my way of saying you simply aced it with Piku.
Highway: Not a crime to like it, is it?
I loved the Highway the film, despite it’s obvious disconnect with reality, despite its apparently pointless meanderings. Like Imtiaz Ali’s previous directorial venture Rockstar, the thing that struck me about Highway was the strong development of the protagonist’s character. I was involved right from the beginning with the story, gasping when Alia was kidnapped, trying to understand her state of mind when she babbled and laughed in unexpected places, sympathizing with her when she lashes out against exploitation and abuse. I think it is really hard to achieve the brilliant and unreal innocence of both characters, Jordan (played by Ranbir Kapoor) in Rockstar and Veera (played by Alia Bhatt) in Highway. And it’s not a bad thing to sometimes enjoy this sort of innocence for what it is.
Alia has been directed brilliantly in Highway and that’s what really worked for me. I loved the subtle point the film made, about the cage of affluence, the hypocrisy of elite society that still practices conservative values while exhibiting a modern facade. Even without the dramatic appeal of a situation as extreme as child abuse, I would willingly concede this point.
Alia’s attraction to her captor is bizarre, but the desperate rawness of Randeep Hooda was appealing nevertheless. The likelihood of finding the sensitive side of a thug in real life is remote, I agree, but that possibility is part of the romantic charm of Highway. It’s not about reality, its about storytelling. And Imtiaz does that really well!
The D is silent! Ruminating about Jolly and Django
My movie fix for the past week were these two strange tales, from contemporary India and 17th century America. Both full of drama, both full of affected male characters. Very masculine films both, the women mere wallflowers in the script. The difference is that I disliked the first and rather loved the second. And no, it’s not about being partial to Hollywood at all!
Let me start by tabling my views on Jolly LLB. Despite its talented cast, brilliant performances by Boman Irani and Saurabh Shukla and a decent show by Arshad Warsi, the film fell flat. The script was too predictable, the first half slow. A few sharp dialogues and colloquialisms were all that it had going for it and a sense of satisfaction, the good old good-over-evil win in the end. Nothing to write home about at all.
What piqued my interest though was the few minutes spent on discussing the plight of the homeless and pavement dwellers in the film. Because I work in the area of shelter and urban poverty, I was happy to see the movie tackle head-on the issue of the tremendous prejudice with which elite society treats the homeless and the downtrodden, how little their lives are valued and how meager our understanding of the conditions that drive them to leave their rural homes and come to work in the big, mostly bad city!
Coming to Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I have to say it was sheer entertainment. Once I got used to the copious amounts of blood and gore that splatters the screen at regular intervals, I sat back and savored the beautifully constructed shots, the oh-so-apt background score and the well-etched characters in the film. The period setting is impeccably done and life on the plush plantations of the Southern States in pre-Civil War America shown in all its splendor. Django, the D silent mind you, is fashioned after our own Rajnikanth (Rajni Sar!), shades and all! The story, haunting in its sadness and poetry, is a parody of itself almost, the emotional angle underplayed to the point of getting a bit lost in all the melodrama. Quite a bit like Gangs of Wasseypur and I believe Tarantino is Anurag Kashyap’s inspiration for his work.
No comparison is possible and I won’t attempt it! The common thread is only the subtext of the reality of injustice in a world where survival is the only truth and a belief in destiny your only hope. In that sense, the D is silent indeed!
Life of Pi: The beauty of nature, 3D technology and Suraj Sharma!
Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ is an incredible story. Fantastical and a commentary on life, the meaning of existence, etc etc. Ingredients for a runaway hit. Ang Lee’s film does it tremendous justice, but in a very different way from merely retelling the narrative. It is certainly the first 3D film I have seen that actually justified the use of this technology.
When I read the book, I thought for days about many abstract and existential aspects of life. I wondered about whether man was less or more selfish than animals. I wondered about our need to believe in something greater than ourselves. I wondered about faith and doubt and the wonderful inter-relation of these two disparate points of view. I mused about my childhood years and being conflicted between the strong influence of two ultra-religious grandmothers and my atheist father and how I have set this question of faith aside, for the most part. Some day, it will come and loom large in front of me and shall have to decide to let my life move ahead. But for now, it doesn’t bother me too much.
The movie was whole other experience from the book. I disagree with those who say the movie is a faithful imitation of the book; it wasn’t for me and it never is; how can it be, the mediums are so so different, one relying on each individual’s power of visualization and the other visualizing it and merely opening the visuals for interpretation?
But it was good. So good. I loved the way the 3D brought alive the zoo. And the technology that could create the sheer magnificence of Richard Parker! I loved the ethereal quality of the scenes out at sea and the sheer glory of nature. I want Udai to see it, for it brought back to me memories of how wondrous the world appeared as a child. How intriguing the world is, and yet how we accepted the vagaries of our lives as perfectly normal. I wasn’t touched as much as I thought I would be with Pi’s tremendous loneliness and his faith, but it’s hard to achieve everything when all you have to work with is a landscape, one human, a boat and a computer-generated animal! Suraj Sharma’s effort is commendable though and he is beautiful in the film. Certainly, he brings a freshness to the film that a known face simply could not have done.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of watching the film. Its beauty and effects mesmerized me. But I have not brought the film back with me in my head the way I carried the book around. I will re-read the book though…and that’s something!
Nail on the head! English Vinglish and life’s bittersweet truths- Oct 5, 2012
For those of us who grew up admiring the versatility of Sridevi, English Vinglish does not disappoint. Of course, she shows her mettle as a fine actor, her only weakness, the quivering voice with poor dialogue delivery, actually becoming a strength in this story of her search for identity and sense of achievement in a world that runs her down for being unable to speak English, a world that judges her and puts her down while barely appreciating her talents. What is particularly hurtful here is that while the outside world is accepting, her own family is constantly critical, making her an object of ridicule and hurting her self esteem.
The script, however, is the undoubted star in the film. With repeated pungent jabs, the dialogue and situations expose uncomfortable truths of India’s rapidly urbanising society, of changing family values and the undeniable importance of self-esteem, self-preservation and self-love.
Over the last few days, an email conversation has been carrying on among our group of girl friends from college days. And a lot of it has been about how hard it is to find yourself in the flurry of activities and commitments that life becomes. No matter how loving and supporting out husbands, and most us have married men we knew and sort of understood before we took the vows, we women feel cornered into roles that demand selfless devotion to our home and family, while as intelligent and educated individuals, we crave active and satisfying work lives as well. Equality is something even we emancipated women work towards constantly. With all due credit to our spouses!
The movie brilliantly illustrates that it is easy to slot people into roles that we find convenient. We stubbornly cling to preconceived perceptions. And how much it hurts when your family and close friends are judgemental about you, we’ve all experienced that sometime in our lives. I know I live with expectations of financial security and protection from my spouse, while love and respect should be my focus, for instance.
Equality is a dream because we are born to believe that the world thrives on inequality. To be in an equal relationship, it is vital to see everything from the other persons perspective before forming opinions or expectations. And women need to take on that challenge just as much as men do.
Is this possible? Are we not already too conditioned by society to be able to do that when we enter a relationship like marriage? Or can we unshackle ourselves from these burdens somehow and take a simpler view of relationships and life?
English Vinglish sends out simple messages that address complex problems. We need to help each other in times of trouble. Appreciation, sensitivity, positivity, respect, being non judgemental, trying to communicate, expressing love and concern. These are the simple building blocks on which relationships are built. We need to remind ourselves everyday that envy, competitiveness, hurtfulness and revenge have no place in a mature relationship. Not everything can be resolved with a candid conversation. Many a time, clarity in our head as an individual and making positive behavioural changes and above all, helping ourselves rather than waiting to be helped, can take us forward when all else seems lost.
Wasseypur offered no cathartic moments, but the film will stay with me- July 3, 2012
Gangs of Wasseypur….finally! The film was long overdue, but nothing prepared me for it. My friends who had watched it refrained from offering an opinion, but now I know nothing they said would have really mattered.
An epic saga that unfolds at its own leisurely pace. At no point in the film did I have a cathartic moment, no tears fell, even the extreme violence had a dreamlike unreal quality to it. I know very little about the process of film making, but I do know that every creative endeavor needs to be visualized, in detail. The detail in every frame, every scene of GoW (hate the acronym actually, sounds too much like PoW) astounded me. I could barely take it all in, the foreground, mid ground and background, the accents, the expressions, the costumes, the authenticity reflected in small things…and the scene would roll into the next one. And so it went on, obliterating from my mind everything but the narrative I was watching, experiencing. So much so that in the last scene, when Manoj Bajpai was dying in extreme slow motion, I noticed he was rolling atop a cart with ‘building material’ written on it in Denagri. My mind connected building materials to real estate, and then onto Shanghai, in a bid to remember the last impactful movie I saw…..but I could recall nothing of Shanghai at all, not even Abhay Deol! I simply could not get out of Wasseypur!
A few things struck me particularly about the movie. That the lives of each one of us reflects the story of India’s growth (good, bad and ugly) and the story of urbanization. Wasseypur is initially a hamlet outside Dhanbad, with huts outside which people lounge about in charpais. Slowly, as it gets eaten into the growing city, its look and feel changes. Scraggly brick and concrete structures of uneven height, open drains, every house have the street facing rooms converted into shops, workshops. Walk-up apartments as well as gates opening into courtyards. The typical feel of village galis (streets) that grew into more urban lanes. The changing modes of transport, horse and tangas to cycles and jeeps and Ambassador cars. Today, we see this sort of organic growth everywhere.
In these pockets of urbanized hamlets live communities that still retain their identities and culture, nurture old grouses, exhibit particular behavior. Like Wasseypur is a law unto itself and even the police dare not investigate here, there are many Wasseypurs across India where only the rule of the land applies and governance (and all it entails) is swatted away by the locals.
And in this all, the frightening relationship between money and illegal activity (some form of extortion, smuggling, forgery or exploitative brokerage) and money and power. Frightening because of the reality that these are the only options for ambitious people who aren’t lucky enough to be born to parents well off enough to educate you and give you reasonable opportunities. Gangs of Wasseypur highlights this reality in a very naked way. Times change and the opportunity changes, but the exploitation continues. An entire generation of young men and women are being raised in a climate of crime and violence, taking these for granted as the normal ways of life. In the movie, Sardar Khan’s (Manoj Bajpai) sons react very differently to their difficult life, but in the end they all fall in line and join hands with the father in his nefarious activities. There is no sense of the wrongness of any of what they do. It’s normal.
It makes me wonder about us, who live our cloistered lives in larger cities, who shudder at the thought of encountering a beat constable or traffic policeman, leave alone confronting a thug? We daren’t pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of life in Wasseypur, a parody for the thousands of small Indian towns that are coping as best as they can with the onslaught of development, growth, urbanization, change.
The women in the film struck me particularly, their characters admirably strong. Nagma (Richa Chaddha, brilliant and gorgeous!) buys into the dreams of her man, however unreal they seem. She tolerates his weaknesses, yet calls his bluff to his face. The ‘other’ woman Durga (Reemma Sen, sensual), the non-wife, wants his love but wants also to live life at her own terms, ultimately betraying him when he scorns her to go back to Nagma. Both manage to shame and profoundly affect Sardar Khan, but he is a slave to his twins passions of lust and revenge.
The dialogues had punch. Having grown up in the outskirts of Lucknow and having done projects in Eastern UP, I could relate to the language and the accents. People really do speak like that. I heard sniggers every time there were expletives used and I felt like turning around to the teetering groups and telling them that those weren’t put in to give you guys cheap thrills, that’s normal lingo for a lot of people!
I liked the film for its honesty, though it has plenty of blank moments when you feel perhaps the script went astray a bit. It all comes together though, and Part 2 is eagerly awaited. Piyush Mishra’s narration, the eccentric musical score, the exquisite cinematography especially sunsets over the water made up for other minor flaws. For those of you who have not yet watched it, go loaded with patience and don’t carry any devices that tell the time!
Social prejudices are rarely broken by rational explanations: Vicky Donor makes a brave attempt! Apr 25, 2012
Let me tell you at the outset that I am biased here. Vicky Donor has been written by Juhi Chaturvedi, first cousin to my closest friend Nupur. Juhi was a role model for us when we were in senior school in Lucknow. She was studying art and everything she did was cool; her photography and her dark room, her paintings fascinated us tremendously. She was driven, even then. Later, Juhi and me bonded over the fact that our baby girls are about five weeks apart in age and I would hear stories of her struggles with managing motherhood and two careers, her advertising one and her scriptwriting one- a superwoman, no doubt!
Last night, as I watched Vicky Donor, her first script to make it to the silver screen, I could only think about the toil it must have taken to make it this far-the sacrifice, the hard work, the points of conflict and low self confidence she must have been through to finally be able to bask in the warm light of success. Way to go, Juhi!
Coming back to to the film, it deals with the subject of sperm donation. In the course of the film, the script moves the subject from a taboo, unspeakable issue to Vicky’s family appreciating what he has done for humanity, the gift he has given childless couples, etc. The film is well-researched and intends to get people thinking about a subject rarely on anyone’s horizon; but I doubt social prejudices are broken so easily.
In India, and in other conservative societies, issues related to sex and fertility are sensitive subjects. The cycle of life dictates that women are meant to bear children. The fertility of men is rarely questioned, even though low sperm count is becoming common thanks to the stresses of modern, urban life, the onset of lifestyle diseases, higher incidence of cancer among younger people, etc. Add to that the growing number of dysfunctional marriages. Yet, couples dream of having children; not always because they genuinely love kids and want their own, but because of social pressures to show the world theirs is a normal, ‘complete’ family.
Another reason why sperm donation is particularly repulsive to Indians is because in ayurveda (first seen in writings around 600BC), conservation of semen (or virya) is considered essential to maintain masculine strength and health. The loss of the fluid is considered debilitating and believed to drain away well-being and wastage of semen is considered a reason for many sexual malfunctions, including impotence. With this baggage, it would take a lot for a nation that is reluctant to donate blood fearing loss of strength, to be all right with donating semen!
It’s a complex issue, and its heartening that the medical community thinks attitudes have changed in the past few years. Men in childless marriages are slowly coming forward to accept donated sperm. Experts, however, say that it is not donated sperm but intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) or in-vitro fertilization, in which a single sperm is injected directly into one egg, that is the way forward for men with low sperm counts to father children. There is, I hear, an even greater demand for donor eggs, which is an even more loaded issue. How will society accept a woman donating her eggs to help childless couples? It could go either way. Personally, I think women being perceived as givers of life, it should be an easier pill to swallow, but its controversial, I agree.
All in all, kudos to Juhi and Shoojit (and John) for tackling a tough subject. Amid the laughs and the songs (which I thought were rather redundant and actually made an otherwise pacy film lose its momentum), it would be worth it if the film makes even a tiny chink in the attitudes of Indians and towards taboo subjects!
Set in a bygone era, The Artist is really about contemporary issues like tackling obsolescence and remaining competitive- March 1, 2012
Watched The Artist last night. The film is a Guru Dutt-esque visual treat in black and white, each frame carefully constructed. A simple story beautifully told, it captures a bygone era when life was simpler.
It is easy to identify with the feelings of a great artist, someone used to being the darling of his fans, constantly in the limelight, fallen on bad times. What makes it interesting, in this case, and relevant to us in modern times, is that this downfall is a direct fallout of a new technology.
As talkies are invented and gain popularity, the silent film loses its appeal. George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is too proud to make the transition. He insists on holding on to the old technique and loses his money in a failed self-produced silent film. The Great Depression hits and he becomes a pauper. Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) who Valentin had once patronized when she was an extra, goes on to become the new star of the talking movies. In love with Valentin, she continues to look out for him, rescuing him from near death. Valentin’s ego and pride stop him from accepting her help and he continues to fall into a spiral of self loathing and pity. Ultimately, Peppy innovates him as a dancing star, and brings him back into the limelight.
The real reason for Valentin’s downfall, however, is not his pride, but his complete lack of self-confidence in a changing environment. He is good at what he does, the best in fact, and he cannot fathom the idea of acquiring new skills, changing methods and indeed, working hard, to remain competitive. This is the topmost challenge we face today. Individuals and corporations must adapt and reinvent themselves to stay ahead in the game, or opt out. The Artist reminds us to keep our pride in check, always be sensitive to change, keep abreast of new developments and have the right attitude towards learning, even at times from peers and juniors. Quite a lesson!