Lootera and the last leaf epilogue

Climaxes are more often than not an end to a story’s flow; also few times a lead up to a sophomore movie. The protagonists go on with their lives much after the screen goes blank; probably a little differently happier,sadder or alive than we saw them last. After all we were the disconnected spectators who had paid a price to eavesdrop into their lives, while they were just unassuming people leading a life little aware about the spectacle that they had become, in the name of a movie.

I’ve always revered a well written drama bookended by its prologue and epilogue for the gravitas they bring in; especially the epilogue- for it creates the last impact that lingers with me long after the running time- constituting thus a lasting impression.

It is in this context that Lootera is a special movie with an exemplary song fashioning its epilogue.Make no mistake about the fact that it is an invigorating piece of cinema by itself-a gift which never stops giving-the epilogue only serving as a grand wrap around it.

A man scuttles through the torrid snowfall towards a bald elder tree, which effectively is laden barren with naked branches pointed skywards as in a plea to the heavens. A solitary leaf exhibiting dogged resilience much to the nature’s surprise seems to be the only form of life in it. Its last hope; probably someone else’s too.
We see an identical leaf peeping from his jacket, with painted veins and a piece of twine annexed.Immediately we get a cue to how the lone leaf’s resilience was doctored.

As he climbs to the top of the tree to replace the leaf with the one in his pocket, the song begins- it talks about a man’s plea to providence to be let alone and just alive. His tryst to the top of the tree seems to be the only animation for miles around in the avalanche struck valley.
He bleeds with every progress from one branch to another, reeling in pain he still goes about resolutely. It’s only when he replaces the previous day’s leaf with the one in his pocket, does he lets go off; figuratively and literally.
His headward fall doesn’t incite panic, but inhabits a serene embrace in his face. Even as blood smudges beneath his head forming a red halo, he continues to look at his leaf snubbing the storm above with contentment. For it’s an edifice for a loved one he once connived.

She was royalty, conned of everything that made her that- left to take refuge in a modest mansion in a snow hit ghost town-by the very same man who was now staking his life for her’s. Saddled with loneliness and an incurable disease feeding on her life stream, she had picked an unlikely soulmate in a tree outside. A tree which was lonely,blizzard hit and hopeless-much like her,dying with every leaf withering away. Withering in tandem to which she had numbered her days.

Little did she know about the part irony was to assume in her life. That it had appointed the man who had robbed her to where she was to be her antidote; who would eventually go on lay himself in the altar of her prosperity.

He gathers himself up rather shabbily from the impetus of the fall- punctured and bleeding- he stumbles like a headless chicken besotted in fulfilment. Fulfilment from the fact that his leaf artifice had after all managed to bail her from an impending death. Now with his ticket to redemption made, he embraces death like a blanket of warmth for there’s nothing else to look up to in his life.

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Kabali and Uttama Villain- the similarities that we overlooked

Cinema at a surface level is an ostensibly exciting medium that promises to manipulate your imagination for the price of a ticket and the duration of the movie. While most movies leave our minds as we peel away from the seats once the lights come on, few remain to intrigue. Sometimes some of such attempts are made of the fabric that wove another special attempt. Some might be surreptitious spin-offs with gratuitous level alterations to appear unique, while some might be loud-announced inspirations at the outset.

Dissimilar looking things with a little more deconstruction might turn out chalk and chalk, while things appearing identical at the surface level might actually be chalk and cheese beyond the initial deception.

Last week saw the release of the Rajinikanth starrer Kabali amidst much fanfare. But it was surprisingly not a typical Rajini escapist fare, which instead resulted in a lot of debates and observations of subtexts and symbolisms that were overlooked; something that usually happens after the release of every Kamal movie.In introspection, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between Kabali and Kamal Haasan’s Uttama Villain that released last year. This piece is my attempt at deconstructing the similarities between both the films.

The Imprisonment-Metaphor and Literal

If Kamal’s Manoranjan was imprisoned in his fame, Rajini’s Kabali is in a facility. Uttama Villain starts with a star who is trapped in a prison of his popularity, too comfortable to notice the mediocre that it has turned him into. Kabali opens with an elderly gangster who has been framed into imprisonment for 25 years now, who in the evening of his life doesn’t have anything to look forward to, beyond the walls of the prison.
It takes the knowledge of a life ending cancer to shake up Manoranjan out of his self imposed imprisonment, while it takes a joint motion of compassion by a bunch of Malaysian diplomats to end Kabali’s term.

The Surprise daughter and the Foster father

In UV, a doctor walks into the life of the protagonist to shine light on a blind spot from a plaintive chapter of his life, an unrequited romance. Mano gets to know about his biological daughter through him, a love child he had hoped to have in the past. With the knowledge of his imminent death comes another surprise of as much gravitas, a relation to yearn for with the little time left.
Kabali sets on a manhunt to take down the men behind the murder of his beloved wife, who was pregnant.  As he narrows in on another suspected scumbag running a brothel to take down, neither does he expect him to be a foster parent;  leave alone to his own daughter,  who he had assumed to have perished along with his pregnant wife years ago. Moments later in a crossfire, the revelation of his life stands personified in his daughter spraying bullets all over the room to save his ass.

The Artifice-Theyyam and Meta movie & Gangster plot and Malaysian Tamil rhetoric

Knowing that his days are numbered,Manoranjan wants to make a memorable movie, that would embalm him in the minds of the people long after his time. He chooses to make an existentialist comedy of errors about an “immortal” theyyam artist who manages to prevail over death, ironical to his reality.
Kabali takes it upon himself to be the voice and at times, fist of the marginalised tamil demography of Malaysia. He swears to bring down the empire of his ideological opponents in a gang that goes by the name of “43”(in dragon font), while running a rehabilitation facility for tamil people in the front end.
UV had a solid core in the self discovery of its dying protagonist and how he unites with his estranged family, that was diluted by the parallel narrative involving the meta movie that was neither funny nor poignant enough to be taken seriously.
Likewise Kabali too has a wonderful premise in the emotional journey of an old gangster who brings back his scattered family together, the impact of which was watered down by the montages of Tamil revolution and the excessive caste rhetorics that neither caused a stir nor organically gelled with the narrative.

The Reunion, Redemption and Departure

By the time UV draws to its end, Manoranjan manages to win his estranged daughter’s love, reconcile with his indifferent family and most importantly finds peace within, at the sight of all his close ones coming together in one warm embrace. He eventually dies , but only after redeeming himself with the completion of his last movie, that he leaves behind to last forever.
Close on the heels of his union with his daughter, Kabali wakes up to another pleasant shock about his wife being alive in India. Soon, all the three unite in one teary-eyed occasion, that wells up their eyes with relief, than joy. Fate continues to be a solicitous hope changer in his life with every incongruous surprise it hurls at him.
He comes back to Malaysia, to single handedly annihilate his arch nemesis-the 43 gang, to only be confronted by irony, in the form of a bullet that left the pistol of an unassuming youngster from his own camp.

When Uttama Villain released last year, it dichotomised the audience by the bipolar reception it met with- into ones who swore by its mastery in their elaborate deconstruction articles to be a timeless classic with a myriad metaphors beneath or simply trashed it to be a preposterous movie that failed to hold their attention. The movie finally ended up as a failure at the box office.
Encore of the same seems to be happening with Kabali, with the movie turning to be  fodder for a lot of debate; atypical of the  vanilla euphoria around a Rajni starrer. For now, we’ll  have to wait and watch as to where it lands from here.

When the heart goes, “Dil Chahta Hai”

Posterity is the hallmark of a great work of art. It is the ability to endear to the same person with different relevance in different phases of his life, while being relevant enough to be passed from one generation to another to another, along with wealth,beliefs and ideologies.
Every piece of art worth its salt does capture one’s attention, in a few cases even the imagination, the relevance eventually dissolves along with efflux of time, with changing tastes and sensibilities acquainting one to newer things; weaving cobwebs over erstwhile preferences.
While most creations go through this circle to die a natural death, a rare few manage eternity,leaving behind an indelible impression as- a memorable anecdote, a bookmark to a chapter of life and eventually go on to become a part of popular culture.Dil Chahta Hai is one of those rare pieces of art.Earlier on in the movie there’s a scene in which Tara does a character study from his paintings, calling out Sid’s bluff, as he watches her bring down his wall brick by back, seeing right into his naked soul. That very moment, he finds an unlikely soulmate in this much elder woman with more than a few demons to slay herself. The entire sequence is held together by a soulful score that trickles down unhurriedly in tandem to the happenings, delicately leaving behind a watershed impression without endeavoring to impress. This scene segues into the blissful “Kaisi he yeh,rutu ki jisme…” song  with montages of Sid making a meticulous portrait of Tara.
A younger man falling for a complicated elder woman was rather an outrageous concept back then in my first viewing, when I was on the threshold of puberty. So I grazed around the fence and caught on to the other stuff that glittered, like Samir’s escapades, Aakash’s playfulness and obviously the”Koi kahe, kehta rahe” anthem.But after putting up a decade to my age, some beard to my face and a string of failed relationships, I exactly knew from where the slap fell on Aakash’s face. I had over the years, tiptoed to Sid’s side. I knew why the rift had to come form, Aakash was wrong and it was only fair that his comeuppance came in the form of unrequited love later.DCH is not only the gold standards of friendship. but a celebration of life itself. It manages the tight rope of staying relatable, while setting its issues against the pristine backdrop of its wealthy protagonists. You’ll not find a single poor looking person or place in the entire film, but not once will you find it to be a vanity fare with prosaic issues.
It fascinates me as to how the film feels like a multilayered concentric circle, peeling away into a newer layer with every iteration, taking you on a trip different from the last time.

If Aakash’s deadpan sarcasm appealed to me the last time, this time around after my break-up I found myself tumbling along with him on the picturesque streets of Melbourne, as he straddled along like a headless chicken; heart pulled out to a solicitous Sonu Nigam going “Ab kaha jaun Mein, Kisko Samjaun mein?“;as the painful melody of the Tanhayee song was inundating both our lives with the vicious shadow of separation.
I didn’t like it when he jokingly lied to her about seeing the fat opera singer- just like me- he didn’t know when to stop joking. I totally understood the gravitas of his dramatic confession on the night of her wedding; for men like him who’ve hidden behind the artifice of humour all their life fall down rather clumsily when confronted with a moment of truth. I was glad that he was able to win her back, unlike me.I exactly knew from where those tears rolled down his cheeks, as he apologized to Sid. For he had come a long way from ridiculing love to falling in it, to eventually acknowledging another man’s.

This time,it felt like a different movie than the last time,the epiphanies coming from over Aakash’s shoulders. It was all about getting to know him better.Next time around, it would probably be about just Samir alone and his misadventures with the opposite sex.

Swades- A journey through self and beyond

Early on we find Mohan addressing the press in NASA about cities his initiative would have an impact on. He goes about, “ San Francisco, Latin Mexico, New Delhi…” , dispassionately. Delhi doesn’t resonate ethnic familiarity. It’s another piece of geography. A mere statistic. He’s as Indian as a Mira Nair movie.
The very mention of India in a press conference- after returning from a trip there – towards the film’s closure, unsettles him. It’s no mere “another” country anymore. It’s his; he its. It’s the pin that made contact with his carefully cultivated American bubble. Swades is bookended by these two press conferences. It’s the story of a man’s search for his mother, that ends in his motherland. It traces an individual’s metamorphosis from being a condescending first world citizen to someone crushed by the stench of third world reality, which was easier to digest as editorial observations over English breakfast.

Where do I start? Do I talk about the audacity of the role reversal employed, where the leading lady is chivalrously let to tie dhoti to an almost emasculated hero; who’s regarded as a deity of fluffy romance in the country’s heartlands. Or do I talk about the spectacle, simple thoughts are translated into onscreen like the “Yeh Tara, Woh Tara” song sequence. Just a few nimble limb movements here, a few facial sparkles there. A song with stars as metaphors under a night sky sprinkled with glittering stars, rendered by a nimbus star in an ominous form. It’s as transcendental as poetry gets on the big screen.

Neither the obscene budgets nor the more obscene promotions(hawking) of these days were there to flex, but he was nonchalantly wearing his superstardom like a good perfume. His charm was organic, not laboured. If Khan’s the film’s face and heart, Rahman’s music is the pulse and soul. Rarely do we get a musical score that follows the story like a solicitous shadow, never once intending to precede or side step for attention. It grows with the protagonist; melting with him; simmering with him; hoping with him and hurting with him. It fashions the western finesse to the eastern sensibilities of the film’s milieu. Swades is a fine example of what happens in a legitimate marriage between the song and dance trope and narrative dexterity.

And a special mention, actually a very special mention to Gayatri Joshi. The deadpan way in which she competes with SRK’s calculator, her implosive consent to his boisterous overtures, her outbursts of child ego while being possessive of Kaveriamma or the dollops of grace she adds to the chiffon saris. She brings so much dignity to Geeta, doing more to the role than it does to her. Not often do we get an actress who makes us feel guilty in a wet dream.

Mohan’s starting to scratch beyond the surface of paper patriotism, when Kaveriamma sends him to collect rent arrears from a farmer. To him it’s just an expedition, another rustic journey to a rudimentary hamlet . But she knows more. She knows it would make him go off the deep end on a journey of self discovery. On his way there he travels on a boat, standing with a glint of amusement in his eyes, distant from the other modest passengers. He doesn’t disrespect them. He just doesn’t belong.

He meets the farmer, through him meets with every ugly truth inundating a nation-  poverty, casteism, apathy – he only knew of at an ethnicity and number-of-rivers basis till now.He came to India with first world problems like guilt from not being able to stay in touch with his foster mother. His project in NASA addressing the issue of global water scarcity that hitherto swelled his chest slowly fades away to inprominence as he gazes skywards, from the ground reality of a third world peasant’s backyard. A young boy sprinting helter skelter, to sell water for 25 paise adds further salt to his wounded soul.
On his way back, he returns a different man on the same boat. He’s humbled by the guilt of ignorance about a country he claimed to be a part of; humbled by the knowledge that the “humble” lives led in its heartlands was in fact euphemism to the collective sufferings. Legs folded, he’s seated among the other modest beings on the boat. The distance between them had crumbled. In fact it now feels like a crime. “They” becomes “we”, as he becomes Indian.