हम किसीसे कम नहीं
Dir. Nasir Hussain
हम किसीसे कम नहीं
Dir. Nasir Hussain
यह जवानी है दीवानी
Dr. Ayan Mukerji
I recently attended my 20th college reunion, which inspired much musing onthe arc from youth to adulthood. Now in our early forties, this group of women is, as a whole, every bit as engaging and beautiful as we were at 20. But we have also grown a whole lot less intense. With the perspective of half a lifetime, we have all begun to understand - and more importantly, to accept - the inherent messiness of life and relationships, the reality of compromise, the essentiality of change.
Going into this summer's first much-marketed big-banner release, I did not have high expectations. With a title like Yeh jawaani hai deewani ("youth is crazy") and trailers full of gamboling, gorgeous young people, I braced myself for yet another cinematic glorfication and idealization of youth culture. But the movie that I saw was not the movie I was expecting. While it is a simple story, unburdened by much nuance or depth, Yeh jawaani hai deewani at its best moments shows a pleasantly surprising maturity, touching some of those same themes I was contemplating after my reunion.
The four central characters of Yeh jawaani hai deewani span the space of youth-movie archetypes like points on a compass. Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) is a free-spirited, independent girl whose brashness conceals a tender heart. Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) is a bro, obsessed with booze and sex. He both adores and envies his best friend Bunny (Ranbir Kapoor), the charismatic, impulsive hero who harbors big dreams of seeing the world and saving it all in his scrapbook. And Naina (Deepika Padukone) is a boxed-in, studious overachiever, sure there is more to life than her medical books but not sure how to begin to pursue it.
While they embody familiar youth-romance tropes, though, these four characters are not Karan-Johar-college-student young people; they are something closer to believable young people. (Well, mostly believable, except for one delightfully filmi chase-and-melee sequence through a Manali marketplace.) And, even more importantly, the characters grow up. Over the course of the eight years that pass in the film, these four young people think about who they are, who they want to be, what they want out of life. They become less absolute, less intense; they develop a more realistic outlook, they begin to understand that life requires a series of compromises and that compromise isn't necessarily weakness or failure. They don't all do it at the same rate, and they don't all reach the same conclusions. But they do each find some measure of maturity.
And they do it with reasonably well-turned performances from all four. There has to be little doubt left that Ranbir Kapoor is the real thing, with the stuff to be a superstar. His physicality, so richly on display in Barfi, is here pressed into service mostly in energetic and excellent dancing, and he is a master of the goofy, sensitive charm that is still a mainstay of the chocolate hero. Deepika Padukone is solid, believable and sympathetic. I still worry that the industry will lose interest in her just as she becomes interesting to me, in a few years, when she reaches the better side of 30. If it does, though, it will be a shame and a loss. If anything, her work in Yeh jawaani hai deewani suggests that she will have something to say in stories that are about women, as opposed to stories about girls.
At any rate, Yeh jawaani hai deewani is not enormously profound or rich; in that sense, it meets expectations. It's a standard-issue romance, in which a tightly-laced partner (in this case, Naina) loosens up a little over time and a wild, impulsive partner (Bunny, here) learns the value of putting down roots. What results is an uneasy compromise; they look happy at the movie's end, but there's no real reason to believe that a guy who just weeks before was leading a glamorous, international, TV life, drinking champagne on yachts in the Mediterranean, will be happy in the long term with Naina's provincial, uncurious outlook. Movies like Yeh jawaani hai deewani almost explicitly ask you not to project forward beyond their boundaries. Everyone is smiling at the end, and that had better be good enough.
As often happens with formulaic romances, the second leads, Avi and Aditi, get a slightly more interesting arc than that of the principals, who are more tightly constrained by genre conventions. It is refreshing, for example, that these two do not get together in the end, as their mismatch is evident. Aditi matures the most of this group, and Avi the least. Aditi emerges sure of what she wants from life, comfortable with herself; Avi, as is clear from his gambling, drinking, and passive-aggressive sulking, still has quite a ways to go. Also refreshing is the characters' relative independence from their parents. As in another modern youth movie that I adore, Band baaja baaraat, parents are present in the characters' lives but not dominating. They provide emotional support (especially Bunny's father, a brief but very poignant appearance by Farooq Sheikh), but do not impose rules, expectations, or values. The messages here seem to be aimed at a different generation from those of Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge or Kabhi khushi kabhie gham.
At any rate, even if the movie's thoughts on maturity and compromise and change are a bit facile and formulaic, they are there, and they resonate with my own thoughts with reunion fresh in my mind. My own college days did not include such thrilling jaunts as dancing with Madhuri Dixit in a brothel or celebrating Holi in Manali, but I am glad Yeh jawaani hai deewani offered these spectacular escapes. If Yeh jawaani hai deewani's path from crazy youth to maturity is a little straighter, a little easier, a little less confusing than real life's path, at least it is also considerably more filmi.
Dir. Mani Ratnam
As highly regarded as Mani Ratnam is, I have often been told that his Tamil movies are better than his Hindi ones. I can believe it. I have been rather hard on those of his Hindi movies that I have seen. Perhaps because they are so often ravingly praised, I have unfair expectations. They have struck me as uneven in tone, unsure what kind of movies they wanted to be, what message they wanted to send.
Kannathil muthamittal ("a peck on the cheek"), in contrast, is nearly flawless. It is a simple story, simply told, unburdened by melodramatic embellishments or unrealistic characters. These clean lines, these relatable characterizations, allow the movie to explore some large, dense themes without tying itself in intractable knots. Dil se obscures its examination of terrorism with Shah Rukh Khan's hammy and under-motivated stalker romance. Yuva is severely compromised by its absurd superman character who takes bullets and falls off bridges without ever wavering in courage or commitment. But Kannathil muthamittal ranges from an adopted child's search for her identity to the vicious horrors of Sri Lanka's internecine conflicts without ever losing its emotional mooring.
Shyam Benegal's movies often probe big, society-shaking themes and events through close studies of the experiences of a small number of people. One does not always need an expansive cast and an epic storyline to examine rangy ideas. Mani Ratnam succeeds with Kannathil muthamittal because it, too, focuses a tight lens on a small family. Thiruchelvan (Madhavan) and Indira (Simran) adopt a baby girl born in a Tamil Nadu refugee camp to M.D. Shyama (Nandita Das), who has fled the fighting in Sri Lanka between Tamil Tiger fighters and the Sri Lankan army. On her ninth birthday, the girl, Amudha (P.S. Keerthana) learns of her adoptive origins, and demands to meet her mother. Her parents, burdened by guilt and concern for their headstrong little girl, take her to Sri Lanka in search of Shyama.
It is arguably foolish of this family to walk straight into a war zone as they do, all for the demands of an imperious child. The film seems not to judge them for this bad decision, however. We see Indira's anguish at Amudha's suffering, her guilt at perpetrating the implied deception of adoption, and her helplessness in the face of Amudha's drive; the little girl runs away from home twice, set on finding her own way to Sri Lanka, so it is hard to blame her parents for taking her there. And the family seems genuinely unprepared for what they find there, as if the remoteness of the conflict from their comfortable air-conditioned Madras home left them with little awareness of it, no framework in which to form expectations. They are naive in their bold forays, even while accompanied by a local guide (Prakash Raj). They find themselves buffeted in the confusion of a flood of refugees, shelled by army artillery even as they flee their village. They find themselves rubbing elbows with suicide bombers, and caught in the crossfire of rifle and grenade battles. They even find themselves in the jungle, surrounded by suspicious fighters who point guns to their heads and demand they prove their loyalties. In the Sri Lanka the family visits, violence is a way of life.
It is perhaps the film's main message that being aware of this conflict, telling its stories, is of crucial importance to the individual lives that are rent by it. Thiruchelvan is himself a storyteller, a writer; if he had not been hearing and telling the stories of refugees in the camp where Shyama gave birth, he and Indira and Amudha would never have come together to form a family. And so Kannathil muthamittal tells their story, Amudha's and Shyama's and Thiruchelvan's and Indira's. It tells those stories, not with a sweeping focus that outlines the grand history of Tamil/Sinhalese conflicts, but with an intimate focus on a child's perspective. In a child's eye, the violence is not only senseless, but irrelevant. All that matters is the connections of love, the connections that bind families together.
Much of Kannathil muthamittal's expression of the love in Amudha's family is told impressionistically during the movie's gorgeous A.R. Rahman songs. In these stunning picturizations, Amudha dances and cuddles and plays with each of her parents (Indira in the title song, and Thiruchelvan in "Nenjil Jil Jil") across diverse, colorful dreamscapes like those of the songs of Dil se. These picturizations are paintings in motion, visual poetry singing the family's love. Another song, "Vidai Kodu," presents the harsh, dirty anguish of a vast train of refugees against the stark beauty of thunderclouds and wilderness. Red clay soil and the army-green of tank convoys splash the backdrop of this canvas on which the brightly-colored clothes of the refugees are anything but cheerful.
This thematic juxtaposition between the vastness of the civil war and the depth of the family's love is what makes Kannathil muthamittal its own effective and moving story. It is how the movie can say so much, without trying to do too much. Mani Ratnam's Bombay takes a similar approach, and is equally effective. It is not for nothing that these are by far the two best I've seen of his movies. It may also be not for nothing that they are both written and shot in Tamil.
"Dead machinery must not be pitted against the millions of living machines represented by the villagers scattered in the seven hundred thousand villages of India." So wrote Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, as a title card at the opening of Naya daur ("new era") declares. And so begins a movie that indeed pits milling machine against woodworker, bus against tonga, unthinking mechanized progress for its own sake against the value of human teamwork. It is in no way a fair fight. In the real world, obsolescence of traditional ways of life may be an inexorable consequence of modernization. In the movies, though, the rugged salt of the earth always get their romantic, improbable victories over the sneering, cravat-wearing forces that would cast them aside in the name of greed. And such victories are always satisfying.
Shankar (Dilip Kumar) and Kisna (Ajit) are the best of friends, village boys who grew up together. Shankar makes his living as a tonga driver. Kisna chops lumber for the local mill owner (Nazir Hussain), who treats his workers with tremendous compassion, and reiterates his belief that his money and the workers' labor are in symbiosis, neither superior in value to the other. The mill owner leaves for a pilgrimage, though, and his son Kundan (Jeevan), who takes over operations, doesn't see things the same way - he brings in machines and fires all the woodworkers. Meanwhile, the bond of friendship between Shankar and Kisna is threatened when both fall in love with Rajni (Vijayantimala). Believing that Shankar has tricked him out of his chance with Rajni, Kisna allies with Kundan, who hires a bus to put the tongewale out of business. When the tongewale confont him, Kundan challenges them to a race. If your tonga can beat my bus to the temple, he says, I'll send the bus away and you can have your business back. Shankar accepts the challenge. But first he will have to get all the villagers working together to build a shortcut road for his tonga to outpace the bus. And the fire of Kisna's rage burns brightly enough to threaten not just this ambitious public works project, but Shankar's very life.
My friend @maxqnz described Naya daur as "the Lagaan of its time." The comparison is not merely apt - Lagaan clearly owes a great debt to Naya daur, and even quotes from it. For instance, in one scene, a boy asks Kisna to carve a stick and ball for him out of a hunk of lumber. The scene in which Shankar accepts Kundan's challenge to the race - the incredulity of the other tongewale, and Shankar's speech about the value of taking some action over taking no action, however long the odds - also seems echoed in Lagaan. Both movies feature the unlikely triumph of a ragtag bunch of villagers against sinister outside forces that senselessly oppress them. In both movies, the livelihood of the village is at stake. In both movies, a man is driven by unrequited love to betray the villagers and serve as a double-agent for the enemy, and is later moved to redemption by the magnanimity of the hero. And in both movies, the heroine does little beyond smile and pout charmingly as the hero brings the villagers together for their victory against the odds.
So the similarities between Lagaan and Naya daur are much more than superficial. Lagaan is one of my all-time favorite movies, and as its antecedent, Naya daur matches up very well as an entertaining and inspiring fable about unity and courage. I have never been a great Dilip Kumar fan - his acting style is often smug and mumbly, and he makes me think too much of Shah Rukh Khan to be of much appeal. Here, though, he is relatively natural and charming enough. Shankar's friendship with Kisna is delightfully portrayed, and one's heart breaks for Kisna when a misunderstanding drives them apart. Indeed, Ajit as Kisna nearly steals the show from Dilip Kumar - he is startlingly handsome, and his expressive face shows tremedous emotional range, from innocent joy to malevolent, jealous rage.
There is some rich symbolism in Kisna's arc. In his unholy alliance with Kundan, Kisna sabotages a bridge that the villagers have built at a key point along the road that Shankar's tonga will take in its race against Kundan's bus. After Shankar's sister sets Kisna on his path to redemption, he works feverishly to repair the beams he has removed from the bridge, and ends up supporting the bridge with his own bodily strength as the tonga passes overhead during the race. Thus the villager's ultimate success rests literally as well as figuratively on Kisna's redemption and the power of his friendship with Shankar. Without that bond, there is no victory.
Like Lagaan, Naya daur is punctuated by a number of excellent songs. While through most of the movie Vijayantimala's charm is as wasted as Gracy Singh's, her magnificent dancing skills are well displayed.
The most inspiring sequence in the film comes in the superb song "Saathi haath badhana," in which the villagers - men and women alike - work together to build their literal road to victory. This song has a terrific modern-sounding refrain combined with a classic midcentury filmi melody, along with lovely visuals.
There's lots of pure entertainment too, including a song tailor-made for me, "Reshmi salwaar kurta jaali ka," in which a cross-dressing girl romances another girl.
I've been told that a colorized version of Naya daur was released fairly recently, and that's obviously the version the above clip comes from. The black and white original of this song does not appear to be available on YouTube, and it's a pity, because the music track is better (it lacks the strange synthesized chords that fill out the sound but don't match the folks tonality of the tune at all), and it also has a couple of shots that are missing from the color version, such as the delighted head-bobbing of this enthusiastic fellow, which pretty well conveys how I felt while watching the song:
Jeevan cuts a fine villainous figure as always, with his outlandishly effete clothing (has anyone ever looked more ridiculous in a pair of Jodhpurs?) and his ever-present riding crop, with all of the attendant phallic symbolism.
What more can you ask of a Hindi movie than charismatic stars, excellent songs, and a rich, unsubtle populist message of unity and the importance of preserving traditional village values in the face of modernization and westernization? Naya daur begins with the words of Gandhi and ends in Gandhian triumph, offering a full complement of romance, buddy-pyaar, villainy, betrayal, naach-gaana, and a even few Johnny Walker pratfalls in between. It's about as perfect a midcentury filmi experience as there is.
There is a subgenre of Hindi movies in which horrible things happen to blameless, flawless women. Canonical among these is the classic Amar prem, in which Sharmila Tagore plays a saintly prostitute with an apparently limitless capacity to endure pain, and Rajesh Khanna plays her philosophizing patron. Aradhana ("worship") features the same stars and explores similar thematic space - a woman endures terrible misfortune, yet maintains grace and dignity throughout. Her reward for all this forbearance is the ultimate prize for women in this sort of movie: recognition of her status as a mother.
Aradhana's first hour is an appealing, uncomplicated romance in a picturesque mountain town. A dashing air force officer, Arun (Rajesh Khanna), falls in love with Vandana (Sharmila Tagore), the charming daughter of a doctor. Not a lot of substance happens, but the courtship is a pleasure to watch, packed with lovely songs and glorious scenery. And I mean glorious scenery even apart from Sharmila Tagore herself, who certainly is good enough to eat, whether being coyly charmed by Arun as he serenades her on a train in "Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu,"
or dancing playfully in the snow in "Gun guna rahe hain bhanware."
After a whirlwind courtship of just a few days, Arun and Vandana are caught in a rainstorm, and allow their passion to get the better of them in one of the hottest sequences I have ever seen in any movie, Hindi or otherwise - the superb song "Roop Tera mastana." Go ahead and watch this one. Really. I'll wait. If you've not seen it before, you need to, and if you have, isn't it time you watched it again?
This gorgeously erotic single-cut sequence conveys tremendous desire and intensity. The dim firelight, the fine sheen on the actors' skin, the slow deliberation of their movements, their locked gazes - all these elements combine for a sensuous, thrilling several minutes of cinema. I've said before, I am not a great fan of Rajesh Khanna, but even I have to admit that he's downright spicy here. Even throughout the rest of the movie he's not that bad - he occasionally flirts with the kind of droopy-lidded, mumbly frogginess that I dislike about him - but in this song he simply fires on all cylinders. The song isn't lip-synced - Arun doesn't sing it to Vandana, it's just playing as the backdrop for their desire - and this enhances the intensity and realism of the sequence. It's just phenomenal.
It is also very nearly the last happy moment of Aradhana. Arun is killed in action before he and Vandana can be married, but she is carrying his child. The boy is adopted by a sympathetic man, Saxena (Abhi Bhattacharya), who allows Vandana to serve as the boy's nurse and governess, so that she can stay close to him and help fulfill Arun's dream that the boy grow up to become a fighter pilot. Soon, Saxena's lecherous brother-in-law tries to have his way with Vandana, and is killed in the resulting scuffle with Vandana and the child Suraj. Vandana takes responsibility for the death, and is thrown in prison for a dozen years. Now she has no way to watch over Suraj, and no hope that Suraj will ever know that she is his mother.
Vandana's suffering is tempered by the extraordinary kindness shown to her by two men. The first is Saxena, who allows her to stay close to her child and care for him. Saxena continues to believe in Vandana after her conviction for murder, saying that he can see in her eyes the purity of her soul and her intentions. Then, on her release from prison, her jailer (Madan Puri) extends another remarkable kindness, inviting Vandana to join his household, as his "sister", to help look after his daughter Renu (Farida Jalal). Like Saxena, the jailer perceives and is moved by Vandana's purity and dignity, despite the poor hand she's been dealt. These phenomenal kindnesses temper the harsh cruelties that Vandana endures. The universe is not blind to Vandana's goodness, and this fact balances Aradhana's tragic elements and makes the message bearably somber, rather than unbearably sad. Even though life may take dreadful turns, if you endure them with a pure heart, the karmic balance is restored over the course of a lifetime.
The tone of Aradhana shifts between realism and melodrama, sometimes abruptly, but the changes are not distracting. Rather, they make the movie operate on two levels. In its more delicate, realistic moments, Aradhana is a sad story about a very likeable woman and the losses she endures over her liftime. The movie also invokes some of the usual improbable filmi tropes, the most notable of which is that Renu's beau is Vandana's lost son, Suraj, now grown into a dashing fighter pilot who is the spitting image of his father (and is of course also played by Rajesh Khanna). When it becomes more filmi, Aradhana evokes its grander themes of balance, purity, and the dignity of motherhood. And it works splendidly on both levels, not least because Sharmila Tagore is a skilled actor who shifts effectively between these two storytelling modes.
Just as the mean realities of Vandana's life are tempered by the kindnesses and redemption she experiences, so the tragic second half of the movie is balanced by the frothy, adorable charms of its first half. Although there is a part of my brain that feels I should not be thoroughly charmed by a movie in which a woman's only joy and ambition is to be recognized as a mother and fulfill her dead husband's egotistical dream of molding his male child in his own image, I just can't get too worked up about that. After all, it's just one story about one woman, and given everything that she endures, it's not a terrible thing for her to have a relatively simple and sacrificing approach to happiness. And besides - Sharmila Tagore!
As if the pleasure of Sharmila Tagore weren't enough, there's a charming appearance by Filmi Geek favorite Ashok Kumar as Arun's commanding officer, who seems mostly to drink scotch, play billiards, and dispense avuncular advice. This role is delightful, very similar to his hilarious role in Chhoti si baat.
The result is a very satisfying movie with lots to sink one's teeth into, the perfect blend of romance, tragedy, levity, and sexiness, all packaging a thoughtful message and showcasing a whole lot of pretty.