Sunday, March 15, 2009

GULAAL: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Raja Singh Chaudhary, Deepak Dobriyal, Ayesha Mohan, Aditya Srivastava, Abhimanyu Singh, Jyoti Dogra
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Runtime: 146 min. (citation needed)
Rating: ****
Genre: Drama, Crime

        It all opens to a drumroll and sedate voice of a man laying out the historical and political context of the Rajputana before us. We see the map. Drenched in sepia but lit by a gold hum. A voice thunders. It is the leader of the revolutionary brigade of Rajputana, one Mrityunjay Singh, but known around as Dookey Bana (Mr. Menon). This man, we observe, is a tremendous orator with quite a forceful presence about him. He is standing on a stage, addressing a gathering of men dressed all black and face covered in vermillion. Gulaal. Addressing would be a wrong word. Raging would be more like it. The frame is still drenched in sepia. The gold hum is still providing for the brightness. To the walls in the background, which at once look from another age. There’re no lights save the flames in the hands of each of the men. Revolutionaries, we learn later. It all seems a throwback from a different age than the present. From somewhere in the past, maybe? Yes, it is. Because this widely respected Bana, this man whose word is the final say, is a relic from a time where democracy was the very visible grass on the other side. Surely not from around now, for we have a little Bana delivering grocery products everyday. By grocery, I mean the regular – Maggi packets, Chips, Biscuits. You know the drill.
        The setting is a fictional town in Rajasthan by the name of Rajpur, which makes for a convenient enough battleground for Mr. Kashyap to let loose a political dogfight. Ideologies – liberals, authoritarians, conservatives, democrats (pseudo), and neutrals – all exist here. The dogfight though goes beyond, beyond mere plot-level details which for various purposes is only a ruse. An excuse, a convenience for Mr. Kashyap if you might call it to enable to push his personal beliefs, for these men being supposed believers of their ideologies also happen to be something else – masculine and feminine. This allows Mr. Kashyap to create a patriarchal world, one given traditionally to the masculine order. One that has run smooth until now. And as is the age-old reason with most of our battlegrounds (again a masculine territory) – the Mahabharata, The Trojan War, Ramayana – a feminine force walks into the midst and causes utter imbalance and utter chaos into this world, where ideologies and qualities unravel into a climax brought about by the unpredictable force of a revolutionary who knows nothing better than to destroy everything around in absolute nihilism. And from its ashes rise, what Mr. Kashyap seems to profess, the true politicians. One who know no ideology, no allegiance and one who seemingly belong to no one but themselves.
        But one got to wonder. To have the courage and ruthlessness to use one’s feminine qualities, the pawns at one’s disposal, and to wreak havoc through them doesn’t really call for the feminine label, is it? Isn’t it masculine enough, to be so strong? I’m reminded of a little political story I read somewhere that happened in Madurai, if my memory serves correctly. And in the same breath I say, I might err on some details. You know, I’ve this condition. Ah, never mind, let us be back. The cause was a Panchayat election, and a sister asked her brother to back off. The brother didn’t, and the sister hired folks to rape the two daughters of her brother. To a guy like me, predominantly brought up in the safety net of the urban world, that was pretty damn cold.
        But then, aren’t you dear reader, someone brought up to believe in supposedly liberal sensibilities, whereupon such incidents shock us and make us cringe, and if they do not they should. Tell me, after a moment of introspection, doesn’t your natural inertia prevent you from assuming anything else than a neutral and safe stance on matters immediate to your vicinity, be it anything (conservative/liberal), but a predominantly liberal stance on matters far removed from us? I might be sounding slightly cynical here, and maybe I’m only preparing you for the cynicism that is in store for you at the hands of Mr. Kashyap, in whose eyes even a scene as potentially true as a brother remembering to bring a string to replace the broken one of his sister’s guitar and her eyes filled with love and gratitude, is a scenario whose intentions ought to be doubted. In his eyes most people are pretenders. Almost everybody. In some or the other facet of life. On some or the other layer.
        Consider for example the top dog, Bana, who is a staunch authoritarian. One should note that Mr. Kashyap doesn’t really overestimate his audience and occasionally throws big obvious hints and cues so that we’re able to gather what he is trying to say. That Bana is an out-and-out authoritarian is apparent, but the filmmaker chooses to include a moment where the elder brother, Prithvi Bana (Mr. Mishra), a convenient liberal, one who’s endlessly mocked and cursed throughout the film and even considered a eunuch for his neutral stances (I would come back to the inherent contradiction later), chooses to salute the Bana Nazi-style. We see that he is also the alpha male around. The numero uno masculine force. One who mocks the wussy Dilip, played by Mr. Chaudhary, upon whose original idea and story this film is based. Dilip the common man, embedded with all the feminine features possible, falls for a conniving Kiran (Ms. Mohan). Dilip the weepy, who pushes himself deep under the safety of a woman upon the murder of his friend. Yet Bana does the same, and falls for the same woman. What is the director-screenwriter arriving at here?
        The problem is that Mr. Kashyap is arriving at nowhere. His film is a big ideological mess. Most of his characters would rather be someplace else, than here. As he displays it early on, and an awful too unimaginatively for my liking, Hell here. The son of the king, Ransa (Mr. Abhimanyu Singh) of the land lives in a bar, a haven of the western world, but he sure does mock his own father for being a sycophant to western women. Ransa has no ideologies. Bana sure does, but he would rather be sleeping with his mistress than his wife. There’s Prithvi Bana who wears a John Lennon locket, has John Lennon posters, and only speaks of in terms of music. He is supposedly the wise man, but what use is wisdom if you cannot act upon it, and if you cannot cause catalysis.
        That way, the film pans out, it seems it wants to be someplace else. Maybe it speaks of Mr. Kashyap, who after fighting an uphill battle with the censor board, might relish the opportunity of making films in a different industry and maybe even a different audience. Which ever way it is, there is little doubt that there’s no particular ideology the film’s adhering to, apart from criticizing every which one. Mocking every which one. He suspects the revolutionaries as folks who’re only jolted into action when their personal lives are ruffled; otherwise they’re pretty common boneheads with a born-to-lose tattoo on their chests and foreheads. He smirks at the liberals, and considers them capable of only inaction. He would rather label the authoritarians fascists. He would call the republicans/democrats scheming power mongers.

***Spoiler Alert Start: Dear reader, please watch the movie and then come around to read this **********

        What would he believe in? Maybe the male order, or rather the masculine order of things. As the political competition in this little town pans out, we slowly realize there’re only two realistic competitors for the tag of last man standing, one of them being a female. It is very interesting to see how he takes a personal interest in the race, seemingly giving the winner an undue advantage by actually manipulating the plot. I wasn’t convinced in the way the woman’s character was trivialized and a tear was forced to trickle down her cheeks. I would surely want to know what becomes of the two.

***********************************************Spoiler Alert End ********************************************************

        I’ve got to admit here, I’ve been writing very fast until now, and as I take a break and skim through whatever drivel I’ve dished out, I fear if I am making much sense? Practical sense that is. It is for you to decide, and if I’m not I choose to believe the film isn’t either, and vice versa. Either way, it seems, me and the film seem to be a chip of the same block – theorists who know nothing better.
        Or maybe not, because for all his limitations as a narrator, and Mr. Kashyap is a real tacky one with serious issues concerning the clarity of conveying what’s on his mind onto the frame, he is got a terrific and a rare gift to provide for a frame that is brimming with life in its every moment. There’s so much of it that one doesn’t really mind to watch it twice just to clarify residual doubts Mr. Kashyap’s narrative leaves behind. Even the lesser characters, and even the lesser moments seem taken from life. Consider the terrific scene where Karan walks to a funeral and is stopped in his tracks by Baata (Mr. Dobriyal). Look at the acting here, look how the scene plays. It is a lesser moment but there’s so much of it drenched in life that it stays. Or for one of the film’s finest moments, an example of great acting where we find Baata at a tea-stall not uttering a word but replying only in nods. It is the kind of scene which provides the kind of depth a script can never achieve, something that could only be attributed to an actor and a director.
        I learn that the film has been seven long years in the making. It shows in the way it shrinks its battle, and takes it into a whole different level. Intellectual or not, it has the energy of personal filmmaking. In the way he judges his characters, in the way he chooses them as the superior of the lot and labeling them the desired species fit for evolution. He might use preposterous developments in his script to achieve those ends, and I do not necessarily mind for it makes for fascinating filmmaking. I just wonder what it would take for Mr. Kashyap to envisage a battle where the last man standing is actually a woman.

6 comments:

Amar said...

First of all, I liked the movie. It's one of those movies which would take some time to leave you.

Well...But I don't think the character of Kiran has been trivialized by showing the tears on her cheeks in the last scene...I think from the start, Kiran was under the complete influence of her elder brother Karan...You can even see the reluctance on the face of Kiran when Karan instructs her to follow Dukey Bana during Madhuri's 'Rana Ji' song...I am not saying that she was not a ruthless manipulator but yes, I think that kind of person was also having the emotional side which she feared to exhibit before Karan...

Debojit Ghatak said...

I don't think this was a masterpiece. But its a good example of his exemplary writing skills not cinematic.

man in the iron mask said...

To me, Amar, the treatment meted out to both Karan and Kiran by the script kinda reminded me of the exposition of Basic Instinct. All it needed was a coin toss to make somebody the winner and somebody the loser. Not with respect to any political position or anything, but with respect to the emotional side. Assuming here that whosoever is emotional with respect to somebody loses the game. . I wasn’t convinced by the tears in her eyes. There could have been a smile, and it would have been more appropriate.

man in the iron mask said...

Debojit, I believe the writing skills of Mr. Kashyap leaves a lot to be desired.

*******SPOILERS AHEAD**********
That whole political scheme of 'using' Dileep was preposterous. There's excessive use of convenience when none's needed. Tell me one good reason why Bati doesn't come back with a gun during the final scene. Why does Bati suddenly 'become' dumb?

**************SPOILER END*****

I believe what saves the day for the film is the fine acting and the realistic eye for things which Mr. Kashyap possesses.

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

Tell me what you think about Michael Mann films. I hear he has profound effect on you. Yesterday I saw his HEAT and am still enthralled. Men at work. Professional, sharp, brave and well, men!!

It kinda broke my heart a little when Neil tells her woman, "I don't know anymore what I am doing."

SithLord said...

I think the point which Mr.kashyap was trying to make is to exhibit the different shades of human nature. We humans are not strictly black or white. We have different shades of gray in between. This is clearly exhibited by the characters of Dukey and Kiran. One is a staunch authoritarian with a weakness for women; advocating an ideology but not hesitating to act against it. The other, a deeply determined and strong willed character aiming to reach her objectives using what ever be the means necessary; but she has a softer side, one which sheds tears for not being able to join the society as her father's daughter.

The only question that I was left pondering about after watching the movies is as to who controls whom ? Was it Karan achieving his goals through his sister or is it Kiran manipulating Karan to attain something ?

Overall, I liked the way Mr.Kashyap brought out characters so human, so unique to the silver screen, showing the different shades of the rainbow.

Vamsi