In his autobiography, Girish Karnad recollects an incident from the initial days of his term as the Director of the Film and Television Institute of India.
Interviews for the fresh batches were being conducted and among the faculties a discussion was taking place regarding one particular student who was good with his performances but wasn’t good looking. “His looks doesn’t make him a hero material for films,” argued almost everyone. Girish Karnad, as he recollects in his autobiography ‘aaDaaDtaa aayushya’, as the Director of the Institute said, “If there is an eligible candidate and does well in the entrance exam it is our duty to select and train such a student. Whether he fits the roles of a hero or not is not our concern and we are not a hero producing factory for the Bombay industry.”
The boy was finally selected for the acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.
That candidate was Om Puri.
My heart ached to hear this morning about the demise of Om Puri. In some time a friend (Ritwik) from the Institute shared a photo of the board outside the Main Theater where details of the daily screening is made known everyday. The board is also a space where the list of National Award winners is announced and congratulated every year and also the space on which the demise of an alumni is made known.
Today the board read, “6 /01/2017. RIP Om Puri Saheb.”
The Institute, which I hold in great affection and am grateful to as an alumnus, which once was reconsidering the admission of the same person has respectfully referred to him as “Om Puri Saheb” and that shows what an artist and an artist of what caliber Om Puri Saheb has been; an artist who could make an institute revise its thought!
During my days at the Film Institute, I remember, being numb after watching the speechless performance of Om Puri in Aakrosh, which to me till date is his best performance. That day in the mess I had told my roommate Lohit that no filmmaker no screenwriter seem to have sculpted a character which would challenge Om Puri and Naseer. I still stand by my word.
Aakrosh, a film where Om Puri Saheb is wrongly accused of murder and the lawyer in his defense begins his conversation asking, “Why did you kill?” A judgement was already made in the mind of the lawyer who was supposed to defend the case of Om Puri Saheb. The film is about the lawyer, played by Naseer, revising his opinion about Om Puri Saheb and the entire case. As we watch we too, who initially believed Om Puri to be wrong, slowly discover the truth and feel ashamed of our initial judgement and revise our opinion.
Years later while watching the cunningly scripted interrogation of Om Puri Saheb on a national tv by a man who is disgrace to journalism, I was secretly wishing Om Puri Sahebwould sit silently like he did in Aakrosh. But sadly, Om Puri Saheb fell into the trap of self proclaimed nationalists and was disrespectfully and mercilessly attacked by them, first for not any valid reason and also after he apologized for a crime he never committed. Watching the show was painful, to say the least.
Now in this hour of mourning, I sincerely hope that a day will soon arrive when all the nauseating jingoists will revise their thought about Om Puri Saheb after having harassed him unnecessarily during his last days!
Though not a believer of time and history being just, today I would like to believe it to be true. Because Om Puri Saheb deserves it and he has proved it right once earlier.
Accept my salutations Om Puri Saheb. Rest in power.
Here is a father who imposes his dreams on his daughters, who doesn’t even once bother to ask, ‘What are your dreams like?’, a father who snatches the childhood from his daughters and more importantly refuses to cut the umbilical chord from his daughters once they grow up and continues to control them and impose his own methods refusing them any agency and refusing to even give their will a chance to breathe; all to boost his own ego, in the name of ‘Nation’. Please tell me why should my heart go out for such a man/ character or even sympathize with him?
There are fathers whose imagination doesn’t see their daughters beyond ‘choolha‘ ‘roti‘ ‘shaadi‘ and ‘bachchey‘, as shown in the film. But if that is to justify the militarized upbringing and to give a clean chit to the force used on children, validate and justify a control freak father, then it must be told in loud voice that a force is force whether into marriage or into a profession,sport etc.
We need to celebrate free spirit and will of the individuals, dreams of the hearts. Constant parenting beyond need and a certain age, uninterrupted monitoring is, to say the least, claustrophobic and denial of the right to be a free spirit, a violation of human rights.
There is one scene where Geeta wrestles with her father and wins. That moment was one of the most brilliant moments to witness. But how sad and frustrating that Geeta, in no time, is made to feel guilty of battling and opposing her father and his ways.
The way in which the training of young girls is shown in a comical, light hearted ways is disturbing because it doesnt want to take the trauma of it seriously nor does it want to show it seriously. It is made acceptable, palatable with the touch of humor to it. But deep within the training the cry of the girls is, “baapu sehat ke liye tu toh haanikaarak hai,” which the filmmaker, the film nobody seems to be listening to. Because you know, winning a gold medal for a hyper masculine idea of nation and to fulfill the dream of a father is more important.
No, I cant celebrate this film knowing that it will do well at the box-office, will be applauded by a large section of the society, will be given good reviews. The film, as I see, is not just regressive but also dangerous.
Baap is more dangerous than Khaap because it has the capacity and strength to play with emotions, manipulate minds and thus make individuals conform, at their own will, after silently and in imperceptible ways snubbing the free will of individuals. To be honest, “tum sey behatar toh apni Hindi filmon kay khalnaayak hai.”
And it is beyond me as to why to Bollywood strong woman means someone who can beat up boys or display strength the manly way.
Amir Khan suffers from the same Messiah complex which was shadowing him in Lagaan, Taarey Zameen Per and 3 Idiots. His dialogue, in the end, telling Geeta that her father will not always be around to help her, seems like him departing from this self-imposed Messiah role but then again, it is just to feel good about yourself, through words, as someone who raised up an independent girl. But if you actually respected her independence and her strength you wouldn’t have molded her into what you want her to be. It ends up being a story of your dream being fulfilled by your daughters and not about them and their dreams; or their dreams which could never flower.
Sorry Baapu, there is blood on the gold medal. If a ‘bachpan‘ went ‘tel leney‘ then no gold’s shine can hide or compensate for that blood. And eclipsed by the gold medal, your glory, the tri-colour flag fluttering high in the air and the national anthem is the corpse of a ruined childhood which was cut short early and never given a chance to live and explore the basic right; the right to dream and which could never be what it was born as; a free spirit.
“Once as a small boy,” started recollecting K.P. Rao, “I saw a rainbow on the hill near our village and walked towards it. As I went closer and then under it, all the seven colors vanished and turned into mere droplets. I could only feel the moist, nothing else. It got me wet and I could hear a strange sound in my ears.” Remembering this childhood incident he asked, “How can I speak of this experience of mine?” Pausing for a brief moment he continued. “It is the same with music. It is colorful from distance but when you go under/ within it the colors vanish and it absorbs you and you get drenched in that state of being possessed by the rainbow.”
K.P. Rao, my mentor, was speaking at SaRiGaMa Bharathi, Parkala last evening (13 Dec 2016) on music and musicians in his life.
Taking us through his journey of life, closely associated with, violinist Sridhar Parsekar who taught him that music means to see through ears, Salil Chaudhary who composed music in ‘vaadi-samvaadi’ manner, Vilayat Khan, Amir Hussain Khan, narrating stories of his initial refusal to meet or listen to Ravishankar and he becoming the disciple of Annapurna Devi, Sir not just made us listen to some music clips saying, “See this music,” but also provided us with insights on their music and their personalities.
“Nikhil Banerjee was once critiqued heavily by Annapuruna Devi for one of his performance. When we stepped out of her house Nikhil was heartbroken and was almost in tears. He was considering quitting music. We drove sense into him saying Annapurna Devi had only asked him to do more rehearsals to better himself and had not suggested him to stop.” That night, recollected Sir, Nikhil Banerjee sang, in pain and out of will to better himself, from around 10:00 pm till 4:00 in the morning next day.
“I have never heard him perform so well,” said Sir. As Sir said that his lump in this throat and and his eyes became misty, becoming one with the tears of Nikhil Banerjee, of decades ago.
“How do I speak of all these experiences? How can I share what I felt and have carried within me always?” asked Sir.
Hearing of Nikhil Banerjee’s tears for failing in music and pushing him to music, seeing tears in the eyes of my mentor recollecting music and the tapasya for music, my eyes became wet. In that moment I felt/ realized that the language of tears is the closest to the language of music.
You get drenched by both, in an explicable manner, like by the rainbow, when absorbed by it, possessed by it.
Last night I had a strange dream.
In my dream all of Amrit Gangar sir’s experience- reading, viewing, listening etc- was turned into a library where he would visit every now and then to access the huge archive of experience and knowledge. It was a huge huge huge library.
In that library of experience, I was the librarian. Of course I was feeling extremely happy that I have access, though second hand, to all that Sir has read, heard, viewed, experienced and understood.
On waking up I realized the trigger for this dream was my envy for all the experiences in reading, listening and viewing Sir has had and my deep felt desire to be able to access all of them through him.
This was one of the two most beautiful dreams I have ever had, the other being one where I was a line of poetry in the heart of Gulzar.
Thanks for everything Amrit Sir.
Javed Akhtar had once pointed out the changing antagonists in Bombay cinema.
While in the 1940s, Javed Akhtar, observed, the antagonist used to be a zamindaar, a thakur, in the 1950s the antagonist was a capitalist, an industrialist. The 1960s saw urban gangster as the antagonist, who as Javed sahab pointed out, became the protagonist in the 1970s. In the 1980s people’s disillusionment in law and order made the politicians and police the antagonist and in the 1990’s mostly it was Pakistan who was the antagonist in Bombay cinema, Javed sahab notes.
Following this there was no antagonist as such in Bombay cinema for which the reason as Javed sahab saw is, “because the villain had become the ideal.”
I happened to remember this because after watching Sultan and some recent films like Tamaasha, Fan, Udta Punjab etc. I am wondering if the new antagonist, now in Bombay cinema, is oneself! We see people battling against/ with themselves.
Hemanth Rao has made a promising debut with Godhi Banna Saadhaarana Maikattu as a director and a screenplay writer driving the point to the Kannada movie going audience that it is the writer-director who basically makes a cinema work.
Venkoba Rao (Ananth Nag) aged 66, goes missing after his son Shiva (Rakshit Shetty) takes him from the old-age home for shopping. The interaction between the two and the fact that Venkoba is in an old-age house reveals the troubled relationship between father and son. Shiva with the help of Venkoba’s doctor Dr. Sahana, sets out to search for the missing Venkoba.
The missing Venkoba accidentally lands up in the vehicle driven by Ranga (Vasishta Simha) and his assistant Manja (Ravikiran Rajendran) who are carrying the dead-body of a murdered official. The vehicle meets with an accident and accidentally Kumaar (Achyuth) ends up with the three of them.
While Shiva and Dr. Sahana are searching for Venkoba, the politician who has masterminded the murder is looking for Ranga and Manja who have failed to do their job of burying the dead-body without it becoming known to the outside world.
All the three who are sought; Venkoba, Ranga and Manja, end up in the house of Kumaar where his wife and son also reside.
As the search of Shiva continues and escape of Ranga continues the audience realize that Venkoba going missing is just a pretext for the writer-director to explore the personal journeys of these two characters that are lost in life and have lost the memory of what their actual potentials are.
Shiva in his aspiration driven life has forgotten his art and has been dissatisfied with the middle-class family and father. Ranga being an abandoned child has not been able to touch and awaken the humane side of his. Being pushed to a harmful life Ranga and diving into a market-oriented life Shiva both have lost touch with their inner core and realizing this existential level of getting lost becomes the journey of the film, at a deeper level.
While Shiva has to reconcile with the lost self, Ranga is forced to accept defeat and the inability to walk into a future since the shadow of past is inescapable. But the only way he can make his life achieve meaning is by saving lives and the only way Shiva can bring meaning to his life is by enabling himself to love, his father and also achieve romantic love. Thus both have to find themselves to find meaning for their lives.
Dr. Sahana who was once lost and found herself with Venkoba’s support is capable of loving someone unconditionally.
While Venkoba is missing in his own city, Shiva and Ranga are lost within their own lives and the search for self and meaning should take place within oneself. And these are journeys by themselves. And nothing lost is the same when you find them again. Things have transformed. Quite a lot.
What looks like a story of a lost father with a lost memory grows to be a film about lost childhood, lost innocence, lost future and a lost ability to love and live! It is in creating such layers that Hemanth Rao turns an explored arena of old age and Alzheimer disease into a fresh work of art and story-telling.
Neat cinematography by Nanda Kishore helps the film and music by debudant Charan Raj strengthens the mood. One should mention, without fail, that the music and visuals, at places, are not in harmonious synchronization. Editing, quite evidently, could have been more tight and crisp.
But the centre forward who finally kicks the ball to the opposite post is his actors, especially Ananth Nag and Vasishta Simha, though not to forget Achyuth, Shruthi Hariharan and Ravikiran Rajendran.
What is commendable about the writer-director is his ability to avoid a moralistic position about the actions of any of its characters, especially that of Shiva for neglecting his father and Ranga who has turned violent being abandoned in life. Hemanth, the writer-director, has a sympathetic gaze towards all characters caught in the whirlpool of life, which makes him a promising director, who has a fair command over the medium.
[Originally written fors the newsportal News Karnataka, where an edited version of the same has been published]
[A friend- Kiran- had put up a status on Facebook regarding film reviewing in the context of some Facebook discussions taking place around reviews of some recent Kannada films. Commenting on the post by Kiran, I raised some questions which were in my mind regarding reviewing of films.
Saying those questions were similar to the questions he has had in mind for some time now, Kiran sent the questions to film historian David Bond seeking answers. David Bond answered those questions or rather responded to those questions. Kiran later shared the answers with all of us. Thus happened an inadvertent Q&A with David Bond.
I wish I knew this was to happen so that I could have framed my questions in a better way and more structured manner than this, which are more casual due to the space of Facebook. But, it is okay…]
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: How to view/ read/ review/ critique/ analyze cinema in a country where film is not just art but also entertainment, recreation, a sociological text, a catharsis?
David Bond: Film is recreation as much as it is art at all times and in all countries. There is absolutely no difference in this respect between any of the major traditions (US, Japanese, European, Indian – to which probably we should now add Chinese). It is in the nature of film to serve both functions (and others also) and cinema would be the poorer if either function were disregarded. Catharsis is a significant element in all performance drama. In fact the cinema tradition which is most determinedly geared to “recreation” is without doubt that of the United States where the notion of cinema as “art” hardly exists at all (and is usually taken to apply only to foreign films, especially European, Japanese and more generally “world cinema”). The only difference one might point to, is the very unfortunate tendency in India to divide films of recreation and so-called “art” films into two different camps as though there were two entirely different types of films with two entirely different audiences. This has been particularly noticeable in Karnataka; it is far less true of Tamil and Malayalam film and seems to have no meaning in Telugan cinema any more than it does in the USA. Such an artificial division always has the result of weakening films of both kinds by cutting the natural and important process of cross-fertilisation that should take place between them. The good critic will always judge a film for what it is not for what it is not. It is, for instance, absurd to blame a superbly entertaining film for not having profound significance and it is equally absurd to blame an intellectually difficult film for not being a bundle of laughs. To create first-rate entertainment is not at all an easy thing; so-called “commercial” films are far more inclined to fail than so-called “art films” which play to a niche audience, usually very faithful and not in practice very critical. A critic should not therefore ask spurious questions of a film. I have known a critic here criticize the film Mughal-e-Azam (a wonderful film in my opinion) because it was not sufficiently political radical (for the critic in question) and then attempt to compare it with an experimental Iranian film with a strong political subtext (a rather irritating, pretentious film in my opinion). This is completely to misunderstand the heterogeneous nature of cinema by attempting to reduce it to one set of rules applicable to all films. One cannot I think stress too strongly that there is not one “film language”; there are many films languages. There is not one way to make a good film; there are many ways of making good films. Cinema has the duty and the great privilege of serving many functions in people’s lives. This is its great strength as a medium and no director nor any critic should ever forget it.
SS: How do we differentiate between film analysis, film criticism, film appreciation, film review, film studies? What should be the approach to be taken by a film reviewer writing for general public as opposed to academic writings?
DB: The object of good academic writing – and there is plenty of bad academic writing – is to add to knowledge and increase understanding. The journalistic reviewer has clearly a great deal more freedom. It is entirely legitimate for such a critic to write a commentary that is in itself intended to be entertaining and witty and such a piece, even if is abusive, can have a value of its own. I grew up on the drama-criticism of the very iconoclastic British critic Kenneth Tynan whose reviews were extremely amusing and a little unjust on the plays and the players he reviewed. Nevertheless Tynan proved very important at that period in moving attention away from the old-fashioned “well made play” which he detested toward more interesting and innovative forms of drama. Not everyone is a Kenneth Tynan and we must all attempt to play to our own strengths and develop our own styles of criticism. My own personal approach is different because I also have a strong academic interest in cinema and in cinema history. My attempt (and only the readers can decide whether I succeed or not) is always therefore to try and combine two things – a relevant and pithy commentary (which will aid the reader to know whether a film is likely to be worthwhile) with a contextual approach that varies from review to review, depending on what aspect of cinema or of cinema history the film in question appears to me to highlight or relate to.
SS: How important is it to take into consideration the atmosphere in which the film is made? Not just the atmosphere within the film but the atmosphere within which the film is made which is inclusive also of the social, political, economical conditions.
DB: These are all areas in which readers are in general very poorly informed. It is, in my view, vital for the critic to be as well-versed as possible in all these aspects. The English novelist and essayist, E. M. Forster, once summed up the object of all intellectual exercise in a very simple phrase – “only connect”. The task of discussing any film in isolation is inevitably rather superficial (the reader will in any case make up their own mind about the film when they see it). The entire value of a critique lies in its ability to make connections, to show how films relate to each other, to the tradition of cinema to which they belong and to the history of cinema as a whole. It is also the critic’s role to explain as much as he or she can of the background to the film, a knowledge of which invariably enriches the viewers’ experience. There is always the film and a story of some kind to be told about the film; to know the latter is to better understand and be able to appreciate the former.
SS: Can a film be viewed, in our context, without taking into consideration the cinematic literacy or the culture of cinema, not as we expect it to be but as it is in our time and space?
DB: We are in the twenty-first century. India, just like the US and Europe, has a culture of cinema that extends back to the 1890s. Along with the traditions of the US, of Europe and of Japan it is one of the four major cinema-traditions to have existed continuously over the whole of that period. The inferiority that some Indians continue to harbor with respect to their “cinematic literacy” or the supposed inadequacies of their “cinema culture” is perfectly ridiculous. I am never especially surprised by Indians’ lack of knowledge of other cinematic traditions (the Indian tradition has had a rather isolated development in many respects) but I am often shocked by their lack of knowledge of the Indian cinema tradition itself. Know your cinema and you will find plenty to be proud of.
SS: Should a film be, to borrow metaphors from MH Abrahms, a ‘mirror’ or a ‘lamp’? Should there be different frameworks to view/ review/ analyse/ critique art that is a ‘mirror’ and art that is a ‘lamp’?
DB: The metaphor is, I think, colourful but little else. If we take the “mirror” to be the reflection of life and the “lamp” to be that which shines light, it seems to me fairly evident that the one is in fact the corollary of the other and that the two are simply different ends of one single process. What needs to be examined in a film is the degree to which it is a true mirror and, therefore, the degree to which the light shone by the lamp is helpful. A falsely sentimental film, for instance, is a kind of distorting mirror and the lamp will therefore project a similarly distorted light.
SS: Should a film be compared just to those films which are of similar theme, across the globe, and films by masters or should it be seen with the films made in the same time and same culture, to see how different/ meritorious the film is?
DB: All comparisons are valid but all films should be seen to some extent within the context in which they are made. European films, for instance, are quite different from US films and belong to a tradition that has often seen itself as seeking entirely different ends (very broadly speaking a difference between the pursuit of drama/sensation and the pursuit, in intention at least, of “truth”). Film-makers are always wise, in my view, to respect the cinematic traditions within which their films are made. The “unrooted” film will always tend to be a rather bland product of only ephemeral interest.
SS: What is the role of a reviewer/ critic in a society where the cinema culture is not a trained one? How should the review/ criticism be in a society where culture of cinema viewing is not trained one?
DB: What on earth is an ”untrained cinema culture”? This is a completely meaningless notion. It can in any case hardly apply to a country which has been producing and watching films since 1898. Where is this “untrained cinema culture”? Outer Mongolia?
Months before the release of the film Sairaat, the Director of the film Nagraj Manjule had said, in an interview to The Hindu, “Love is such a simple thing but it has turned complicated in these times. It has become difficult to find love, to love somebody,” hinting that the film is about the difficulties in/ of love. And when asked if caste is present in the film, like it did in Fandry, Nagraj Manjule had said, “Caste is the foundation of our society, discrimination is in the air we breathe. These are our realities,” hinting that caste plays a role in the film, before saying, “I didn’t include them deliberately but could not have avoided them either.”
Sairaat, to simply put it, is a love story between Archie (Archana Patil), an upper class upper caste girl and Parshya (Prashanth Kale) a lower class lower caste boy.
Love between the two blossoms in their village, Bittergaon, and especially their village school, which is administered by the political family of Archie. It blossoms despite the hesitant, timid nature of Parshya and quite a strong, turning arrogant at times, personality of Archie. Their love for each other is spotted by Archie’s father and is met with the disapproval of Archie’s family. The politically influential upper caste family not just beat up Parshya but also make sure, by threatening him and his family, he does not continue to live in the same village. Archie’s family try to get her married to another boy but she elopes from home and then with Parshya.
Two of Parshya’s friends accompany the couple till the four are tracked down by the police and a false case is booked against Parshya his father and his two friends. On realizing the false case Archie rebels, at the police station, making sure Parshya and his people are freed. But on her way back home she sees that though freed by the police, goons hired by her father beat up Parshya and his friends. She runs to the rescue of Parshya and following some fight and firing the couple run away to Hyderabad.
Once Archie and Parshya reach Hyderabad they have to face the problem of shelter. A dosa cart lady, Suman, who happens to be a Maharashtrian, shelters them in their slum. Archie faces problem in adjusting to the slum life and in living without privileges. Plus, Archie also starts missing her family. The Marathi lady also helps the two get a work to sustain themselves. Slowly the man inside Parshya awakes in the form of insecurity and suspicion about Archie’s loyalty towards him. Following it the two get separated for a while to realize it is impossible to live without each other. On this realization the two get married and also have a kid. They both get better jobs too.
While all these things are happening in Hyderabad, in Bittergaon, Parshya’s family is made to leave the village, Archie’s father looses face in his political party and Parshya’s father is struggling to get Parshya’s sister married.
When the child of Archie and Parshya- Aakaash- is a year or two old, the couple goes and books an apartment which indicates their life gaining equilibrium, after all these years and all these struggles. At this stage Archie’s family members visit Archie and Parshya, with sweets, dress and ornaments sent by Archie’s mother for Archie, Parshya and Aakash.
Aakash at that point of time has been taken to the market by a neighboring lady. When Aakash returns, with the neighbor, we see through the eyes of the year old child we see Archie and Parshya having been slaughtered to death in their very house. Aakash runs out of the house crying, leaving behind footprints of blood.
What on the outset looks like the popular Romeo-Juliet trope reminding cine-buffs of Alaipaayuthey, Kaadhal, Qayaamat Sey Qayaamat Tak etc. in its heart is not just a love story modeled in the same mold.
The shyness of Parshya and the confidence of Archie, at times turning into arrogance, doesn’t stop love from flowering. The affection they feel for each other sails them through. The economic disability of Parshya is not allowed to become a hurdle. With the help of a friend’s phone the two build on the essential intimacy. The violence of political-police nexus in a semi-feudal set up is answered by the use of counter-violence and thus love is taken to another coast. The couple with the help of a Suman, who earlier had eloped with her lover, finds shelter in the urban space after the two find it impossible to find a roof without the required ID proof. Archie manages to adjust to the new setting- unclean toilets, cooking etc- for love. The two also find job and thus achieve the economic independence. The suspicion of Parshya, at one point, stemming from insecurity and immaturity which is aggravated by technology, also gets resolved. All the hurdles are crossed.
When Nagraj Manjule says it is difficult to find love and to and to love somebody, probably, these are the kind of difficulties he is mentioning of. But none of these difficulties kill the couple nor kills their love for each other. These difficulties when crossed just enhance the love the two have for each other.
The class difference, economics, the cruelty of urban space, feudal set up, political-police nexus, linguistic barrier, omnipresent gaze of the society causing humiliation, inability to adjust to a new setting, letting comforts go off, suspicion and insecurity; which, though not correct, is quite natural to humans, misunderstanding triggered by technology etc., all problems get resolved and the two get evolved.
Yet in the end they can’t survive caste. Caste kills them.
Caste kills them when the two have come far away from the village and have travelled much in time and after a lot of water has flowed in the river. Even after those long years the ghost of caste is still angry and blood thirsty!
The film is not just about the will of the heart to celebrate love and live it but also the will of the caste system to ensure that love doesn’t flower. It is about loving passionately and hating dispassionately.
The cane fields which is responding to the beauty of love during the initiation of love and also helps the lovers and friends to hide is turned into a trap by the caste mentality which sets fire to the cane fields. The birds which dance in unison and in rhythm cry and lose their rhythm when caste tries to separate the lovers.
In spite of the support of friends in the rural space and strangers in the urban space and the participation of entire nature in love’s breathing, love can’t escape the violence of caste. To that extent the poison of caste is stronger than the coming together of hearts which is supported by friendship, camaraderie and nature too.
Caste like it is in our daily lives is almost invisible yet omnipresent in Sairaat.
In the title song sairaat zhaala ji we see Archie coming out of temple and finding roses being placed on her footwear. She knows it has been placed by Parshya and looks around for him. She spots Parshya sitting quite far and Parshya when sees Archie looking in his direction bends and enacts like touching her feet.
What looks like a simple innocent expression of love here has a strong undercurrent of caste. Parshya, who earlier has gone and jumped into the well to catch a glimpse of Archie in spite of knowing he will be kicked out, does not enter the temple while Archie does.
But it is not just that because we see Parshya’s expression of love, being similar to the expression of devotion by upper caste. We see how hierarchy works and those on the lower ranks imbibe upper caste ways and methods.
Mangya, cousin of Archie, who is said to be a street bully, is dominated by Parshya and others on the sports field and even in other mundane things. Parshya and others are shown as much stronger people in terms of their personality and also in their game. But when Mangya comes to beat up Parshya all he does and his friends do is to stop Mangya, when it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to beat Mangya up together. What stops them? What makes all others in the school premises just be a silent spectator? Why is it that only Archie can stop him?
Parshya and his friends know that to assault Mohit Patil alias Mangya means to invite trouble because he belongs to an upper caste. Let us not forget that he is not taken seriously by Archie’s extended family for Parshya to fear his political connections. It is purely caste which is making Parshya and his friends stop from attacking Mangya even as self defense since the consequences of beating up an upper caste boy can cost them a lot.
When Archie comes on a tractor near Parshya’s house his mother is taken aback when Archie asks for water. When Mangya comes to meet Parshya in Karmala the granny there asks Salya to ask if he (Mangya) wants water and Salya says, “He is a Patil,” indicating he might not take water given by them. Archie’s friend Aani, who is also on the tractor, refuses to drink water at Parshya’s house. In a passing moment when Archie, in the song sairaat zhaala ji, goes to Parshya’s mother’s fish fry shop, her friend Aani who is in the corner of the frame is shown to be closing her nose and squeezing her face in disgust.
Archie’s confidence, inclusive of arrogance, comes partially because of her caste. It is that which gives her the courage to pick a fight with the police in the police station. And that was the reason for her to be unshaken when the police spot them at the bus stop. In contrast to her unshaken behavior is the reaction of the boys on seeing the police, scared and nervous. Their response is coloured by their caste identity!
When Archie and Parshya run away the family of Parshya has to leave the village and it becomes difficult to find a groom for Parshya’s sister. On the other hand Archie’s father looses face in the party and sidelined. These are direct consequences of Parshya and Archie’s inter-caste love and eloping.
Interestingly while showing both parents as victims of society’s caste consciousness which makes them also pay for the transgression of their children Nagraj Manjule shows that it is not the same for people from different stratum in the caste hierarchy. While Archie’s father expresses his anger by pulling down and breaking the photos of Archie, Parshya’s father expresses his disappointment and anger by slapping himself.
Parshya’s father falling at Prince’s (Archie’s brother) feet and later slapping Parshya, even when he is already wounded because of Prince’s beating, for “messing up with the upper caste people,” also underline how caste operates.
Caste is not just an inhumane force, in Sairaat, which kills love and attacks innocents. It is also a force which makes the victims blame themselves for the attack on them and see themselves as undignified beings.
Equally important is Sairaat saying that caste is a dehumanizing force. Lokhande, the teacher who has been humiliated by the caste people turns insensitive and is seeking revenge, even if it is through another person from his caste!
All of this happens in a space where boys and girls of all caste swim in the same well, go to the same school, which can come across as a symbol of caste being non-existent!
Caste in the world of Sairaat is not just impacting the lower caste. We see caste dehumanizing even the upper caste people also.
The striking difference between Parshya’s sister, who is in favour of Archie and Parshya’s affair, and Archie’s brother Prince’s response to Archie-Parshya love story makes it clear that when smitten by caste one only turns inhumane.
Similarly when Parshay’s friends dance with him in his romantic high and otherwise (while train passes) Archie’s friends feel embarrassed when she dances and refuse to join her in the dance. The upper caste codes do not let the upper caste to live freely, express freely thus tightening the noose around their neck, adding pressure of social grace on them.
But here it is not just caste operating but also gender.
Though caste is the main undercurrent, Sairaat doesn’t focus only on caste identity. The writer director knows that individuals are an intersection of identities.
It is not just in friends of Parshya and Archie, we see it also when Archie who overpowers her brother Prince when he questions her about the bike, the same Archie who brushes aside her mother’s suggestion to cut short her talks with friends loses her strength and power when she is spotted with Parshya.
We see Salya’s religious identity forming a connection with Shahid in a different town and we also see the Marathi linguistic identity becoming the reason for bonding between the Suman aunty and Archie-Parshya.
Interestingly the religious identity does not become a shelter or a shield for lovers but linguistic identity does, in Sairaat, which is probably because language is more natural to human society formation than religion and caste.
But still the linguistic identity can cause friction and a kind of rupture which we see when Archie is watching Television, a Marathi channel, at Suman aunty’s house and the boy changing it to Telugu channel. A similar thing happens in the end when Archie’s relatives come to their house. When they switch on the TV what they see is a Telugu channel playing, indicating the house members were watching it before switching it off. The relatives immediately change the channel to watch DD-Sahyadri, a Marathi channel.
In the rural space Archie who orders boys to get out of the well and who just through gesture asks her teacher to mind his business is a very strong person while Parshya, in the rural space is quite a weak and vulnerable character, though good at sports and academics.
In the urban space Archie becomes vulnerable and Parshya’s caste and class makes it a bit easy for him to adjust to the urban space. While Parshya can easily drink the water from the drum Archie needs mineral water. While Parshya can cook Archie has to learn. While Parshya doesn’t find the toilet and bath facilities in the slum problematic for Archie it takes time to get accustomed to them and also the dust and bad odor in the air. The English flaunting Archie goes almost silent when met with the roughness and toughness of an urban life, a slum life devoid of privileges.
Both rural and urban space has its own strengths and limitations in the world of Sairaat each strengthening and dis-empowering its characters in various ways. While rural space pins them to their identity (Parshya’s maternal uncle spotting him in the bus-stand) the urban space gives them a certain kind of anonymity, making living a bit easy. But the same urban space steals away from them the luxuries and comforts of life. The urban space though has different codes, the codes like asking ID proof for staying in lodges, are equally anti-love and humiliating.
These spaces hold within themselves the strength to nurture and also kill, like the cane fields which helps them hide can turn into a trap and technology which makes the two connect also sows the seeds of disconnect. To say every character, human, space, nature, technology, is round in nature holding opposite energies within itself and hence lively adding life and also posing challenges but never killing.
The only flat characters in the film are those high on sperm (boys in Hyderabad), those high on power and those high on caste. Not surprisingly all the three; caste, sperm and power are interconnected. It is these forces, specifically caste, which poses only killing powers and also kills.
Caste is omnipresent and is what drives the story to its end to make it an anti-caste film. But interestingly the protagonists of the film; Archie and Parshya, are not anti caste. They have not waged a war against caste system; annihilating caste is not their concern or preoccupation at all. They are just in love and their fight is for their right to love. But unknowingly and unconsciously their love breaks the caste barrier.
This shows the intolerance of caste towards anything which bends the system even if by an inch. One need not challenge the caste system and wage a war against the entire system or pledge to annihilate the caste system. Just breaking it, even if unknowingly, is enough for the caste system to take offence and punish one for the transgression or even wage a war against those who cause a crack in the system.
Caste punishes even if you fall into the same system after bending the system slightly. Archie, at the time when she is assassinated, is more domestic like an upper caste lady; she puts rangoli in front of the house which is quite an upper caste practice. Yet, the transgression which shook the system by an inch will not be tolerated by the caste system. It will punish without hesitation.
The cosmos that Nagraj Manjule creates in Sairaat is full of life in various colurs and various shades. The barren trees, the flock of birds dancing in the wind, crippled humans, minorities (Muslim), Lilliput (though just passing by the road while Archie dances) all find a natural place and have a respectable place too.
Details like these enrich Sairaat throughout.
The college Principal who should be taking action against Prince for slapping a teacher dances in the birthday party of Prince, Archie’s house is named Archana but the name written on the house is removed when she elopes, when Archie fights in the police station and later when Archie and Parshya fight on the streets of Hyderabad there is an omnipresent gaze of a strangers, the influence of urban/ corporate world on the rural world and the latter’s desire to imitate the earlier in form of having Bittergaon Premier League on the lines of Indian Premier League, the impact of Urban sense of fashion and beauty making way in to the rural dream (Alia Bhat’s dress) are some details in passing which not just enrich the film but also add to the larger theme of the film.
Other interesting details that Nagraj Manjule knits into his narrative are the ways in which Archie gets emotional about having left her family behind, which in a way could be a certain kind of guilt which one develops because of conditioning. She giving blank calls to her house and later asking about her father to her mother and her brother are reflections of the love she has for home and father and also her inability to leave them behind and not to miss a kind of guilt which she tries to cleanse by speaking good about her father to a colleague of hers, though it is because of her father that she had to elope in order to save the life of her lover and her love.
While Archie realizes her powerlessness in the urban space slowly she kind of regains her power when she starts working and becomes economically independent. We see her restoring her power when in the end she is seen riding a scooter again.
But then something has changed. She, while driving back home, along with Parshya sees couple being beaten up by the Hindutva goons and the police, a reference to innumerable immoral attacks and operation majnu, which is similar to the way in which Parshya and his friends were being beaten up after being released from the jail. Back then she had risked her life to save Parshya but now though she and Parshya both are shaken by the attack they witness, do not intervene. Struggles of life can bring a certain kind of fatigue.
Such details uplift the film making the narrative have a worldview and not just ideology.
Though caste seems to be so prevalent, Sairaat is a love story. In a broader sense we can understand Love as the protagonist of Sairaat and caste as the antagonist.
Love, in Sairaat, is innocent which includes silliness of sending letters through a child and mentioning about letters- letter writing being taught in class, kings using letter as a medium of communication- while Archie is around. To love, Sairaat says, is to have the liberty to be silly.
In the title track Parshya is seen holding a stone to guard himself from the Holi colour. But when he sees Archie passing by he throws the stone away. Archie throws colour at him and his friends follow it up with more colors. Now it is Parshya’s turn to coloir Archie and he does. To love, in Sairaat, is let go off all guard and become playful.
Parshya throwing away the stone is similar to Pradeep throwing away the ghutka when Archie asks if Parshya eats ghutka. Love, Sairaat says, is a humanizing process. It makes Prashya call his friend Pradeep by his name on Archie’s insistence after years of calling and referring to him as a cripple.
Archie, when they elope to Hyderabad and start living together, slowly learns to cook. The girl who did not know the rates of vegetables in the end is discussing with her mother about savings and buying a new apartment. Love, Sairaat says, is about being in tune with the mundane and dailiness of life.
When Archie leaves Parshya and takes a train Suman tells Parshya that she too had eloped for love’s sake and that her husband abandoned her when she was three month pregnant. With this parallel track Sairaat says love is about taking up responsibility and growing up to being a responsible person and attaining a maturity level which can sustain life.
When all the class students in the playground are doing exercise Archie and Parshya miss the steps purposefully and do their own steps. Love, Sairaat says, is about finding your own rhythm in the crowd. It is to find your own self and your own tune and your own steps!
In constructing his narrative Nagraj Manjule subverts quite a few stereotypes. His subversion begins with the way he constructs his central characters Archie and Parshya.
Archie is not the stereotypical heroine but a very strong girl who orders boys of her age to get out of the well and it is the courageous she who plans eloping and executes it. She makes the police release Parshya and his friends and also saves their lives later by taking gun in her hand.
On the other hand we see that it is Parshya who is blushing, as Archie stares at him in the class and runs away from the classroom. In the end when the two are going back home after booking an apartment we see Parshya taking care of the child while Archie is driving the scooter.
The beauty of Sairaat, to me, in the end, is the way Nagraj Manjule carries a large portion of the film in such a ‘normal’ way. Archie, while playing khoko, sees Parshya staring at her and goes on to question him why he is looking at her. But in the same conversation she says she doesn’t mind being watched. The scene which is the first hint about Archie’s love for Parshya is presented without any underlining in a matter of fact way. Archie in the cane field saying she loves Parshya too is presented like a matter of fact.
There is so much dailiness to everything in the film (falling in love, crossing all sorts of hurdle for the sake of love and in the process of being with the beloved) that in the end we are forced to ask as to what is the ‘motivation’ for the violence? In normalizing love and the struggles of love Nagraj Manjule makes the audience think what is the ’cause’ for the violence in the end of the film.
The answer is not in the film, actually. It is outside the film from where the film emerges. The answer is within us. In more than one ways, we are also a part of the ’cause’.
The effect of it is not just a cold-blooded murder of love, through the murder of lovers, but also a new life being orphaned and being orphaned in a way that every step of his will be coloured with the blood of love’s assassination.
“It is your grief,” says Shiv (Naseer) to Tara (Kalki), indicating it belongs only and only to her and she alone will have to deal with it, and goes on to explain that there are different stages to it- “Denial, anger, hope, depression and then acceptance.”
While the film WAITING by Anu Menon, as I see it, is primarily about grief and acceptance of grief, it certainly goes further to state that it is not just acceptance of grief which is necessary what is more essential is to cope with the grief, grief which is inseparable from life.
While the film is showing, quickly, the first few stages of grief through one character, it dedicates its time, to show the last leap one has to make from acceptance to coping.
Acceptance can be quite unconscious and passive, coping is a very conscious and active decision, to which one has to arrive.
Shiv, whose wife has been in coma for eight years, and Tara, whose husband Rajath, married to her six weeks ago, is in coma following a fatal accident, meet each other in a hospital in Cochin and their personal grief brings them together.
Shiv is hopeful about his wife Pankaja’s recovery against the lack of any hope in the doctor treating her, Dr. Nirupam (Rajath Kapoor) and insists on going further with treatment. Tara is anxious about her husband not being the same as earlier even if operated and is unsure of going ahead with the required surgery, in spite of Dr. Nirupam, who is also treating Rajath, being hopeful.
Dr. Nirupam tells Shiv that he is afraid of being left alone and hence wants to believe that his wife is going to be fine, some day. Shiv tells Tara that her perplexity is caused by fear of her husband not being as she wants him to be or how he was.
What is told to Shiv and what is told by Shiv, in more than a way, is similar to each other: the inability to accept the changing nature of life, the inability to cope with life, a life which is ever flowing, ever changing.
Shiv takes Tara, a declared atheist, to a temple and says “Faith is a way of coping,” a line which is repeated by Tara later in a shopping mall, to Shiv, who hates malls, by slightly altering it to say, “Shopping is a way of coping.”
How do people cope with grief?
While Tara’s friend believes in chanting and “positive energy” Shiv avoids Dr. Nirupam who, he thinks, is filled with “negativity.”
Though an athiest Tara wants reassurance from the Doctor, who in a scene tells that Doctors are the like Gods for the patients.
Shiv believes that his wife is an exceptional case, like some that he reads in medical journals, who will wake up normally, one day, to a normal morning and to normalcy.
Tara’s friend’s husband needs her presence to cope with their son’s illness. Probably the son also needs his mother to cope with his illness. It is similar to Tara seeking company in Shiv, an almost stranger, after her friends do not come for her.
Rajath’s mother believes in “raahu-ketu” i.e. astrology.
All of these are ways in which one tries to cope with life, whether it looks practical or impractical. What is important is that it helps one cope with grief, with life.
The need to cope pushes Tara, the atheist, to run to the temple, to chant Buddhist chanting and also brings out the F* word from Shiv’s mouth, though it is just for venting anger, soaked in helplessness.
To cope also means to change, for life is ever changing. To cope the will to let go for life is ever flowing.
To cope with the possible added grief of being blamed by her mother in law, Tara avoids calling her to inform about her son’s accident. To cope with possible grief Shiv hides/ remains silent of his momentary tryst with an old classmate during a reunion. But this means of escaping cannot help in coping with actual situation in hand. One has to confront reality. One has to let go off fears and also false imaginations, which possibly stems out of helplessness, an offshoot of grief.
You can escape into drinking and dancing and merry making at night but you have to wake up in the morning to the harsh reality of grief in life. That calls for acceptance of grief, coping with grief, acceptance of life as it unfolds and coping with life as it unfolds.
While Pankaja’s being cant cope with the dis-ease any more Rajath’s being can cope with the injuries and rise back.
While Tara has to decide to live with imperfections of life, Shiv has to decide to nurture himself (cook) all alone.Those are the only ways with which they can cope with grief, with life, from here.
The ability to cope with dis-ease, with injuries, with loss and life with all its imperfection is what is most crucial for life.
Though the film’s hurried ending causes a kind of discomfort, what is very commendable about the film is actually its writing. For a film which explores grief in its various shades the film at no point becomes melodramatic. The restraint makes the grief more poignant.
Undoubtedly it is Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin who carry the film as Shiv and Tara but what intensifies the experience is the way in which these two characters have been written and not to forget the effortlessly beautiful dialogues.
P.K. Nair is no more.
Language is inadequate to speak of his contribution and also of the vacuum his death has left behind.
When I got into the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune in the year 2012 one of the things I was eagerly looking forward to, in Pune, was seeing P.K. Nair the man whose effort gave us the National Film Archives of India and through it all the films that we have watched and learned from. But never could I gather the courage to call him take an appointment and go meet him.
But slightly over a month after I joined the course my teacher Rahamat Tarikere, who was then writing a book on Amirbai Karnataki came to Pune researching on his subject. One day while walking with Sir to the NFAI library I said, “May be you should also speak to P.K. Nair,” to which Sir said, “Yes, I do intend to.” Without waiting for further instruction I had pulled out my phone from my pocket saying, “Let me take an appointment,” and rang Nair sahab who on knowing someone was writing on Amirbai and wanted to meet him said, “Come now,” and said that he was in his office (PK Nair committee) at the Institute. Rahmat Sir and I took an above turn and walked to the Institute.
As Rahamat Sir and I entered his room he shook hands with us and asked whereabouts. When Rahamat Sir explained to him about the book he is writing on Amirbai Karnataki and immediately Nair sahab started recollecting the songs of Amirbai and also started humming some of them. He also spoke about the voice culture and also the shift that the voice culture took in the 50s. As I sat there listening to him I realized that Nair sahab, who effortlessly recollected songs and would quote the year of its release and other details about the song, was not someone who just built the film archives in India but is/was also an archive in himself.
Later in that year a film made on him Celluloid Man was released which we had the fortune of watching with Nair sahab himself during the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema. While watching the film Celluloid Man I realized that my Masters’ thesis wouldnt have been possible if not for Nair sahab. In the film Girish Kasaravalli says how his first film Ghatashraddha was lying in some studio in the then Bombay which Nair sahab got hold of and preserved if not for which a copy of the film wouldnt have been available now. My post-graduation dissertation was on the film Ghatashraddha.
That day when the screening got over and I was about to walk out of the NFAI I got a call from B.M. Basheer, a senior friend, who is also the editor of the Kannada daily Vaartha Bhaarathi. He asked me to do a special article for their annual issue and I immediately asked him if I could interview Nair sahab to which he said, “Ok.” As he said “Ok” I turned back and went into NFAI again where Nair sahab was still sitting. I went to him and asked him if I could interview him for the annual issue of a Kannada daily and all he said was, “Sunday morning.”
After quite a long interview that day my friends Rahul and Pooraj along with me sat for a while with Nair sahab without wanting to leave immediately after the interview. He asked us how the course was running and if the recommendations made by him were taken seriously. Even in the informal conversation that followed the interview he kept repeating something which he kept uttering during the interview: “There is a lot more to be done,” which seemed to be his preoccupation and to that he would add, “Someone should take it forward.”
Yes, there is a lot more to be done and someone should take it forward. Nair sahab did what he could do which was more than the share of a single person in the history of a nation.