Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gulaal Review - Move over Bihar, Rajasthan is here

Its been over a week since I saw Anuraag Kashyap's Gulaal, and yet its images refuse to leave me. But before I go into my thoughts about it, a little digression.
I have not been into college politics, (mainly because I hardly attended college, but that's a different matter) but knew enough to keep away from it. Interestingly, I did get embroiled in one of the college annual elections. I was the class representative for PG that year.
Now there was the annual election of University Rep which involved only eight votes to be cast, four each from science and arts streams. Year after year, only that candidate would win who managed to get a voter from the 'opposition' to defect. One fine day four guys came up to me and said they wanted to speak to me as I was the PG Science rep. They gave me a passionate speech about how it was important for 'our' science candidate to become the Univ. Rep. Of course I agreed (no doubt science guy should be the rep. How dare the arts guys send their rep? I said) Having given my unconditional support I thought I had done my job, now all I had to do was go and vote on the designated date.
But I was wrong. On the D-day, some eight guys came home at 7.30 in morning, even when voting was at 11 am. I assured them that I would reach college in time for voting and that they need not bother at all. They politely declined and offered to wait outside for the next three hours. That was ridiculous. So I got ready soon and was all ready to mount my moped when they politely intervened again. "No no, sir. Not on your moped. We have a vehicle." I was then honourably bundled into the rear seat of a Tata Sumo and taken somewhere. (To 'an undisclosed location' - is how today's news channels would have described it, if they were tracking the story of an unwilling college politician.) So there we were, the four precious voters kept in a room, being served tea and wada-pav. (No there wasn't anything else, it stopped at tea and wada-pav!) At 10.30, our convoy (yes, by now there were others jeeps surrounding our Sumo) reached the college and the four of us were safely escorted into the building as supporters waited outside with gulaal and drums. Of course, Science won (5-3) as one of the arts guys was the cousin of our candidate. There was much frenzied gulaal-throwing and drum-beating for a couple of hours thereafter.
Only later in the day did I wake up to the fact that I had spent
the better part of morning in a kidnapped state. Of course, my kidnappers had done so only with the noble intention of avoiding me being kidnapped by the opposition. Science rules, OK.
So that's how my flirting with college and Gulaal days ended even before I could do anything spectacular. That day in the movie hall, Anuraag Kashyap's Gulaal initially brought back the funny memories. But soon, the movie stopped being funny and I sat up straight. Gulaal has that ablity - to grab you by the collar and shake you out of any self-imposed popcorn complacency that you may have got yourselves into. I am not going to give the story here. There are enough and more reviews on the net for that.

Powered by: Gulaal

To start with, one of the biggest shares of the credit should go to Piyush Mishra. His lyrics and music are an integral part of the movie. No unnecessary song and dance sequences, just stark, straight in-your-face lyrics that actually are a part of the narrative than being distractions or tension-relievers, as many Hindi movie songs are. The lyrics of 'Ranaaji mhaare' may seem absurdly comic if seen in isolation. But put them in perspective of Prithvi Bana's character and the situation in the movie, they could not have been better. It is a classic.

Here's the opening lines for a teaser

राणाजी म्हारे गुस्से में आये, ऐसो बलखाये,
अगिया बरसाए, घबराए म्हारो चैन,
जैसे दूर देस के टावर में घुस जाये रे एरोप्लेन !

For one, today's folk tunes are coming out of traditional lyrics and making hybrid songs. One can hear strange lyrics in Ganpati aratis being belted out in many Ganeshotsav pandals every year. But more than that, Prithvi Bana is an antithesis of his more aggressive brother Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon). If Dukey's burning ambition is to rise to authority and power, Prithvi defies authority with his sarcastic and cynical wit. No wonder he wears a John Lennon locket and his lyrics talk about aeroplanes hitting powers. Sorry, towers.
Prithvi's ardent one-sided telephone conversation with the US President is a similar case in point. So is his take on Sarfaroshi ki tamanna. Hilarious if seen in isolation, poignant when seen in perspective. Finally, his best one is -

फिर तो तू जितने गुलाल वाले हैं, सब को पहचानता होगा? फिर गुलाल लगाने का फायदा ही क्या हुआ?

This one line summarizes his pointedly cynical view of the futility of revolutions based on a flimsy and failed ideology.

The movie has some crazy moments. To me, they are masterstrokes. I saw Mahi Gill in Dev.D just a couple of weeks before Gulaal and and kept saying to myself, "there's something about Tabbu in her." And here in Gulaal, a passionate and distraught Madhuri (a mujra dancer played by Mahi) asks our confused hero, "don't I look like Tabbu? Then why doesn't he love me?" Then there's this old ageless flute player, sporting a long flowing white beard. He is just there. He doesn't really do anything, other than playing flute all by himself and for himself. But then in one sequence, Anuja (an angry, frustrated but self-respecting college teacher played by Jesse Randhawa) is giving her piece of mind to the hero while nonchalantly combing the flute player's beard. She and the old man, both are social misfits, choosing to be in an self-imposed psychological exile. Even in our most solitary exiled corners, all of us need other people. (reminds me of how Willliam Schutz's 8-year old daughter summarized her dad's years of research by simply saying - "Dad, people need people." Anuraag Kashyap has the knack of telling many stories in one shot, where many of his sequences are multi-layered. His No Smoking was a little too multi-layered, though!
I don't know if I was imagining, or whether it was the effect of watching Dev.D and Gulaal within a fortnight of each other, but there seemed to be an uncanny similarity in the two protagonists. Dreamy young man turning into a crazed psychotic, two women in his life. The excessive use of red colour and psychedelic designs of the two rooms. But then it stops there. Dev is an idiot, period. You don't even feel sorry for him. You only wish that someone gives him one tight slap and brings him back to reality. But Dileep Singh (played by Raja Chaudhary) is not like that. As he descended into the well where he knew the arms are stored, I wanted to scream out to him, "NO, DON'T! THAT'S NOT YOUR PATH. GO BACK, GET ON WITH LIFE, DAMN IT."
Is it a depressing movie? By all means yes. It is a totally post-modernist view of Indian way of divisive politics, caste rivalry, greed, brute power, using other people as per convenience, lust, and much more. I suppose it provides us with a counterpoint for balance. The Johars and Chopras (and Ekta Kapoor, how can I forget her) regularly take us into they-lived-happily-ever-after lands of bliss. Before we can lose our way into this utopia, Anuraag Kashyap stuns us out of our revelry. I am not saying that only Gulaal depicts today's reality. There are a lot of good things happening in life all around us, but they are only one side of the coin. Dev eventually listens to Chanda who drags him back to normalcy. Dileep doesn't listen to Anuja. Two sides of a coin. Take your pick.
Some trivia - a lot of reviews describe the movie as 'based in modern-day Rajasthan'. Has nobody noticed that there are no cellphones in the movie?
And finally a word about the title of this post. So far anyone wanting to depict corrupt gun-based politicians would turn towards Bihar, as if all other states have clean politics. Gulaal may be based in Rajasthan, but it could happen anywhere - Patna, Porbandar or Pune. Why not? After all, I was kidnapped once in Pune!


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prem said...

I watched Gulaal about two weeks ago. The way in which it made me feel uneasy at times are still fresh in my mind: the scene in which 'Ransa' was tied up, his response to Karan's (Aditya Srivastav) threats... now, you might call me naive, but i was hoping he might get off: you see, i like his character!

So those moments, when he was shot, and he looked up, his expression- When i remember Gulaal, i still remember the chill i felt then...

The songs are really good, and i like the lyrics in 'Aarambh' too!

At the end of it, it makes me think- if this happens even at level University politics, the task cut out for us in national politics is, may i say, a BIT more dangerous than a usual career choice... :)

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