Sunday, October 28, 2007


RUNTIME: 120 min.
RATING: ****

“You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but an audience is like a broad – if you’re indifferent, Endsville.”
- Frank Sinatra
This Sinatra quote is as profound for the art/entertainment business as is his famous existential Do be do be do quote shown in the film. I am not exaggerating; my fellow audiences, apart from the extremely uncreative but honest “I want my money back” comments, actually had the following to say – 1. It is worse than Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag (a very brave comment, I might add) 2. Anurag Kashyap ought be sued for mental harassment. Now the second is really harsh, in my opinion. No Smoking is bizarre, alright. And Kashyap has stated the same in his interviews too. I believe I have a better word in my vocabulary for the film though, abstract. The meaning of the word, in terms of art, is – not representing people or things in a real way, but expressing the artist’s ideas about them. I’m being clear and explanative because I feel it, as an obligation to be so, after the experience the audiences have been put through for this film. It is understandable; this is a first of sorts for Hindi cinema where a director is playing on his own terra firma, self-indulgently one might add, without once actually wondering whether the audience is game for it. Interestingly, as I have watched the film in a multiplex, the very same audience might be extremely enthusiastic about a foreign product, say like Mulholland Dr., but it is somewhat of a taboo in here to pay your hard earned money and getting puzzled for it. Or maybe too early.
So, what is the evidence? K is a chain, sorry train smoker, who just can’t quit. He does have an odd dream that is based in Siberia, where he finds himself fighting for his beloved cigarettes. When his wife asks him, he quips – “Your visa is on the way, too.” As the train of carnage with his smoking wrecks his marriage, K decides to go to a spiritual healing centre running under the disguise of a carpet shop. Little does he know that the centre, located nearer to the core than the earth’s crust, is a mysterious little place forever to make the rest of his life, smoking or otherwise, hell.
The plot does borrow from the Stephen King short story, Quitters Inc. but it transpires as somewhat of a natural reaction to it. Kashyap seems to be saying that the King story is just one facet of the whole picture, and he isn’t merely interested in touching the issue but goes hammer and tong to bring out the other facet. Kashyap asks – why no smoking? It injures your relatives, it injures you and that is a stated fact. It is an irresponsible decision, consciously or sub-consciously, but it is these irresponsible decisions that define a human being, isn’t it? What is a man if he is very picture of perfection? It is an addiction, yes, but why is it an addiction? Why is a man so weak while leaving this very habit? I have seen friends drop liquor with absolutely no fuss but cigarette is something different, it is a part of the soul. Smug non-smokers might say that the addiction is due to weakness, true to an extent, but the weakness is because it is part of the inner self. Smoking just happens to be an allegory in Kashyap’s film to all the habits, evil as they may be, we humans possess in copious amounts yet cannot leave. When you forcibly ask someone to quit you’re asking him to do a good deed, and there isn’t a shred of doubt regarding the same, but at what cost for that is forcibly removing a chunk of his inner self. The final image (how I wish that was the final one with no epilogue and pop song) says it all; it is a great image to be savored – a desolate K looking at his missing two fingers into the mirror. If someone takes away cinema from my life, you might as well paint an image of mine with no eyes. Simple. Yet profound. The story speaks of pragmatism, and I’m a great believer of that approach, but there’re elements of our life that cannot be judged always by its practical consequences. And yeah, I guess damage to the inner self, though a spiritual discussion, is in every bit a practical issue. The movie believes thus and of the three quotes it shows at the beginning it follows the Frank Sinatra one. As one might add, Sinatra was one hell of a practical person and not the least dwelling in philosophical mumbo jumbo. I believe he was the kind of person who wouldn’t dwell endlessly and needlessly on questions of morality and philosophy; he would just do what he deems right. I believe and admire that.
I don’t know how it feels while smoking, I can imagine though. For some strange reason, I have always had the company of friends who have been smokers. Of course, one doesn’t need to smoke to understand that it evokes that sense of macho-ism in a person. There is an image right in the beginning of the film that captures everything about the character K, and his kind. Standing in front of the mirror, with a cigarette in his hand, he admires himself no end. That is a narcissist, that is a metro sexual. That is the image of a harmless person one-step away from being a harmful Indian Psycho. His soul is rotten but still, it is a soul. Undertones of A Clockwork Orange? Of course, that film rings the same note.
Speaking of which, Abraham gives a very compelling performance and his stance, which is natural to him, is put to great effect here. But for the film’s sake, I wonder if it would have been better if a more expressive actor would have donned the character, say a Saif Ali Khan. He is nonchalance might have been deadly, say like Malcolm McDowell.
Another underlying theme is the irony. Whether it is the death of his brother, which I guess is Kashyap’s argument that death comes in all shapes and sizes, though it is not necessarily a debate-clinching one. Or Abbas’s father feeling relief over realizing that his son was only smoking. Or one of the final moments of the film, wherein K is standing in front of a mirror with his soul on the other end. Juxtapose that image with the starting one, where a K in full possession of his soul admires only his exterior self. Even his soul seems to be joining in the act. But ironically, a K in the dying moments devoid of a sizable chunk of his soul still manages to hear its wail, yet he is looking essentially at himself.
But the biggest irony of it all is that, though Kashyap has declared that he wants his film to be a commercial venture, it is far from it. He wants to break new grounds, and I commend his attempt, but he needs to first consolidate the grounds he is standing on. I intend to add, even avant-garde films in the other industries do not exactly see commercial success on wide release; most of them are DVD films. And they can never be, because people have got a hell of a lot of other things on their mind than to ponder endlessly over a cinematic product. Kashyap could have given us our very own A Clockwork Orange had he just simplified the overall product and made it much more direct. Part of the success of films like that are the actors who are extremely expressive so that half the job is done. Here, it the performance of the protagonist isn’t fully realized. Keep it simple, and ante up on the intellectual front and you will truly find commercial and artistic success. Here, what Kashyap seems to have done is alienate the audiences completely. I can understand; where a Yuva is considered a confusing screenplay, this film is nothing short of a sin.
I recommend the film nonetheless, not in least because it is seemingly incomprehensible but because it is beyond that. It is an experience; the mood is low key, the atmosphere surreal. We might never be on the same page but it is always engrossing. And that is nothing short of an achievement. I would recommend it to people who aren’t seeking just entertainment but look forward to debate and discussion not only over the film’s themes but the filming process in general. Kashyap is heavily inspired by the early half of twentieth expressionist German films and those neo noir films; the color is so bleached it could as well have been black and white. And the noir-ish elements aren’t limited to the mood; it is the deal with the characters too. I still feel there’s something dicey with his wife, at least by going along K’s world. I don’t necessarily approve of his loud ‘supernatural elements present” filming; it would have been better if he could have used the camera for that in the way Tarkovsky used in Solyaris. But the elements are all solid; it is just that the vision is too high and too complexly confusing for its own good.
People who still are thinking of suing Kashyap, I have got one title for you – Laga Chunari Mein Daag. They get so many chances, why not these guys who are experimenting all the time not thinking of us as dumb bums fit only for extracting money, but actually are overestimating us. They deserve our support.
I wonder if the Indian new wave has finally arrived, the French had theirs in the late 1950s and early 60s in the form of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and others; Hollywood had its renaissance in the 1970s in the form of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. We might be having our own seeds of revolution sowed through the likes of Vishal Bharadwaj, Shriram Raghavan, Anurag Kashyap and Shimit Amin. The best part if they aren’t just re-doing what the greats have done, they seem to be carving their own history, their own environment suitable for artistic talent rather than just the business-minded ones. I am not sure what I am saying but it feels exciting nonetheless.

Note: I feel the obligation to present my interpretation for the film’s events, it follows. Though I might add, I would need to watch the evidence again and corroborate my conclusions.

I believe K is part of a treatment in a proper rehabilitation centre. He is the typical smoker with all the restlessness and impatience. He gets up three times during the treatment which I guess is a psychical interpretation of the psychological development of his treatment. The first time he wakes up from the bathtub, he has still not recovered from smoking and hence his life is still traversing the circle. He gets up a second time from the bathtub, after his ears are blown off, among the rose petals, but he is still not treated fully. The impatience seems to have subsided a little bit but the smoking guns are still present. He is given a third chance where he chooses the bathtub rather than the cigarette, and he is treatment is complete. Seemingly so. But he still can hear the voices of his inner self wanting to smoke.


saurabh said...

Great interpretation.. I was wondering long after the movie about the bath-tub bit.. Seriously man, this has to be one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in the cinema..

Also, at the end, what I could make out was that one needs to sell off his/her soul to be a part of the system, which does not allow him to do what is his individual right..

Check out this blog, incase you don't know, where anurag kashyap frequently blogs:

vetya said...

Thanks a lot!!!..I think it was a great review...I'm surely going to
follow up on your blog...i really
enjoyed the your insight...Thanx again!!!

The Ancient Mariner said...

abbey hero tu abhitak likhe jaa raha hai!! good. aur sun i am in india so give me a call if you get time. my ph no is given in my orkut profile.


chambilkethakur said...

well nice review. i have not seen this movie. i m little instinctive on movie things and somehow i believed it must not worth it. Not entertainment but now for obvious reason of curiosity, i must watch it.
anyway have u seen this movie called "thank you for smoking" not a great movie, but i liked it, Nick Naylor, the main character is one of my fav. Waiting to see a review for the movie.

Sushant Taing said...

After reading the review, all that I have to say is, Wooooooooooooooow, Superb, Stupendous.

I had stopped reading Hindi film reviews as everyone from Khalid Mohammed, Vinayak Chakravarthy, Taran Adarsh and Rajeev Masand were trashing quality cult films like No Smoking, Manorma Six Feet Under and Dil Dosti Etc and on the other hand were praising overhyped overrated blunders like Om Shanti Om, Welcome, Bhool Bhulaiya, Apne, Hey Baby & Partner

I must say this review is the most unbiased review of a Hindi Film ever written. No matter a movie does commercially well or not, what matters is the movie is entertaining and keeps the viewer thinking about it after its concluded. Kudos to you Satish for brilliantly describing No Smoking.

And such great textual pyrotechinques are coming from a fellow Software Engineer.

I'm not flattering you. All what I've said is the truth and U deserve all the praise.

Satish my friend, keep up the great work & stick to writing reviews. I look forward to seeing you as the most sought after Movie Critic in India.