The Shape-Shifting Cinematic Charms of Sriram’s ‘Andhadhun’

In Sriram Raghavan’s immoral universe, there are clearly defined good people and even more clearly defined bad people. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Sometimes, good people do bad things, suggesting they aren’t so good after all and at other times, bad people do good things, only to pay for it with their lives. Sometimes, they pay even when they haven’t done anything. Karma here is all topsy turvy and especially delicious for that.

Sriram Raghavan’s latest thriller, Andhadhun is inspired by a French short film, l’Accordeur (The Piano Tuner) directed by Olivier Treiner and influenced by Francois Truffaut’s iconic, Shoot the Piano Player; the latter happened to be the working title of the film as well. Raghavan takes events from one and language from the other and mixes them with his whimsical and imaginative cheekiness to give us a film uniquely distinct in content, tone, style and after-effects.

Play of Contrasts

According to David Ehrenstein, ‘What makes Shoot the Piano Player so successful is… its masterful mixture of different dramatic tones.’ The same is true of Andhadhun. The film turns the corner of different dramatic tones so rapidly that it becomes a vibrant exercise to follow through its dark hilarity, hilarious darkness and some romantic tenderness. The film is silly and smart at the same time, sweet and sour at the same, warm and cold at the same time while constantly obfuscating the truth through innocuous innuendos that draw out these amusing contrasts, tumbling out in rapid succession like the dark secrets of the film itself.

The mock serious tone of the film pitches its cold-blooded, decisive and soul-less femme fatale Simi against the mushy, indecisive Hamlet (passing mention), against the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth (pointed mention) and even the innocent, heartbroken Nurse Radha (presumably a reference drawn from Waheeda Rahman’s character in Khamoshi), who in Simi’s imagination runs away from the nursing home, all with a chuckle. It takes a classic, Teri Galiyon Mein and merrily turns it into a hundred things it is not.

It takes Beethoven’s 5th symphony and puts it into a Bollywood crime thriller, packing a powerful punch in an already punchy scene. It takes its convoluted plot and turns it into a tragi-comic mime scene complete with a grand piano piece, a scene that seems right out of a Keaton or Chaplin film. It is endless, the things the film turns on its head and comes out grinning from ear-to-ear, chuckling at its own temerity.

Solid, Fluid Performances

It doesn’t let you sit still, but it’s not a mere joyride, it’s more like white water rafting – up and down, down and up. This shape-shifting tone of the film, its unique charm, perhaps would have been less than itself without the pitch-perfect performances of the entire cast, from the primary to the tertiary.

Ayushman Khurana’s confident blind man turns into a frantic one ever-so smoothly even as we witness Radhika Apte’s naive Sophie losing her innocence but not her gullibility. The notes Tabu strikes with her cold, mercurial yet likeable Simi suggests the joy she may have got in sinking her teeth into a role fulfilling her giant mettle.

Manav Vij’s bulky, hulky policeman, so easily bullied by his women and the excellent Ashwini Kalsekar as his wife, deserve a separate film on their own. The trio of Zakir Hussain’s Dr Swamy, Chhaya Kadam’s Manushi and the actor playing Murli complete the madness with their own brand of sweet mayhem. But perhaps, the most charming is Anil Dhawan as a good-hearted, has-been Bollywood star and the heart with which he delivers his role.

Love For the Medium

Kent Jones, said about Shoot The Piano Player, ‘The film offers powerful evidence of his (Truffaut’s) love of American cinema and literature’. If life depends on the liver, Andhadhun’s liver is its love for the medium. It shows in the carefully constructed plot that threatens to go haywire but just about does not, operatic crescendos petering into mundane silliness, constant shifting of lens, base, mood and tone, and the generous use of music, both Hindi and Western.

It states its allegiance to Chhayageet/Chitrahaar personified as people now no more, and soon enough rushes into noir territory, only to keep jumping back and forth, straddling both worlds with perfection.

Kent Jones goes on to add, ‘Shoot the Piano Player is never grim. It may show us the dark underside of city life, but it is somehow quite unsordid. Daring to make us laugh at people in decidedly unfunny circumstances, the film manages to catch that laughter in mid-air and overlay it with a sense of sadness—without killing the joke.’ It’s almost as though he is speaking of Andhadhun.

(first published on Quint)

Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Reason (Vivek)’ – The Discovery of New India

It is brutal watch. Yeah, that’s the actual statutory warning, but we are all old enough for it, right? The reason I am writing about Reason is because there is every reason for all of us to be talking about the exact same things as the film.

First off, this is not a review – cute things like ‘reviews’ don’t matter to films like these. Anyways, it isn’t the film that needs a review, the country does – the truths it challenges are so stark. It lays bare in no uncertain terms the clear divide between (religious) rhyme and (democratic) reason, literally and figuratively.

If this film is shown in the beginning of every movie instead of the national anthem, people may not start feeling more patriotic about the country, but at least they will be sensibly patriotic. Since, it has 16 chapters of almost 15 min each and you may not have so much time so here is an abridged summary and highlights, with some personal commentary to keep the truth going. You tell someone else about it, and it will spread. Hopefully, we will come back from the brink of the abyss staring at us, in time. (Also, watch the entire thing first.)

Chapter 1 – Dabholkar & Chapter 2 – Pansare

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX2ZeG3szQ4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osrfRS364yg

The film doesn’t waste time coming to the point, it starts from the centre, from the Dabholkar, Pansare & Kalburgi murders and the entire film is interspersed through with their thoughts. Who killed them is a moot point here (also coz everyone knows), more important is the question – Why were they killed? They were killed because they empowered the marginalised classes through reason and reason, as we all know, does not rhyme. Reason sings no one’s tunes.

Chapter 3 – Shivaji

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlSQe8XNT64

From the killing of rationalists, the film moves to investigating the killing of rationality. It throws spotlight on the fractured as well as manufactured history surrounding the Maratha King Shivaji, while taking pains to separate fact from fiction. It also throws a spotlight on the hard-core elements manufacturing this history for their own benefit, and widely poisoning the Hindu-Muslim and ‘nationalist’ narrative.

Chapter 4 – Virasat

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StYIx1rEL6o

After setting the stage, the film quickly comes back to talking of the legacy left behind by Dabholkar and Pansare; it takes us right inside the minds and hearts of people these men have touched, classes that are the bedrock of our society, traditional as well as modern. It instils hope. The film also touches upon how society is being influenced artificially and pressured directly by those who demand a Hindu rashtra.

Chapter 5 – Sanatan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgGcE3EYXQ4

Chapter five takes us directly into the womb of the problem, Sanatan Sanstha located in Goa. Founded by Jayant Balaji Athavle, the organisation diligently works towards achieving its dream of converting India into a Hindu rashtra, through planned terror activities. There is strong opposition to their activities and existence right in the village of Ramnath, where it is located, from the local Goan people. The local people want to live peacefully in their diversity without the Sanatan Sanstha.

(Caution: The parts with the kids in Sanatan Sanstha fooatge is very creepy. Watch at your own risk.)

Chapter 6 – Ganpati

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLccwS7WWBs

The film then goes to uncover the politics behind religious festivals and how they are used for spreading propaganda by political parties and religious groups. Dabholkar and Pansare both had questioned the environmental impact of the unchecked Ganpati celebrations in Maharashtra. The film keeps questioning their murders. Maybe, we must too.

(Watch out for – The part where the lawyer chap defending the accused in Malegaon blasts telling Patwardhan, on camera, ‘Why did the police allow Anand Patwardhan to protest? Why didn’t they break his bones? When that happens, one feels angry.’ Waah re, democracy.)

Chapter 7 – Shital

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y3u_Xv-UbM

After zooming out, the film zooms into the microcosm of the Sanatan Sanstha, and its efforts to divide India not only along communal lines, but also casteist lines. Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi’s words keep stitching the narrative forward and the section ends with a beautiful tribute song to the three men.

(Must think about – The Haji Ali protests section where Hindu and Muslim suddenly become one against a single enemy, the woman. Think, think hard. Or laugh.)

Chapter 8 – Dadri

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N-OCBEwzVY

This is the toughest to watch and that’s why the most necessary. The Dadri beef lynching episode is like a wound on the nation’s conscience we can neither heal from, nor move on from. But the quiet assurance in Akhlaq’s young, very old son is a balm. If he can still see a better India and work for it, so can we.

(Keep calm – At the end when the father of one of the lynchers justifies the lynching and when challenged that the Govt investigation found no beef ends with a ringing and profound, ‘How can we believe?’ Breathe. Think of how Dadri was and still wants to live in peace and brotherhood.)

Chapter 9 – Cow Dalit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGsdXSeDaW8

The spotlight travels to Una, where gau-rakshak terrorism reached new lows in July 2016. The section begins with the actual footage of dalits being flogged and it’s cruel (and if that doesn’t make you angry, just stop. And retire, from life). But the film captures very nicely the heartening spirit of the Una ‘uprising’. The marginalised must rise up and claim their space. Also Modiji has ensured Muslims join the Dalits in Gujarat, and there is hope. There is always hope.

(Check out New India – The last five minutes – the four injured dalits in the hospital saying none of them is scared anymore, it is a fight for justice. And Akhlaq’s son.)

Chapter 10 – RSS

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oe2JPn354Qw

And now we come to the point of the whole matter, RSS. The organisation that killed Gandhi. The film takes us through its diligent training camps and takes head-on some of its rather brainwashed foot soldiers. It is a whether-to-laugh-or-cry moment. (But there is a one-liner gem there to deal with a bhakt, just ask him, ‘Who killed Gandhi?‘ and watch him disintegrate.)

(Must note – The Ram Mandir station maybe an imposition but there is still a Mahim a few stations down and a ‘Masjid’, on the other line. Let it come, in Bombay rush hour Hindutva won’t be able to survive beyond Andheri.)

Chapter 11 – Rohith

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgCwRchxaMc

Rohith Vemula is not the wound of the nation, he is the test of the nation. And we cannot afford to fail that test, period. Through Vemula’s story, the film lets the dalits tell their story and follows it wherever it goes. About time, our nation began to do that as well.

(Must do – The last bit is an oral rendition of Rohith’s last letter. If you haven’t read it please listen to it.)

Chapter 12 – JNU A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyKU86Yerz8

Enter Kanhaiyya Kumar and although I cannot fault his politics or intentions, must say, his emergence and rise has always seemed more manufactured than organic. But the truths about our society and especially politics that his emergence lays bare are naked. The fake narrative of nationalism is fooling no one, especially not the youth.

(Check out New India part II – The two ex ABVP leaders who left the organisation on grounds of its regressive stands and political ideologies. They were thinking for themselves.)

Chapter 13 – JNU B

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV7NGzyMo9o

Extended interviews with Kanhaiyya Kumar follow with a deeper look into the Hindutva menace. And perhaps significantly, it ends with a conversion ceremony of dalits into Buddhism, rejecting Hinduism saying, ‘I believe, I am being reborn.’ If Hindusim will reject them, what are they supposed to do?

Chapter 14 – Mush A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-YjfBj32Eo

This is when the ocean comes to the doorstep. The question, ‘Who Killed Gandhi‘ has now become, ‘Who Killed Karkare?’ and it hurts even more. Or rather it should. The film exposes the loopholes in ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death and links to the Malegaon blast investigations and asks questions that have never been more urgent. Let’s ask them before Sadhvi Pragya becomes our Prime Sadhvi of 100% Pure Brahmin Hindu Ram Rajya. (It sounds like the name of some ghee, doesn’t it?)

Chapter 15 – Mush B

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntfGxfn0Svw

The plot thickens and thickens and one just keeps swallowing the hopelessness of the same 80’s masala story of aam junta as well as upright officers victimised and exploited by powerful political forces. It’s like a potboiler seriously, a good old Sunny Deol film. We are back to the 80’s in 2019, some development for sure. Pansare had publicly claimed Karkare’s death was an organised conspiracy and the conspirators would be unmasked soon. He was killed too. The connections are ridiculously clear in this ‘we-all-know-who-dunnit-but-won’t-say-it’ not-thrilling-anymore, thriller that is more of a joke, our nation.

Chapter 16 – The end

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUcM_B0m77U

The series comes to an end with a deeper look into the amazing amalgamation the establishment and hindu terror outfits have become and keeps raising that one seminal question to chest-thumping nationalists, ‘Who Killed Gandhi?’ The answer to that may lie in the question, ‘Do we want a Hindu Rashtra or do we want Freedom?’

There, there is a discovery of a New India in front of us. It is upto us what we do with it, take it or leave it. Its upto us, really. After all, it stands to reason.

– Fatema Kagalwala

(first published on moifightclub)

Andhadhun – Liver says thank you sir!

(WARNING: Watch the movie first. May spoil it for you if you don’t.)

It feels a little strange to call a film titled ‘Andhadhun’ pointedly self-aware. But then if a Sriram Raghavan film won’t kill and resurrect irony a thousand times, then what will?

Just when the Nanas, Bahls and Kavanaughs of the world had you ready to throw yourself in the nearest gutter and die, there comes something so innocuous – a thriller film that ends up giving you hope about life. There is still some goodness left in the world and it’s all stuffed inside Sriram Raghavan’s film.

Wait, hope did you say? In a film full of darkness, little innocence and no redemption? What hope did I find in this universe of dystopia that is so dystopic it doesn’t even take its own dangers seriously? Enough so that I don’t get pimples due to all the invisible tension, you know!

Andhadhun is good for health
It is like anaar juice. You know, rich and full of texture and body wala juice that is actually just clear liquid. You drink and feel you are in heaven but the minute its over it is over. But you still relish it for a long time, that richness and the memory of the texture of the richness. It’s local but exotic at the same time, sweet and sour at the same time and dry and wet at the same time. Anaar juice is also very good for the liver, no?

And apparently, so are rabbits, full of vitamins and minerals. The vitamins and minerals of this film go far beyond the sharply written plot spiralling out of control every five minutes. Or so it seems because it never goes out of hand. The film merely teeters on the edge; as mercurial as Tabu’s performance, as lucid as Radhika’s and as fluid as Ayushmann’s.

What keeps it from teetering off the edge is the phenomenal love for the medium on display, the self-assured craft and the Raghavan moral universe that plays hand in glove with immorality as smoothly as the images, sound, music, words, places, people and performances play with each other; all the worlds he seems to understand equally well.

Such ingenuity cannot come without a distinct love and understanding of the medium and it cannot come without the accompanying genius of your team. Without K.U. Mohanan’s intriguing camera work, Madhu Apsara’s equally trippy and cheeky sound design and Pooja Ladha Surti’s shrewd editing, the film would not have been half of what it is eventually, a sheer treat of music and magic.

Such ingenuity also cannot come without a stronghold on the moral core of the story. Raghavan’s films may all be stories steeped in an immoral universe with equally susceptible heroes, where goodness doesn’t necessarily always get rewarded and evil isn’t always punished. Yet, they operate within a very clear and basic framework of right and wrong that never loses its focus, even when gutted and laughing at its own self.

A completely plot-driven narrative from start to finish, one then almost imagines Raghavan playing similarly with his film. Turning his hero from blind to not blind to blind to we-don’t-even-know-anymore, with a tongue firmly tucked in the cheek. Chuckling away at the absolutely delicious conundrum a murder-gone-wrong can become. Shoot the piano player! Shoot! No, not yet! Shoot! Missed! Run! Hit! Fall! Gotcha! No? Wait…What?! I want a time plus brain machine that can go inside SR’s head and tell me how it was working when he was writing this whacko piece of sheer art.

When the hat tipped and tipped
The film saves its tribute card for Chhayageet and Chitrahaar, very aptly personified as fondly remembered, dearly loved people now no more, with dates et al. (Oh yes, sir, yes!) All the love for Bollywood then flows freely as the thriller merrily turns itself into a musical tribute to Hindi films and films in general; noir in particular – SR’s pet territory. And here comes in Truffaut’s delectable, ‘Shoot The Piano Player’, a film whose language SR borrows from so gracefully and meticulously that he outdoes Truffaut at his own game in creating a unique piece of cinema at once tragic and comic, classical and unconventional, silly and smart but with the distinct impression of a directorial sleight of hand that is playing with his material as consciously as the film seems un-self-conscious while having a lot of fun himself. This is the real tribute, and it is delectable.

The film almost starts similarly, taking the noir trope of a gun chase set-up happening in some other universe and immediately cutting to the universe of the film. The chased in Truffaut’s film is the protagonist’s brother, a semi-central character that turns the film on its head, the chased in Raghavan’s film is a rabbit, a non-character that turns the film on its head. That’s how whimsical is his craft. And delicious!

Kent Jones in his piece on Truffaut’s film says it is a film, “in which all of his assorted gifts and preoccupations are in play and meshed into a uniquely idiosyncratic whole. The film offers powerful evidence of his love of American cinema and literature… There is that wonderful speed, a pleasure in and of itself, that amounts to a kind of worldview—actions, objects, places, and sensations glimpsed and seized on, almost spontaneously forming a vivid afterimage in the mind’s eye. And his high-velocity storytelling is intimately tied to the feeling of impending mortality, the sense of every given moment in time coming and going, never to return. As for surprise, Shoot the Piano Player is about as unpredictable from one moment to the next as any film I know.” Was he speaking of Andhadhun and Sriram Raghavan?!

Perhaps, it is the play of contrasts in the film that lends it its unpredictability and richness. Yoking seriousness with hilarity at every turn, the tonal quality of the film becomes a universally mocking one and freely so. This delicious mockery is directed at everyone, everyone is in on the joke, except the characters. That’s why as Simi’s character unfolds we revel in the knowledge she can never be Nurse Radha – part 2. I am assuming it is a play on Waheeda Rehman’s character in ‘Khamoshi’ (1970), that genteel, heartbroken woman yearning to love again. Lady Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, we say (not only coz it’s the perfect Tabu, the original Lady Maqbool) but until Dr Swamy calls her so we realise she is far away from that too; Simi is absolutely guilt-free, completely soul-less. But then, with the exception of Sophie and Akash, this entire universe is completely soulless. Even Bandu, that see-it-all brat, who quickly enough becomes the audience’s ally in getting to the bottom of this mystery-within-mystery. Until the film takes another crazy spin at interval.

Whose lens is it anyway?
The blind hero who was not blind has now officially turned blind. What is this seeing and unseeing business? It’s a smooth trick of genius-giri. We, as audience begin the film watching Akash’s story first through the innocent, naïve eyes of Sophie, then as we are wisening up to the antics of the film-maker he shifts our POV to a smarter lens, that of a precocious, oversmart Bandu. Just when we think we have caught up with him here too, the proverbial rug is off from under our feet and we are in the deep, dank, dark. Just like our hero. From then on and just like him, we are fumbling in the dark too, with all the secrets hanging around for us to grasp and unravel. Till we are back to being the gullible Sophie again left to put the pieces together. And we do, until a crushed coke can hits a rabbit handled stick and knocks that part of our brain that tells us when we have been played. Check-mated sir, and glad to lose! And that is why I disagree with every review that says the second half is weaker and loses steam. The second half in fact, is as perfect as the first, maybe even better, puncturing perfectly, all the balls of contrast constantly in air.

These contrasts play out on all levels, much like all the cinematic elements in the film, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes one after the other in rapid succession, moulding and remoulding the film as it goes. The permanent warm tone sets up an idyllic, small-town Pune only to open up into the brutality at its borders. Dramatic, operatic music punctuates dramatic scenes as well as turns them comic, and in the scene where Simi and Manu clean the traces of their crime as Akash plays away – tragi-comic (and brilliant!). The sound cuts, diegetic yet full of imminent danger, keep the excitement tingling as the film keeps playing with our senses and feelings. After a point, the musical bit in this ‘musical-thriller’ transcends from the world of Akash’s piano and starts creeping under our skin as it starts underlining the unfolding darkness, tragedy and comedy. I don’t think Beethoven himself could have thought of a better cinematic use for his 5th symphony. Very cheeky, but the classic ‘Teri galiyon mein‘ is now redefined for generations to come. And since we are talking about music, welcome back Amit Trivedi and Jaideep Sahni, it had been a while.

As the film draws to an end, you suddenly become aware of the smile on your face, pasted there with Fevicol for the past 2.20 hrs. You realise you are feeling happy and hopeful. You also realise you wanted the film to go on and on. Especially, since the ending is still open, still incomplete. But then as Sophie says, ‘Kuchh cheezein adhoori honese hi toh poori hoti hain.’

You get up, humming aapse milkar accha laga, bahut accha laga. And walk out giving out a silent, invisible bow. Ekdum liver se.

– Fatema Kagalwala

(first published on moifghtclub)

Let’s have more films like Veere di Wedding

Watching Veere di Wedding constantly had me ask two questions – What is so wrong with the film that we had to decry it louder than some of us decry Modi? Second, do our brains reside in our heels for us to collectively brand a film every single thing it is not?

I am not a fan of chick flicks in general, Bollywood toh bilkul not. But watching Veere di wedding I couldn’t help wonder if Bollywood is growing up? I mean the film is such a tricky territory, yes our wonderful critiques have shown that enormously. Yet, the film smoothly bypasses all pitfalls, cinematic and ideological while just striking the right notes throughout, again both cinematic and ideological. On top of it, it is easygoing fun without being flaky, tall order that.

All throughout I was waiting to be disappointed, almost anxiously since I was having so much fun, slightly unnerving it was. I was willing to forgive the film its sins against feminism if it managed to avoid the sins of film-making. I kept looking but I found nothing so bad I could hang it for. In fact, I actually liked the tone of the film with regards its genders and its gaze on both. But more on that later, the film is better seen as a good film first.

The first thing that struck me was that the film does not aspire to be anything; that was refreshing. I used to watch Sex and the City at one point but never have I felt any sort of empathy for any of the characters or going-ons. I mean I felt so much more for Mulder and Scully and their ghosts. I went to Veere for the same reason I used to watch S&C, for the fashion, glamour and the beauty. Aankhon ka sukoon it is, sort of window shopping plus fashion show types. Veere toh managed to add some proper theatre to it as well.

And that theatre could have turned into a circus but it does not. To begin with, none of the four women were a ‘type’, something even an uber cool, megacity glamshow like Sex and the City couldn’t/wouldn’t escape. If Avni (Sonam) is a firebrand lawyer, she is also a young woman superconfused about love. Kalindi (Kareena) comes from a broken home but is far more together than her own parents. Meera (Shikha) is a dedicated mother and wife who is happy to let her inner young girl free when she can. And Sakshi (Swara) is the ultrasensitive gundi, the best of the lot, the easiest to brand, toughest to describe. None of these women are types, or stereotypes because I know all of them, each one of them through one experience or the other, including their silliness.

The silliness, I think that’s what got me. Silly that is not superficial, there was a genuine chemistry between the four which made the on-screen camaraderie appealing. The giggles plus the fights plus the heavier moments everything seemed like I’ve done it. Or I could do it too, you know. Not in those Gucci heels and Armani suits of course, but in bits and pieces, here and there. Every emotion was in its place but not dwelled upon for an instant longer lest we stop and start thinking about it or begin indulging. Just feel it and go, move on, quick. And the moving on was fun, the unexpected humour mingled with unexpected seriousness, the sharp, quick cutting never allowing to really take it all in what if we get all (judge)mental about it all, not a good idea for a light film at all. Especially when one is watching a film sitting inside a cake.

I mean seriously, how good looking was the film! The lavish wallpapers and pastel shaded Delhi aunties apart, the four women were dressed so swankily always and changed so rapidly that the effect was slightly mesmerising. I couldn’t keep track of the swirling earrings, or sauve shoes or that sassy locket or smooth scarf and I so wanted to, it was all a little overwhelming. Maybe I will watch it once again only for their looks and styling. I don’t do that for a KJo film either even though I go there also for the same reasons.

While talking of styling I kept looking out for Meera’s styling and the brouhaha made about the ‘mandatory overweight friend’ actually made me decide, yes our brains do reside in our heels. As a teen she is clearly not overweight, it is the result of her motherhood and she makes no bones about it nor a fuss. During the Phuket sequence, the in-passing touching upon of body shaming as Sakshi is ribbing her was so authentic as was Avni chiding Sakshi. Out with it went all notions of another stereotype, nicely done. That also brought in the delicate ground the film smoothly treads without making a fuss about it yet making it clear the makers know their minds, they needn’t have included it, you know. Meera’s character had as many individualistic shades as the other three women and an individual place in the foursome, which did not stand out screaming for attention nor did it fill a hole of a stereotype. Chapter closed.

Sakshi’s rebellion girl is as loyal as she is careless, as sensitive as she is impulsive and as naïve as she seems worldly wise. She drops her cigarette everytime Meera’s Bade Papa or another elder is in sight, like most Indian girls of any class would do. But she takes a sip of alcohol from a coke bottle after sunaoing Delhi type aunties. The girl is making a statement, and is not a rebel without a cause.

What I didn’t understand was that whole masturbation being reason for break-up angle in Sakshi’s story. Only a one to one, personal explanation from the writer will help me understand, so let’s leave that absurdity aside, I found it forgiveable given the rest of the deal was sweet enough.

Enough, I liked that most about the film, it is not too much of anything, its just enough of this and enough of that, light touch comic, lightly serious, slightly real, slightly unreal, a little sweet, a little sour but loads of glamour. That dedicated consistency to glamour also I liked. It’s not a film to go to town raving about but it’s not a film to demolish by any measure.

And now to the men of the film. More often than not, a female-oriented film tends to be unfair to its male as much as a male oriented film stereotypes its female. But barring Swara’s ex, there isn’t any male who isn’t either likeable or understandable. Bhandary’s creepy character may seem one note but he redeems himself when he cheers Meera’s fiery take-down of the police, secretly, standing right behind her. If behind every successful woman there would be a proud man I’d be ok with his creepiness. Rishabh starts off dangerously vanilla, especially the imbalance in the star power of the leads but he too redeems himself, part by being the remote voice of reason in mostly mayhem and part by also the trust he inspires in Kalindi, and in the glimpse of their friendship we have. The fact that he is the calmer, sensible one doesn’t necessarily make Kalindi seem childish either because she is an independent entity in herself. He is the more stable one and is prone to his vulnerabilities as well which are viewed as everyone’s are viewed, in passing but with empathy.

Cookie chacha and his live-in boyfriend he cannot marry expand that empathy from female troubles with love and marriage to similar male problems but of the ‘minority’ male, sort of urging us to redraw our male and female boundaries or refocus those gendered lens through which we see love and marriage. The same empathy it lavishes on its female protagonists and their stories it gifts its male protagonists too, and for me that was refreshing, in a Hindi film at least. That was the win.

I also noticed there were no shots of these women running around on the beach, playing in water etc. – a treat meant for the male gaze. At the beach they walk in a self-assured Kaante style walk but back to camera, away from the world. I liked that even more.

Baaki, the dialogues were so damn kickass and the sass queen Swara getting the best of the deal definitely wasn’t accidental given the way she breezed through the role. I want an entire film on her. The gaalibaazi seemed ok only to me, nothing seemed forced at all, and trust me I was looking, I had read allllll the reviews, you see. I mean it sometimes looks more forced in a Kashyap film even though it’s setting and performance is authentic. I can understand difference in taste but forced it didn’t seem to me.

All said, watching a film with or without an expectation is not the point, watching it with a particular lens and knowing its focal length is the point.

Veere di Wedding takes its terminology from male friendship, (Veere=bro) but speaks the language of female friendship so well that it left me super glad it is “not” the female DCH because that is the whole point isn’t it?

Bandini – The Liberated (Or the Bimal Roy tutorial on how to tell your story through your songs)

bandini

Bimal Roy’s ‘Bandini’ (1963) is in its songs. The entire film, its essence, its soul and journey is in its music. The various themes of the film, the emotional journeys its characters take, the state of their inner world and its transformation, they are all spoken of through the songs and songs alone. So when I felt compelled to write about the film (as it held me by the collar) I could think of no better way to write about the film than through its songs. I think Bimal da may like it this way too.

O Panchhi Pyaare

This is the first song of the film and it sings of seeking liberation. The claustrophobic, dark environs of the jail we have just been introduced to suddenly lighten up with this song of hope. Asha Bhonsle’s voice rings out like sunshine with the ‘O’ and we immediately feel the innocent, child-like yearning of the inmates for life outside bars. There is despair in the song too, in fact the lyrics are only about despair and thus we come close to the inner turmoil of Kalyani (Nutan). Yet, the song is so full of hope and cheer. Maybe it is Bimal da’s intuitive mis-en-scene, maybe it is Burman da’s ability to stir the soul, Shailendra’s lyrical ease with words, or maybe it is Ashatai’s irrepressible joi-di-vivre, the song becomes a story in itself, taking us deeper into the character’s inner world, yet giving us a peek into the despair of her outer world as well.

It is very telling that soon after, the Head Superintendent arrives for inspection and orders no songs to be sung in jail and more hard labour as penalty thus recognising the song as a medium and soul letter . The seekers are not allowed seeking as well. It creates the necessary pathos in us for the inmates; we have just been through their inner world intimately and with compassion.

The insistent claustrophobia of the framing through window bars, through bed posts, frames that are clean yet blocked, and the stories told in the foregrounding and backgrounding turn this little, seemingly ‘filler’ ditty into a significant moment of emotional emphasis for the film to unfold.

Abke Baras Bhej 

Seekers won’t stop seeking. How can one be stopped from singing then? The same inmate is singing again, the song is still of longing but this longing is fraught with loss. Kalyani is in a deeper turmoil, of the loss she has suffered, the loss we have no clue about except we can read its depths in her eyes (Nutan was born for this role. Salutes Ma’m) as well as a new dilemma. Her turmoil is of love, a love she can neither accept nor reject easily. We know so little of her past she carries with so much heaviness yet we want her to accept the love coming her way, it feels right. It could be the liberation we want for her, we feel. But something is stopping her and we do not know what. The searing song, again Ashatai working her magic, sings of a lost childhood and estranged family. A lonely sister longs for the visit of her brother to her husband’s house. He will bring her childhood with her and she longs for that freedom right now. Kalyani’s inner turmoil receives a beautiful set-up with this song.

Right in the next scene Kalyani reveals her unhealed wound of the death of her brother. We begin to understand but do not know enough of what she is seeking. Or if she has given up, as she says, then why? However, we know she hasn’t given up otherwise her heart would not have lit up when it received new love. Then why does she want to remain a bandini? What is she looking for?

Yet, it is not only Kalyani’s story the song is telling. Kalyani is one among the many abandoned women leading cheerless lives in the jail and longing to belong. Women of all ages and experiences, their silent desires and pain slowly start becoming the fulcrum of the film through the picturisation of the song as silent, still women lost in thought, listen to the song; the stripes on their sarees resembling the bars of the jail and reflecting the lines on their foreheads.

Mat Ro Mata

Sab theek hainnnn’. It regularly rings out from the parapets of the jail even as we know nothing is alright. It is 1934 pre-independence India with a presence of revolutionaries in the jail in the backdrop. Suddenly, they take foreground. Bimal da pays tribute to the revolutionary spirit seeking liberation by appropriately giving the revolutionary the mike and the stage. A certain freedom fighter is about to be hanged to death, his presence so far has not been connected to the story. But the presence of the independence struggle has loomed large in the inner conflicts of the jail. The song turns the blood of revolution into the sweet wine of love. A weeping mother waits at the gates of the jail as her son is taken to his death for fighting for the freedom of his country. ‘Hans kar mujhko aaj vidaa kar janam safal ho mera’ her son smilingly sings. A weeping mother earth also waits to enfold that son in her arms. ‘Dhool meri jis jagah teri mitti se mil jaayegi’, he is proud of his coming to her, he tells her. A weeping bharat mata also waits for her son to be reborn. ‘Phir janamungaa us din jab azaad bahegi ganga’, he promises to return to his beloved motherland someday.

(On the last bit, do you think any of our freedom fighters have felt like reincarnating yet, or are they still waiting?)

From a woman’s present story, we went to her childhood and expanded into the story of the country, its women and with this song the very idea of womanhood. Manna da’s deep and delicate rendition and Shailendra’s pen soaked in empathy for freedom and motherhood makes it impossible not to tear up. Bimal da’s simple yet evocative picturisation tell the story of an entire nation as his camera pans across the faces of the inmates, brings us close and then tracks out of the mother’s tears and holds the freedom fighter in high esteem, always positioning the camera in low angle.

Even when climbing up, twice the top-angled camera swiftly goes back to its low angle position, as though Bimal da is saying this is our position that must be, of respect and esteem, as we look at these men who sought freedom. But this gaze is not in response to martyrdom, it is looking in awe at the devotion behind it, the bhakti that fuels it. Bhakti – the one, and sometimes, only road to liberation. The pureblood devotion to motherland is just another form of its expression, after all.

The song ends with the execution and the distraught mother fainting. It is not coincidental that ‘Sab theek hain’ rings out again soon after the song ends completing the story of the song, one chapter of the film and Kalyani’s life. We move to her past story immediately.

Jogi Jabse Tu Aaya

First love; its first brush, first flush, first flutter and first blush, everything blooms out of this song like spring! We are now in Kalyani’s past at the time when first love touched her heart. The cleanness in Lata di’s voice and Nutan’s persona, and then the inimitable Gulzarsaab – the freshness, the bubbling joy of it all captures a certain era of innocence that is beyond the first love of Kalyani, herself a spring-footed young girl. Set against the harsh backdrop of her present reality of jail, as well as the pre-independence struggle, the song puts us in touch with the simplicity in her past life. She has endured herself to us with her stoic resilience so far, she charms us with her youthful energy and child-like curiosities now. She was attracted by something unique in her man; she has fallen in love with something she saw strong in him. A reflection of herself. Gulzar understands her quest very well and chooses to call her lover a ‘jogi’, a seeker himself. That her lover is a freedom fighter is but an extension of their mutual search.

Mora Gora Ang

With her backstory opening up, she yet again gives us a glimpse of her self-respecting nature, telling us it is the backbone of her character. Before deciding to give his heart to the man that has caught her attention, she first vetts him. She appraises his ideas and ideologies because she seeks equality. It becomes very important that she is as liberal as she is when her father is not, as she tests this man’s ideas against her own father’s. She is educated but not necessarily brought up empowered as a woman, she has empowered herself. And when she finds that expansiveness of thought and honesty of feeling in a man, she is glad to reciprocate. Bikash becomes a spokesperson for Bimal da with his eye on the strength and support of women in the freedom struggle, (he carefully inserts other such small instances throughout the film). Bikash’s recognition of female power and natural equality of the sexes leaves Kalyani overjoyed. She is happy to give herself up to this jogi now, let him make her his bandini. Chhup jaaoongi raat hi mein, mohe pi ka sang dai de. Isn’t end of a search also liberation? And at the end of that search, don’t we all want to simply lose ourselves into whatever we are seeking?

The song appears right after she learns from him their love is mutual and she gracefully accepts it. Suddenly, she feels she is no longer a girl; she has turned into a woman. Bimal da starts the song with the prettiest bindi on her forehead that she has just applied. She is taking joy in her beauty suddenly, noticing it maybe for the first time. (And oh god, Nutan is so sublime!) The girliness of ‘jogi jabse tu aaya’ has metamorphosed into the full bloom of womanhood and we rejoice in her love and youth as much as she does. What could have been just another romantic song becomes a journey of transformation and self awareness. ‘Kuchh kho diya hain paaike, kuchh paa liya gavaike’, she sings. Trust Gulzarsaab to bring out the taste of ever bitter-sweet love.

O Jaanewaale

The song marks a point of no return in Kalyani’s life. The rapidity with which the events unfold makes the song seem a little unnatural, yet it signals a dark and haunting inevitability which comes to light only later. O jaanewale ho sake toh laut ke aana… a plea that already knows it won’t be fulfilled. Kalyani, on her part senses it too, but she cannot choose differently. Circumstances and her own sense of strident self respect won’t allow her.

Without the song, the moment would have passed as information. With its presence, it becomes a sign of trouble and despair imminent on the horizon. Perhaps, Bimal da realised the trickiness of its dramatic presence and thus retains only a part of it in the film, starting from the middle, as though latching onto a cry to someone long lost. He turns the song into the voice of all those left behind even as it deeply feels for all those seekers who leave their homes never knowing if they will ever be able to return. Hain bhed yeh kaisa koi kuchh toh batana

As much as the song underscores the dramatic plot, it also imbues a certain sense of loss in the surroundings. There is a certain permanence to that loss which will change Kalyani’s life forever. Her inner world is transforming once again and we are being made aware of it through the song. What it also underlines, yet again, is Kalyani’s agency. She is a woman who chooses her destiny no matter what fate throws at her.

O Re Majhi

It rings out like a folk song, giving it the nature of well-worn wisdom being passed down through generations by a fakir punctuating the final moment of reckoning. No one could have done justice to O Re Majhi the way Burman da does. The gravelly wisdom in his voice is same as the fluid wisdom of his music. There is experience, pain, loss and a stoic understanding of it all in them as he expresses Kalyani and Bikash in all their stark suffering. Man ki kitaab se tu mera naam hi mita dena, gun toh na tha koi bhi avgun mere bhula dena…forgiveness is all I seek, I am sorry I could do no better. Mujhe aajki vida ka marke bhi rehta intezaar. I have been waiting for this moment to seek your forgiveness, it will liberate me. We have seen very little of Bikash, the object of Kalyani’s love and reason for her downfall, yet the glimpse we get into him with these lines is enough to tell us about his blamelessness and feelings of guilt as well. It redeems us in his eyes without him saying anything. It brings us right into the well of his pained heart and almost failed life and we forgive him immediately.

And Kalyani desperately wants to as well. Mat khel jal jaayegi, kehti hain aag mere man ki. The self-aware woman knows what she wants to do, what is the right thing to do. It is not an easy path and she has just made a decision that could take life onto a very different path, she cannot go back now. Phir jaaye jo us paar kabhi laut ke na aaye, she was already warned of it once before and suffered a heavy loss.  Main Bandini piya ki, main sangini hoon sajan ki, her heart calls out though because this seems right, forgiveness seems right, going back seems right.. Mera kheechti hain aanchal manmeet teri har pukar… her turmoil is drowned in the horn of the ship about to sail away and Kalyani is at yet another point of no return. She is at a strange turn where she knows her destiny yet she also knows she is the master of it. She chooses to go away with the very ill Bikash, keeping aside all the promises of prosperity, acceptance and abundance that await her because herein lies the liberation she was seeking. Complete submission to what one holds as most honourable. Giving oneself up to something bigger and better than the self. To a rare love that embodies strength, sacrifice, silence and solidarity.

Suddenly we know, she wanted to remain a bandini because she was seeking this liberation. And even after she is liberated she wants to remain in bondage. Even after she remains in bondage she remains liberated. Our martyrs, so in love with the motherland, weren’t they looking for the same too? Our poets, in love with art and our philosophers so in love with the magic of the mind? And our saints, so in love with the mere presence of god. Their love binds them and liberates them and what is the most pristine form of love if not worship? Bhakti.

The song ends and we find her running frantically towards Bikash’s boat. At first sight, she falls at his feet, it is not subservience but devotion that compels her. Her own sense of loss and need for forgiveness, without which their re-union is not complete. They hold each other in love and the film ends there. There is nothing more left to say, maybe that’s why Bimal da chooses to end it with Burman da singing main bandini piya ki, main sangini hoon saajan ki…she is liberated now, her love has received its final assertion.

Perhaps, it is only fitting for a film about bhakti to depend on music for liberation. I think Bimal da and Burman da both realised it could not be any other way and hence chose to paint a vivid emotional landscape with the lens and a larger universe through the lyre. It is in this larger universe that Bandini lives and continues to live.

Dear Ashatai, you saved my soul again.

And I felt this time you have to know hence decided to write to you. The last time I had my soul saved was six months back, by Pancham da. You were a big part of it too, but he was the healer then. This time, it was you, only you.

I remember the moment in my childhood when I realised I loved you as my most favourite singer artist. I grew up in a Hindi music crazy family believing there were only four gods of singing in films – yourself, Latadi, Kishore da and Rafisaab. There were several other greats too but they were kings while you four were the emperors. There would often be guessing games at home to name the playback singer of songs that were forever playing on radio or TV. My mother and elder sister fought, won, lost and thus sailed through many a musical battles on a daily basis. As a child I would sit and listen carefully to the voices singing those songs, always amazed at how my sister could differentiate between you and Lata di, while I would just get drowned in all the clean beauty both your voices hold so selflessly.

As I began to zone in to develop the skill too, I noticed I really responded very enthusiastically to your voice even if I did not particularly like the song. I also realised, amongst the entire galaxy of equally bright stars around you I had been faithfully listening to, I responded that way only to your voice. I could and even do so now, listen to a song I don’t particularly enjoy just to listen to you. That lilt in your voice, reflected by the sparkle in your eyes, the life they signify, brings an instant smile to my face and leap in the heart. Sometimes when it has to, that lilt also turns into itself, becoming a deep sore and bringing up feelings I can no longer deny to myself I feel. It was that carefree lilt you command at will that helped me see your voice in childhood, it gave me so much joy I decided to give my heart to you. Please keep it forever, Ashatai.

When I sit back and try to trace my first memory of you I don’t remember anything, you seem to go back to a time in my life even before I was born. And over time, become a presence that is much larger than time. I wrote the same thing for Pancham da too, I now realise (here). It feels the same way for you, like you have been a constant, much-needed, ever-present presence all throughout life. A nourishing presence.

It is very recently I realised the ever-nourishing nature of your presence.

I happened to watch ‘Bandini’ in a theatre at the film school I study in. I have been brought up on the film and its songs as both my parents are huge fans of everyone involved in the film, in front and behind the camera. Lately, I have been besotted by ‘Mora gora ang lai le’. Let me diverge here a bit.

I am sort of prone to musical attacks, where I become passionately engaged with a particular song or artist’s music for a certain period of time. Within that period I like to listen, soak in, immerse and express only through that song or person’s music. It is some sort of a medium for an internal dialogue (with self) to happen, the music becoming a facilitator. And it offers itself freely; all I have to do is rely on its wisdom. Lata di’s ‘Mora gora ang lai le’ and ‘Jogi jabse tu aaya’ have been two such constant companions that have helped me make sense of the world within myself, since a while now.

I was keenly waiting to hear the songs in the theatre. I was particularly waiting for that balm I have found in Lata di’s voice in those songs, to ring out through the hall and envelope me. Before they got a chance though, ‘O panchhi pyare’ began. I had blissfully forgotten this song was in Bandini too. It is my mother’s favourite song, I see her eyes light up, and her smile has a rare playfulness as she sings along. It had never registered in my head this was your doing.

As the song suddenly rang through a quiet hall in all its glory, the lilt in your voice hit a long-lost note home. The recognition of your voice made my heart go in glee, ‘Oh Ashatai!’ It reminded me of the time I learnt to distinguish your voice amongst all others through the joy it gave me. I felt that childhood joy again, in all its naturalness, as I listened to ‘O Panchhi pyaare’ and your voice springing its old, new-found wonders on me. I couldn’t stop smiling, I couldn’t stop singing along. I had to cover my mouth and mutter the song along lest I disturb those around me.

At the same time, I also understood why my mother used to be so happy singing this as she went along her household chores; it reminded her of her childhood as it reminded me of mine. You connected it for us by expressing its honest beauty, holding it and keeping it safe for us. Thank you for that.

Obviously, ever since the film screening, Bandini songs are on loop and lips. Especially ‘O Panchhi pyaare’ and ‘Abke baras bhej’. I was in no mood to shift but I chanced upon ‘Chehra kya dekhte ho’ from Salaami (1994). And suddenly the urge to listen to your voice took over. I have always liked the song, it is a 90’s kitsch lilting melody. But hadn’t it been for you I would not have turned to it. And stayed with it till the end. What I felt listening to you in ‘Chehra kya’ was no different than what ‘O panchhi pyare’ had done to me four days back. I must confess, that made me tear up, the seamlessness and hence the boundlessness of joy, so to speak, embodied in music, your music.

In fact, it was this moment of tearing up while listening to a pop love song of a 90’s flop film that made me realise the impact you have always had on me. I felt you really must know the joy you have brought to my life, all my life.

We don’t celebrate our artists enough. Nor do we care to thank them for keeping our childhoods, memories, histories and stories together. Or for helping us make sense of it all. Most importantly, we don’t thank them enough for saving our souls when they didn’t have to.

So I just wanted to give my gratitude to you, Ashatai. Please, keep it forever.

 

Yours lovingly

Fatema

 

R.D. Burman – Hoga tumse pyaara kaun

Before you read this, let’s set the mood! 🙂 Just go and listen to the first 10 seconds of this song. And then the next 10. And then the entire song, the verses as well.  And the interludes, especially the one at 3.08 sec.

It does something to you, right? Not at one place, but at thousand different places. Not one thing, a thousand different things. All those things carefully placed side by side or on top of each other or front and behind, all resonating against one another, the instruments and the senses they evoke, all combined into one rich, wild forest of music.

The first time I heard it, I went whoa, this is crazy! So carefree, so unique, so much banjarapan, so much more than Mehbooba mehbooba. I loved it! It was in cable TV times, CVO, I think. Had little clue who this R.D.Burman chap was, but knew he was somewhat special because Dad spoke highly of him and sister’s eyes began to shine when his songs played. Slowly, mine began too.

Manzil khoyi, dil bhi khoya milke aapse

That’s the thing with his music, it’s not about his prolificacy it’s about the richness that stays with you long after the song is over. Yet, on repeat listening, seems as fresh. So it feels it’s always been around yet it gives some new joy next time. Yes, it’s true, I must admit, of Chura liya hain tumne too, a song so ghisaoed that even Asha can’t make me listen to it anymore. But then sometimes, R.D. does, even today. I give in helplessly when the glasses start clinking mischievously. Ting ti-ding, ting ti-ding. R. D. is a sly musician, you know. Oh, did I say musician? I meant magician.

Years went by in the safe familiarity of his presence, never really actively sought though. The news of his passing had hit a dull spot, he wasn’t a potent memory, wasn’t attached to his music in my heart and mind yet. And then 1942, A Love Story happened. It rekindled all that sheer amazement I had when I heard Kaho kaise for the first time. Just that now I knew who this Burman chap was and promptly proceeded to fall in love with him; after his death and also much after I had fallen in love with his music.

Kaho kaise rasta bhool pade

It wasn’t until Jhankar Beats happened in 2003 that I actually realized this man is a cult in himself. And that he is still alive. Fourteen years later, watching that very fine documentary, Pancham Unmixed, reaffirmed this fact.

Just like R.D., this film seems to have been around me for the longest time. I happened to first know of it in 2009. I couldn’t watch it then, and it has crossed my path many times since and finally, like lost opportunities that are actually hidden boons, it fell in my lap the other day.

I’ve always wanted to understand the man and his music better but I didn’t go to know the technicalities of his music or the history of his life. I already knew what those who were closest to him thought and felt about him. So much is spoken of him everywhere you keep coming across these things all the time even if you are not looking. They are important of course, but yesterday I just wanted to feel the joy of knowing R.D., better, again. I wanted to feel that joy of familiarity and the joy of rediscovering him, again and again, just like I do with his music. Also watching old, favorite, Hindi films and film songs in NFAI gives an especially delicious, romantic kick. I went in smiling and came out crying.

Bahut door hoke bahut paas ho tum

I am a sucker for documentaries loaded with great artists and experts, especially Hindi film legends. Where else do you get to listen to so many great minds at the same time? There is a certain precision in their articulation and incisiveness in their observations that lends another dimension to the subject. The film is a huge knowledge base for R.D. Burman historiography but that is not the main reason it is important. There is something that binds the experts, friends, colleagues, and fans in the film and it is above the man or his music. It is the nature of their love for him; reverence, admiration, adoration, protectiveness, affection and a strange kind of happy-sad nostalgia of still feeling a man long-gone around them. It fills the film to the brim and I think it is this effusive romance of R.D. that makes the film far more valuable and memorable. It is this that I wanted to soak in and soak in I did, fully. It is this that told me that the man is still alive, and will remain alive now.

Actually, not exactly this. I had an inkling in June. A random FB post led to one song and that to another and for three whole days, I listened to these three songs non-stop, only three songs on loop, amazed yet again at the genius of this man. It made me so happy to listen to them I thought I will keep listening till I get bored. But it didn’t happen and I didn’t want it to happen either. There was this mad joy surrounding me and I was content to exult in it, the only thing I wanted to know, as always, was if the man knew how much happiness his music was still capable of spreading. Teer kya patthar bhi nahi haath mein dikhlane ko, kis ada se maare hain aapne deewane ko…And it all happened around his birthday and that was so maddeningly filmy I loved it even more. It was like he was around, taking me through the intricate, delicate joys of his music.

Koi mera…tujhsa kaha…

Pancham is a shared joy but a personal love, a very intimate bond, an individual connect each fan has with him, very similar but never the same. It’s like you will share your love story only with him, only he will get it. And get it he does, and how. And if you go to him when you have none he will give you one to dream about. A little like Shahrukh.

Those three to five days, as I was soaring up and down, in and out, this way and that on the tunes of O Meri Jaan, sharing love stories with RD, I kept thinking about the man who could do this. I got to know him much better through the film than the image I had created in my mind, it wasn’t different but it had holes. I had safely obscured his low phase from my mind. I had conveniently forgotten he may not have been as happy and happy-go-lucky as I like to imagine him. All of us want to remember him that way and the documentary affirms it loud and clear. My favourite image is him in his white shirt, white shoes, red muffler, red cap and sauve shades, sharing smiles of ever-lasting happiness with Asha Bhonsle, with just a hint of naughtiness as Katra katra plays in the background. That’s how I want to imagine he spent his entire life and is somewhere, even now.

Ek din bik jaayega maati ke mol

The image of the fallen R.D. still remains with me. A lot of the interviewees agreed he was ‘naïve’, and in his own words his ‘mind wasn’t understood well enough by those around him’. It was surprising but by the end of the film I knew he wasn’t naïve as associates think, nor a mad genius as fans want to believe, he was the most self-aware artist we will see.

And it is this self-awareness, more than his phoenix-like rebirth or a pied piper image, R.D. must have wanted to be known for, I think. Because only when your art is this self-aware can it flow so free, so fluid, so rich, so mysterious. Because only when your art is self-aware will you take great pains to stay with your melody and nurture it and nourish it, as Gulzaarsaab reminisces he liked to do, in Gulzar Remembers Pancham. Only when your art is self-aware will you blow bottles and trumpets with the same flair and only then will it be infused with that undying spirit of life, wriggling to be set free, that underlines every song of his.

The film introduced me to this R.D., scientist as much as an artist, maverick as much as disciplined, hero as much as human. I think it is possible that this very self-awareness told him that maybe he was too ahead of his times, and someday he would be understood better through his music. I think he let go early because he knew his music will live.

Tumne mujhe dekha hoke meherbaan

Almost 3/4th of the film is an effusive celebration of both the man and his music, detailed, descriptive, articulate and incisive – both in the observations and the weave of the film, the text and context, thematic relationship everything; bringing alive his persona and the palpable love for him. But when it comes to this part no one wants to acknowledge it, not even the film, it looks like. Suddenly no one has words; all that effusive articulation has evaporated. It is like even the film doesn’t know what to do…it lingers shortly, respectfully, on the wordless and graceful emotional moments, and leaves it in silence. As though gently laying a flower on R.D.’s memories in the same way Shammi Kapoor did on the memories of his beloved wife Geeta Bali, in that beautiful debut of R.D.’s … ruk gayi yeh zameen, tham gaya aasman…There was silence and stillness in the hall too.

It’s been three months and I still haven’t gotten bored of those three songs, life takes over from time to time but so does R.D., sometimes insistently, and I am happy to let him do so. After all, aisa sama na hota, kuchh bhi yaha na hota, mere humrahi jo tum na hote.

 Thank you for the music Panchamda 🙂

First published here