02 November 2007

No Smoking – In defence of Anurag Kashyap

I always feel guilty that my Accessability blog is lying waste after the three posts and this blog reduced to post whatever I write for Success & Ability. It is not that I don’t see films other than I have committed write about. It is just that lot of water may have flowed below the bridge, so to say, before I see those films so I feel I may not have anything new to write about them.

Now, I feel I have got an appropriate film in No Smoking to write about. My only interest in this film until a few weeks ago was that couple of my Net friends from this Community blog were partly involved with this film. But, when I started hearing the songs a few weeks ago I virtually started feeling aroused (ha ha ha) to see it.

The film released last Friday (just two shows here), I’d made plans to see it on Monday due to circumstances (but a friend cursed me that I’ll not see the film without her and it rained; on Tuesday I cursed her back and made it without her).

By Saturday evening the film had received royal drubbing from all and sundry, main stream media as well as blogs, even the Community blog where Anurag Kashyap himself writes has not spared him, which created doubts in me whether to take the effort to watch it in the theatre or wait for the DVD release. My Net friend didn’t help things as his reply to my sms was something like: See it in the theatre itself. I personally found it long, boring & was lost by the end.

I loved this film is to put it mildly. I found the film had lot of parallels with my life though I’m a non-smoker by limitations and not by choice (wish I could bring up a few examples while writing this).

I have no idea about homage being paid to Kafka or who Bob Fosse is as is repeatedly mentioned in the reviews or that it is inspired by a Stephen King short story.

For me the film was how a community is ostracised by the so-called politically correct society. They should be reprimanded. They should be stopped. They should be rehabilitated. It somehow succeeds in doing that by the end.

I am always being advised to sit straight, not to keep my head tilted: It makes you look retarded or you should talk properly to prove that you are intelligent. Recently only I have found the courage (at least with some people) to say that the way I do things because I find it easier do them and if the salesman at the music shop thinks that I’m a dumbo and doesn’t treat me well because I take your help to communicate with him, it is his loss not mine; somewhat like John Abraham rudely tells the old lady to take the stairs when she is irritated by his smoking in the elevator.

We all know cigarettes kill. Nicotine is addictive. Then why not bring in stringent laws so that people who have grievance and those who are feeling cheated can milk the conglomerates that make these Cancer Sticks dry by the rule of Law.

Here is an intelligent review of Baradwaj Rangan and here is why I’ve started losing respect for initial Guru in film appreciation.

And a pro-smoking post by BG.

PS. A warning to people who get dosage of advice from me to reduce the intake of nicotine: if you ever use this post as an argument against me, I’ll kick your b….s. Smoking leads to impotence. Understand Yaar!

20 January 2007

Second take on Thanmatra

Memory is the foundation of a personality; the memories of the experiences both good and bad that we had mould our personality, our character, our hopes and our aspirations. So, what happens when we start to lose this vital ingredient called memory bit by bit from our life or to put it plainly are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease? The slow but steady wasting away of all our mental faculties, which reduces us be mere vegetables by the end.

A scene from Thanmatra

No doubt it is a petrifying scenario when we are forced to think about it and if this scenario is compressed on celluloid in little more than two hours in a stark manner that is devoid of any outlandish flourish is bound to make you jittery. This is exactly what director Blessy achieved with his film ‘Thanmatra’ (molecule), and made the medical fraternity in Kerala take up cudgels against him, as people who watched this film feared that either they or one of their kin may be afflicted with this disease and the people who have suffered due Alzheimer’s say that the director has beautifully brought out what we went through.

So, if the director had aimed to create awareness about the disease, which can be easily misinterpreted as forgetfulness, he has succeeded at a very basic level, first in describing the illness and later in detail by showing us what a person has to suffer and what his family has to go through when this happens.

And, if the suffering person happens to be an ideal son, husband and father, then the impact on the audience will be immense.

Meet Ramesh Nair (Mohanlal) a personification of above-mentioned qualities – a middle-level employee in the State Secretariat, who in his younger days aspired to be an IAS officer in his younger days as per the wishes of his father, but has now pinned his hopes on his teenaged son Manu (Arjun).

Manu basks in the reflected glory of his father’s knowledge as he presents a project on innovative learning techniques in his school’s science club. These techniques are taught by his father. His father is also invited to PTA meet to counsel other parents on varied subjects like personality development to bringing up children to memory improvement.

Ramesh massages his father’s legs with herbal oil when he visits ancestral home in the village. He also cooks with him reminiscing the good old days.

Being an ideal husband may come easy for such a person; Ramesh dotes on his wife, his past failures and past relationship never coming in the way.

Now if such a person has this depleting disease, what he or the people around him will go through? In the beginning there will be confusion, then shock, some anger, at last acceptance and the courage to face what life has given you.

Initially we feel that the director is trying to spoon feed us about the details of Alzheimer’s as we are shown the hero elaborating the intricacies of it in voice over as if he is explaining to his son. He says it is as if the waves receding into the sea or as if the brain has started reverse counting slowly taking back all that we have learnt; taking us back to our childhood and ultimately towards death or words to that effect. This happens after Ramesh is diagnosed with pre-senile Alzheimer’s and the doctor saying that it is the caregiver who needs the treatment/support and not the patient. The docudrama style of narration even has the mention of Roland Reagan as one of the famous persons who suffered this disease.

But Blessy wins with the script (he got the State Award as the scriptwriter and for direction, in all ‘Thanmatra’ garnered five State awards). He loops it in such a way to show the complete turnaround of the character of protagonist. It begins with simple things as he cannot remember the pet name of his childhood beloved and the words of his favourite Bharathiar song. Then it moves on to frustration and anger on misplacing an important file. At last creating a scene in the office thinking that it is home, this leads to his hospitalisation and diagnosis.

The rest of the incidents in the film go on show the reverse counting of the brain; Ramesh’s condition deteriorating with him behaving as a child. The contrast in the pre-intermission and post-intermission personality of sometimes becomes unbearable; especially when we see him lying dead in a foetal position in the end with a dishevelled look on his face because once we remember him chiding his wife to wear her Sari properly telling her that his mother used say that you should be made up even if you are lying dead. It signifies that the person has lost everything he stood for in his life.

There are some points in this film where the use of cinematic licence goes overboard. One, the nuclear family is picture perfect, how come there are no differences of opinion or minor fights? Here the head of the family is an all-knowing demigod. Here the son follows his father’s diktats without slightest opposition or grudge and the daughter is too young to have an opinion.

Second, the doctor just pacifies Ramesh, (when he goes to him for the first time worried about his memory lapses), saying that he may be having an anxiety syndrome because his son is appearing for Board Exams. In this day and age when even a minor migraine is looked at with utmost seriousness by medical professionals this kind of response is least digestible (or is that they wanted to show that the doctors may also fail to notice the symptoms initially).

In conclusion we can use a quote by Nobel laureate Saul Bellow that "Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door." In ‘Thanmatra’ director poignantly shows what can happen if that wolf enters our home.

(A slightly edited version of this appeared in the Oct-Dec 2006 issue of Success & Ability. I had written a review of it earlier and also interviewed Blessy. Here I have tried only to focus on Alzheimer’s disease).