Cutting through the dusty roads and then the mist on NH-01, when we reached Patnitop it was almost 14:00 hrs.
Starting our journey from Jammu at around 8:00 in the morning we had reached Patnitop, pausing our journey at several places for temples-Dargah visits and for tea.
The driver initially played some bhajans in the car but slowly as our journey proceeded he started playing old Hindustani film songs, all stored in his pendrive. We joined our sincere though un-melodic voices with those songs. He narrated stories of his association with some songs and so did I.
When we crossed Udhampur and started getting on the hills he said, “There is a dhaba run by a friend nearby. We will have lunch there and then proceed.” I agreed. When we stopped the car by the dhaba for lunch the music also stopped and we forgot to play it again when we continued the journey after a good meal.
When we reached Patnitop I was amazed by the beauty of the place and felt the need to underline the experience with some good music. I requested him to play the music. He said, “Let us listen to radio. It catches the signal of Sialkot station.” He tuned the radio to Sialkot station which played good old Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. We sang along and continued the journey.
I was thrilled about the radio catching signals of a radio station across the border and the station across the border playing old HIndustani films songs of Bombay cinema.
When we stopped for a cup of chai at Patnitop the shopkeeper told us about 18 soldiers being killed at Uri that morning.
Few days into this incident it felt like a war had begun not just at the border but also everywhere. There came a demand to ban all Pakistani artists from Indian cinema. Those who defended the Pakistani artists not surprisingly got branded as anti-nationals. There was a call for boycotting the films which had Pakistani artists. As I kept reading and hearing about these I recollected the moment of the radio catching signals from across the border and the radio station across the border playing Hindustani film songs from Bombay cinema. This memory would bring a smile on my face and to this moment I cant figure out if that smile is an indication of agony or ecstasy. But everytime I remember that moment I also remember a song penned by Javed Akthar, whose opening lines are:
“panchi nadiya pawan kay jhonkay,
koi sarhad na inhey rokay.“
(birds, river and the blow of wind
no national borders ever stop them.)
~ Javed Akthar
But the paradox/ tragedy of our times is that someone like Javed Akthar (has been brought to a position where he) questions/ condemns the silence of Pakistani artists over Uri.
On one hand nobody, even the line of control, could stop the radio signals/ waves coming from across the border and the broadcasting of Bombay film music by a radio station across the border. On the other hand the situation has built such pressures on the likes of Javed Akthar to make statements which given an ideal, equal and fair world they wouldn’t feel compelled to make. The unhindered music makes me happy but the poet’s heart being taken over by political pressure pains me.
May the heart of the poet write again of the futility of wars. And this time, I pray, let these songs not just cross borders but also erase borders.
When I was leaving Delhi for Manipal she and I decided to write letters to each other. She said, “You write first.” I agreed. When I got back, I wrote her a letter, with all the love I had for her and that I could give her. Even after a month the letter did not reach her. I wrote a second letter which also did not reach her. Our conversations, all through this time, did continue via mail, sms, phone calls, gchat etc. But the letter just did not reach.
One evening as I was standing at a shop by the Manipal lake waiting for the rain to stop I got a message from her saying, “Just woke up from an afternoon nap. In my dreams both your letters had arrived. You had signed in the end and that is all I could read in my dream, not any other line.”
Bad postal services also could not stop letters being exchanged.
Letters have the quality of a dream. It is a personal and emotional truth. Letters exchanged in dreams are…
(Memory recollected while in a conversation with Rashmi Ramchandani around the magic and beauty of letter writing.)
I: I love you.
K: Good. But I don’t.
I: I want you to marry me.
K: Leave me alone.
I: Do you love xyz?
K: How does it matter to you? I dont love you and that is enough information for you.
I: Don’t you love me?
I: How can you not?
I: If you don’t love me, if you dont marry me, you will have to face the consequences. You are so inconsiderate towards my love for you.
K: Stop threatening and harassing me.
I: Harassing? Why are you blowing it out of proportion?
K: I might have to slap you if you continue this.
I: Why are you turning violent?
K: I am being violent?
I: Yes. What did I say after-all? I just love you and want you.
K: But I dont.
I: What do you want?
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.
Almost two decades ago while I was fast asleep in my grandparent’s house in Byndoor, I heard a drum beat. Along with the sound of drum was the sound of a jingle. A voice followed the sounds, singing something in a language which I did not understand back then as a child.
The sound did not just wake me up but also scared me. I held my mother, sleeping next to me, tightly and tried waking her up calling for her. She, very casually, said that the sound of the drum was to wake up the Muslim neighbors since it is the month of fasting and they have to eat before the dawn breaks and assured me that there is nothing to feel scared about. I went back to sleep.
After that in the following years, as a child, I must have visited Byndoor couple of times during Ramzaan month and all of these had got hidden under the dust of time.
Last month after a long, real long, time I was in Byndoor yet again during the month of Ramzaan. A set of playing cards kept my cousins and me awake till midnight. Sleep eluded me even after we all hit the bed. After long texting with a friend I was slowly dissolving in slumber when I heard the sound of a drum and jingle followed by a voice saying in tune “Ramzaan ka maheena hai...” and the remaining words remained unclear. Sleep sucked me in again, immediately.
In the morning when I mentioned how I had forgotten about the drum beats waking people up during Ramzaan a cousin, resident of Byndoor, told me, “They come from some far off place and are here only during the month of Ramzaan to wake people up in the morning.” This piece of information, not known to me until then, triggered curiosity in me.
Deciding to stop the man that night, for a conversation, while he comes to wake people up I went to sleep that night asking all my cousins and relatives to wake me up in case the drum sound doesnt wake me up that night.
As I had predicted that night I was so deep asleep that the drum sound did not wake me up. My aunt woke me up saying the “drummer” was in our lane. Jumping off my bed I ran out. The man would go five houses ahead of our house in the lane where our house is located and come back since there are no Muslim houses after that. I waited as he was walking back.
When I expressed my desire to have a conversation with me, as expected, he asked me why I wanted to speak to him and what is that I wanted to speak to him. When I spelled out my wish to know where he comes from and from how many years he has been coming the man said, “I am actually from Hyderabad.” He told me that he stays near the Mosque of Byndoor. When I said I need to talk him at length he asked me to come near the Mosque at 16:00 hrs. Disappointed me asked him if I could meet him in the day time. “I am either in Shiroor or Bhatkal during the day. I return only in the evening,” he said. I remembered my uncle telling me the previous day that during day time the man goes to collect alms.
“Okay then. I will see you in the evening.”
“Fine. Meet me in the evening.”
“What is your name?”
“Rahmatullaa Shaah Rafaayi.”
My plan was to return to Manipal that afternoon which I had to cancel and I did.
But I couldnt wait till evening. Convincing my cousin to take me to Shiroor-Bhatkal on his scooter, I sat on the scooter.
We thought of first checking at the Byndoor mosque if he was around. But he wasnt. In a small shop next to the mosque the shopkeeper said, “those people are called Saahvari. They are here only during the month of Ramzaan to wake people up. On the day of the feast, at the end of month, they accept whatever is given to them, in cash or kind, by the villagers. With that they go back to their place and come back the next Ramzaan.”
“Does every village has a Saahvari coming from elsewhere?
“I dont know if they go to every village. I know there is one Saahvari in Shiroor. I am not sure about Bhatkal.”
He also told me that these people come voluntarily and are not invited by the Mosque people. But when they arrive the mosque provides them with a place to stay.
Thanking the shopkeeper my cousin and I cut through the Ottinenne hill went to Shiroor. In Shiroor we went to a Mosque, crossing the railway line only to find the mosque closed. An elderly man passing by the Mosque told us that the secretary of the Mosque owned a shop in the market place and we could spot him there. Turning our scooter in the market direction we turned the accelerator applying brake only in front of the shop owned by the secretary of the Mosque.
It was a small shop selling fancy items. When I asked him about the Saahvaris he said no Saahvari comes to Shiroor and the responsibility of waking people up during Ramzaan month during the hour of sehri was taken by the villagers themselves till few years ago. “Now there are alarms and mobile phones to wake people up. So there is no need for someone to wake you up with a drum,” he said and made me listen to his mobile alarm singing azaan, which he said was his alarm tone.
In the conversation that followed he mentioned that there were 16-17 mosques in Shiroor alone. So immediately I asked if Saahvaris came to any of the other Mosques? “No,” he said in a stern voice. When I asked him how many Dargaa was there in Shiroor he said, “Four to five,” in a tone that exhibited his irritation without any hesitation. In a restless manner he said, “Some idiots do go to Dargaa, what can be done?” making his intolerance towards the Dargaa culture evident. “See, Ghalib has said,” he said and uttered the lines, “there is no dearth of idiots in the world Ghalib, look for one and you will find a thousand.” When I asked him if Ghalib actually said that his tone changed and he requested, “Please do not write about this. It is just a saying.”
Disappointed by the response and the failure of not finding Saahvari I moved out of his shop. Ten steps from his shop I must have walked before taking a right turn, staring at the notes I had made till then when I saw four Saahvaris getting down from an auto.
One old man. One young man. One adolescent and one child.
Greeting them I introduced myself and expressed my desire to speak to them. “Afternoon namaaz time is nearing. Can we talk in the evening?” I said I had to meet the Saahvari in Byndoor that evening. “He is my brother,” said the eldest one among them.
Agreeing to talk to me for two minutes the eldest among them introduced the other three to me as his son Mohammad Baasha, his another brother’s son “Hussain” and his younger brother.
His name, he said, is “Irfaanulla Shah Rafaayi,” who has been coming to Shiroor every Ramzaan from 35 years now, “sehri uthaaney kay liye,” (to wake people up for food before fast begins.)
He had first come to coastal Karnataka with his uncle who would be coming to a place called Nagoor “sehri uthaaney kay liye.” Along with him first came Irfaanullaah and chose Shiroor “sehri uthaaney kay liye.” From 35 years, he said, during his visit to Shiroor during the month of Ramzaan he stays in the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa in Shiroor. With his ‘daff‘ like instrument called ‘daayraa‘ which makes the sound of a daff with jingles, and singings ‘naath’, he wakes people up before the dawn breaks around the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa. During other months of the year they all are in Hyderabad and in the Dargaas in and around Hyderabad performing their rituals.
“It is time now,” said Irfaanullaa and gave me an option of seeing him by the Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa after 15:00 hours.
“Can you sing one kawwaali for me now before you leave?”
Making a slightly sad face he said, “Come after 15:00 hours. I will sing a kawwali for you.”
Promising him to see him by Junglee Peer Baba Dargaa my cousin and I went to Bhatkal. Finishing our lunch and shopping a bit in Bhatkal we hit the national high way yet again to reach Shiroor.
Breaking away from the National Highway we took to the tarr road and after a while diverting from the tarr road we entered a mud road and came close to a very narrow bridge which could be crossed only by a cycle. Across the bridge stood Jungleee Peer Baba Dargaa.
Stopping our scooter we crossed the bridge constructed over a rivulet. It was a beautiful sigh. Clicking some photos of the environ I walked to Irfaanullaah who was resting my the river under the shadow casted of the narrow bridge.
While speaking to him I recollected the words spoken by the Secretary of the Shiroor mosque. “Some sects with Islaam do not approve of Sufism,” he said and added to it, “Yes, there is no need for us now since alarm and mobile phone have come into existence. But still we come for the love of the people who we know for over three decades now and for the devotion of God.”
Our conversation was interrupted by two young boys who in a harsh tone asked me who I am and why I had clicked photos of the Dargaa. I explained my purpose.
“We dont mind you talking to him. But why click photos of the Dargaa?” Skipping through the photos in the camera they recollected an incident where a “media person” had photographed and video-graphed the Dargaa and then created a “controversy” relaying “false news.” No photo in our camera appeared objectionable to them and let the interview continue.
Irfaanullah said his uncle had first come to Bababudan(giri) first years ago and from there he got down from the western ghats and reached Nagoor for the first time. In Bababudan(giri), he said, a yearly ritual takes place attended by followers of Sufism. “Now my uncle is dead. So there is no Saahvari in Nagoor to wake people up during Ramzaan,” explained Irfaanullah. It seems his uncle had no children.
“Will your son come to Shiroor after you?”
“Yes. Dont you see, he comes even now with me.”
Irfanullaah laughed saying so. His son laughed. I laughed and even the boys who interrupted the interview laughed.
That evening when I met Rahmatullaah in Byndoor he had the contrary to say. “My children are not interested in this. I cant even force them to do what they do not like to do. So I am the last Saahvari coming to Byndoor. There will probably be none after me. He has been coming to Byndoor from 30 years now and has learnt Kannada too. He kind of echoes his brother when he says he comes “sehri uthaaney kay liye,” even when technological advancements have made their work redundant for “muhobbat” and “puraani pehchaan.”
During the other months of the year Rahmatullah is a seller of gems and precious stone. “I have my business to make money. I do this for the love of people and love of God,” he says. “In recent times,” said Rahmatullah, “in other parts the Saahvaris have been facing objections from people not following Islaam.” Their objection is to the sleep of non-Muslimas are being “disturbed” when the ‘daayra‘ is beaten and ‘naath‘ sung to wake Muslims up. “But thankfully no such objections have been faced by me in Byndoor nor by my brother in Shiroor,” said Rahmatullaah with a smile.
I feel sad that I couldnt speak more to Rahmatullah and Irfaanullah and that I couldnt extract more information and insights from them. I lacked preparation too not just time and the two seemed lacking in rooting and also also communication. So several questions remained unasked and unanswered.
Where to go for those answers, I do not know. For how long will Rahmatullah and Irfaanulllah will come to coastal Karnataka also remains unknown to me.
[Originally written for Karavali Karnataka website for my column Shadow of Life there]
Couple of months ago a friend on Facebook (Guruprasad Nayaran) put up a post on Satyajit Ray. While commenting about the books written by Marie Seton, Chidanand Dasgupta, Gaston Roberge etc on Ray I also mentioned about an essay by S. Diwakar where he mentions about Ray having designed the cover page of a poetry collection of the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.
In that particular essay (found in the book ‘naapatteyaada graamaphone mattu itara prabandhagalu‘) S. Diwakar recollects how he first read Nazim Hikmet’s poetry in translation, translated by Ramachandra Sharma and how went looking for a collection of Hikmet’s poetry, without any success. He remembers how, during those days, he once mentioned about Hikmet to the great Kannada writer YNK who on hearing the name of Hikmet got excited and spoke of Hikmet, his poetry and his politics with great enthusiasm in one breath. But to Diwakar’s bad luck YNK’s copy of Hikmet’s poetry collection was borrowed by someone and never returned to YNK.
But then “Twenty five years ago” writes S. Diwakar, “in a small old book stall in the then Madras,” he found a book of Hikmet’s poetry titled ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ He continues to say, “Recently” (at the time of writing the essay) he chanced upon the book again in his library and a detail that had skipped his eyes all those years caught his eyes. The cover page of the book was designed by Satyajit Ray and the book was published by one ‘Parichaya Prakashini‘ based in the then Calcutta.
Narrating these S. Diwakar writes in his essay, how thrilled he was to see a a Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, non-resident Indian Kannada translator Ramachandra Sharma, a Kannada writer YNK and the Bengali language film director Satyajit Ray get connected and how thrilled he was to see all of them get bound together in his mind.
I had forgotten about my comment on Guruprasad’s post on Ray. Completely. But then…
On 24 of June 2016 S. Diwakar came to attend the inaugural function of the Hebbar Gallery and Art Center in Manipal. He was one of the speakers in the panel discussion conducted as a part of the inaugural programme. He was surrounded by other friends and admirers during the tea break following the panel discussion. When one by one started dispersing we met and on seeing me he immediately put his hand in his bag and took out a book saying, “This is for you.”
A yellow bind book with an image of human figure in black whose titled read ‘Nazim Hikmet Selected Poems.’ !!!
“I saw you mentioning about my essay on Facebook. I was happy that someone had read and remembered it as well. I dug out the book from my library that very day and thought of sending it to you by courier but got held in some other work. But in a day or two after that Srajana called me to invite me for this programme and I thought it is better to give you the book personally when I come here. So, here it is,” said S. Diwakar.
My friend Srajana Kaikini, who is the curator of Hebbar Gallery and Art Center was right there when this exchange happened. When I showed her the book saying, “See he gifted me this,” there was a memory recollected.
Sometime in 2011 Srajana and I had attended the exhibition of paintings by Chittoprasad in Delhi. In one of his paintings one can see Hikmet’s book in the frame. Standing before that painting I had recited Faiz’s translation of Hikmet in Urdu; “Meri jaan tujh ko batalaaun bahut naazuk yeh nuqtaa hai, badal jaataa hai aadmi jab makaan uska badalta hai.”
Next day when Srajana went to class with Raqs collective the discussion in class was around Nazim Hikmet’s poetry! That evening we had wondered at the coincidence.
Years after this Srajana witnessed Nazim Hikmet Seclected Poetry collection, where Turkish poet Hikmet and Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray are bound together, being gifted by S. Diwkar who has his own history with the book where Ramachandra Sharma, YNK, Ray get connected with Hikmet, to Samvartha with whom she shared her own Hikmet story where Faiz and Chittoprasad are Hikmet are connected.
Srajana clicked a photo of Diwakar Sir and me with the book.
When I opened the book I saw S. Diwakar Sir having documented the date of purchase on the first page of the book under his signature. It read 1. 12. 66. The book was purchased 50 years ago and the essay ‘Sharma-Hikmet-YNK-Satyajit Ray’ was written 25 years ago.
In his essay he says to him Sharma, Hikmet, YNK and Satyajit Ray are not just humans but threads who connect with each other to weave a grand narrative of their times. And he wonders how a creative kinship is formed
I am thrilled to know that 50 years after these threads passed through Diwakar Sir has now passed through me too making me a part of this strange yet beautiful creative kinship. And in a strange way another series of coincidences involving Faiz, Chittoprasad, Hikmet and Raqs collective met S. Diwakar’s narrative of creative kinship.
I am also thrilled about the fact that the book is now in my possession.
Siddhartha born in present times holds within him the possibility of becoming a part of the system and strengthening it and also holds within him the possibility of becoming a rebel and subvert the system, said the wise ones.
Seeing the possibilities within Siddhartha the Emperor to ensure the tragedies, miseries, poverty etc. are not seen by Siddhartha, created an illusive world of make belief ‘good days’ with the use of media, advertisements, public relations and sugary slogans.
Blinded by these Siddhartha, for long, failed to observe price rise, land grabbing from Adivasis, attack on Dalits, communal disharmony, dis-empowering of educational spaces, censure on speech and expression, market favoring governance etc.
Siddharatha of current times will, one fine day, wake up to the reality of the times. He will break away from the trap of fake good days to move out for a while in search of ways of resisting, ways of countering the miseries and tragedies of the world. He will become the Buddha and concentrate his efforts in creating a new world and thus liberate the world from the tragedies, miseries and also the make belief good days.
Every individual trapped by the illusion of fake good days is a Siddhartha, holding within himself a rebel and the possibility of becoming Buddha and creating a new world. A new dawn will arrive, good days, real ones, will arrive too.
Troubled times compel every Siddhartha to take this political-spiritual journey collectively to the new self to the new world.
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.