Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Posts Tagged ‘abhay deol’

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 8, 2012

Realising he’s trapped by the police.

Because Shanghai – which I’ve now watched and highly recommend – was coming out this week, I decided to revisit my favourite of Dibakar Banerjee’s films. It turned out to be even better than I remembered.

When you hear that a movie is being made about the life of a thief, you assume that it is either a damning of the thief, a critique of society (“the honest people are the real evil!”) or – if the filmmakers are really awesome – a metaphysical examination of the nature of property. Dibakar Banerjee’s stellar Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! has element s of all these, but one of its basic statements is their rejection.

It’s almost impossible for me to unravel the layers of nuance here and tell you what (I think) Banerjee was going for. Just as an example, take the whole real crimes show which brackets the movie: it seems to be a frame but it’s not, because when was the last time one of these episodes was over two hours long, starred the real criminal (we know Abhay Deol is playing Lucky and not the guy who plays Lucky because of the photo interludes, which are obviously from the show), and had a scene where the anchor complains about the word ‘sansani khez’? (I’ve grown up with that phrase – in exactly this type of show, actually – and take it so much for granted that I don’t have the slightest clue whether it’s one word or two and whether it means sensational or sensational news,) It’s in fact a sub-plot that acts as a simple critique of the role of the media (life is just not sansani khez, damn it) and also a synecdoche of the attitudes of society (notice that these shows at the same time vilify and hero-fy the criminals).

Lucky is above our society, a trailblazer and an outcast, and yet is so only in his own imagination. If it’s possible to fit OLLO into one sentence, that last is probably it. He is not an abstract moral anti-hero who hates his society, but a brilliant, arrogant man who considers himself a level above all those around him; the central conflict of the movie is that no one else agrees. His family considers him a nuisance, his colleagues think of him as a troublesome ‘un who can be profitable if handled right, the world at large thinks of him as a menace, and his girlfriend (Neetu Chandra) considers him just another dude who happens to have a weird career choice.

It’s telling how Lucky fights these perceptions. He tries to appear penitent to his father, impress the older brother with his wealth and power, bribes his younger brother to turn up at his wedding, tries superhuman-seeming stunts for his girlfriend, and treats his colleagues like shit just expecting them to lick his feet anyway; because, respectively, he wants to win his father’s approval, his older brother’s respect, his younger’s love and his girlfriend’s awe, and to him his colleagues are just annoying people who give him shit while he’s doing what he’s great at.

Speaking of his relationships, the juxtaposition between of and above comes out perfectly in his relationship with his girlfriend Sonal; well, it’s seen in many places actually, but it’s easier for me to write about this because I’ve been really learning about the politics of discrimination the past few months. He lives in a deeply sexist society, where a girl is ‘asking for it’ just by being a dancer or wearing a revealing dress. On the surface, he rejects this sexism, fighting violently on the behalf of women where others just say that nothing can be done because the harasser is too powerful a person and winning Sonal’s heart rather than asking her family for her hand; and yet when you really look at it, throughout the movie he often treats her like shit, first stalking her till she falls for him (that she falls for him after that is itself a symptom of society’s sexism and its effect on women), always trying to keep her in awe of his power and manliness and afterwards constantly pushing her aside, abandoning her on camels, whatnot. This is exactly how we’d expect someone who takes the “respecting women as our mothers” part of our culture very seriously indeed: love women but always remember that they aren’t men.

Looking at this essay, you might be forgiven for thinking that OLLO is rather a pessimistic movie. For most of its running time, it is; even though it is almost unrelentingly funny, the jokes usually range from the throwaway moment to the morbid, rarely if ever venturing into the territory of happy. But, it redeems humanity too; yes, it doesn’t pretend to offer a real solution to the various muddles Indian society has got itself into, but there are two scenes at the end of the movie where we are allowed to see the world stripped of it baggage, where we are allowed to see that the trouble here is in the culture not in the people in it.

The first is an extended scene where Lucky cheerily arbitrates the reclamation of property. The police love the guy; there’s both the fact that he’s something of an icon and the fact that he’s very co-operative and charming. There’s one bit here where he meets a couple who doesn’t remember him but whom he remembers: he reminds them how he robbed them, and where to find the stuff he stole. The couple and he take each other’s leave with a respectful Namaste.

The second is with a paan-walla who may or may not know who he is. Maybe he is a man who just thinks this guy is a TV star and is honestly honoured to have him eat paan at his shop, and maybe he knows who Lucky is, and he’s a fan of this icon. But whichever be the case, he is nice in the simplest, most pure fashion possible – an affliction rarely seen in this movie.

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Dev.D: “I can make your sorrows go away in a moment.””Fuck you.””That too.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 26, 2009

Title card

There’s a moment in Dev.D when you suddenly realise what the background song is saying, and how damned relevant it is. What am I saying? There’s one every ten minutes. The movie was directed by Anurag Kashyap, one of the new wave of Indian ‘independent’ directors. These guys, they aren’t really independent in the American sense of financial independence, bt in a sense of artistic independence. They are all involved in some big budget studio-produced movie now, but they don’t make studio movies.

Each one has a different style. For example, there’s Navdeep Singh who made a masterful noir set in the Indian rural areas called Manorama – Six Feet Under, which was a copy of Chinatown (mainly in story; what I’ve seen of the older movie is rather different from the newer one). Doesn’t sound very good, I know but he’s my favourite of this wave (I’m not comparing to the French and Mexican new waves; there’s some way to go before that), because he showed how well traditional noir adapts itself to Hindi, making use of the fact that Hindi speakers speaking Hindi have a certain frankness in their sound and look. Then, there’s Dibakar Bannerjee, a sort of Indian Jason Reitman, who makes light-spirited but serious movies(Khosla ka Ghosla, meaning Khosla’s Nest, and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!). There’s Vishal Bhardwaj, who specialises in Shakespeare flicks (Omkara from Othelloa review – and Maqbool from Mac… you can guess; both are character’s names, like the originals), dark children’s movies (Makdee meaning Spider – a review – and The Blue Umbrella, possibly his best movie, a review) and a great-looking tribute to Tarantino(Kaminey, meaning Scoundrels; a review), all of which are, more than anything else, visual treats.

And then there’s Anurag Kashyap, the case in point. He started off with a crime drama called Paanch (Five) that the censor board didn’t allow. Then, there was a sensitive look at the terrorists who participated in the 1993 Bombay bombings called Black Friday, which I remember watching and being affected by but nothing more. Then, he made the Lynch-ish No Smoking which had similarities to the Stephen King story ‘Quitters Inc.’ but was not based on it (Kashyap added in stuff from the other end to make it look more like it was when he realised how similar his script was to the story). It was a parable about freedom, which was actually much more linear and coherent than a Lynch movie is (I talk about Lynch only from reputation). Then, there was Dev.D this year, which is the case in point but coming to which I’ll delay for a while. Then, there was Gulaal (it’s the name of a red powder used to colour the skin), which was political… something. It was structured like a play, not in terms of its scenes and setting but in terms of its characters, the way they faced off against each other and the way tehere was a Shakespearan jester chock-full of wisdom… you know what I’m talking about. This last one or Black Friday would be my idea of a good introduction to Kashyap.

My favourite thing about Anurag Kashyap is the way he seamlessly combines madcap elements of popular Bollywood with the gritty realism and silence of ’70s Hollywood with the stream-of-consciousness imagery of Godard (I think) and the like. As I’ve already said, there’s a moment every ten minutes in Dev.D when you suddenly realise what exactly the music is saying. And there’s a lot of it, I tell you: it was a big thing when it came out that it had eighteen songs, none of which, however, play full length. I don’t think anyone counted the excerpts of songs from other movies.

Dev.D is based on Saratchandra’s classic Bengali novel Devdas, which there have been either twelve or twenty-one screen adaptation of. In fact, I as of now have a disk of the classic nineteen-fifties Bimal Roy version which I’ll get down to next week. The original novel is the story of Devdas, a Bengali landlord’s son who is in love with the manager’s daughter Paro (short form for Parvati). His parents force them not to marry because she is of a lower caste, and he loses it, drowning in his unrequitable love, and drink. During this period, he meets a dancer Chanda (short for Chandramukhi) – during that time, that was a disreputable profession – and her ringmaster Chunni. I’m slightly hazy on what happens now, but I know it ends with Devdas dying.

Dev.D is the story of Devendra Singh Dhillon (Abhay Deol, nephew of legendary Dharmendra), son of a sugar mill owner in Punjab. Paro, yet again, is the manager’s daughter. He comes back from London, where he went to study. Then, he and Paro (beautiful, beautiful Punjabi actress Mahie Gill) have a series of sexual encounters which just refuse to end up in sex. At this time, Dev’s brother Dhwij is getting married. Here, Dev meets Rasika who lures him out for a drive. They start making out but Dev has to stop, because she’s not Paro. He comes back, and almost immediately is told by a worker who loves Paro that she sleeps around with anyone who wants. So, Dev leaves her, and overhears a confession of the lie during the marriage. Soon, Paro is getting married to someone else, and there’s a song when she is getting married (two madcap Bollywood elements right there: a song, and the fact that an adult-material song is playing at an Indian marriage). Here’s a video of the song, called ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ (Emotional Torture). The drinking man is Dev, and the woman madly dancing in a red dress is Paro. Sorry, non-Hindi speakers, I couldn’t find a version with subtitles, but watch it for the music anyway.

Anyway, this guy starts going downhill, meets hooker Chanda (French-descended theatre actress Kalki Koechlin), who has her own back-story, and… well, I won’t tell you what happens then, but it’s different from the original.

Title card for Paro segment

Paro's theme

Mahie Gills face


The movie is divided into three segments: Paro, Chanda and Dev.D. The first is about Paro, which I’ve described above. The old Paro was the perfect woman by early twentieth century standards, respectable as they get, and effusively in love with Devdas. The new one is the perfect woman by today’s standards; sexually alive, madly in love, and the real wearer of the pants in the pair who makes the other think he is. At one time, after many unsuccessful make-outs, Dev asks her to do something, anything. She says, “Why? You’re throbbing?”(pardon me, I’m not a very good translator, so I just do literal) “Yes.” “Good!” And she runs away. In normal playfulness, it’s the guy who’s complacent. Also, there’s Abhay Deol’s body language. So, it ands right after the song I posted up there.

Chandas theme

Chanda theme

Chandas gace

Her face

The second part, ‘Chanda’, is about the back-story of Chanda. She was a half-French half-Indian twelfth-grader in New Delhi called Leni who loved Hindi movies when her lover publicised a video of her giving him oral sex. Her father kills himself, she’s generally feeling quite unsupported by her family, her paternal grandmother accuses hr of killing her father… and she runs away. Back in Delhi, she’s picked up by a brothel owned by Chunni (well-played by Dibyendu Bhattacharya, who wasn’t given too much to do anyway), who allows her to finsh her education as long as she has real and phone sex and stars in pornographic movies. She has to choose herself a hooker name, and she chooses Chanda while watching the great-looking 2001 Sanjay Leela Bhansali Devdas movie. One day, a semi-conscious man is hauled into her room, and he, while still in the daze, murmurs “Paro”.

Dev's theme

Dev's theme

Dev's face

Dev's face

The third segment ‘Dev.D’ is about Dev’s further decline, relationship with Chanda (the title is an exchange between Chanda and Dev), and the eventual (eventual) end. This is a man who only feels in a flat, undistinguished way. His elation is reserved, his sadness is angry, his depression is an emptyness rather than a negativity. It is this emotional rut that he gets out of in the movie.

The two best things about this movie were the colours and the acting. You see the screenshots of the faces? That’s only part of the variation of the colour palette in the movie. And the acting: all three actors have amazingly honest faces, and all they need to do to draw us in is feel what the character is feeling.

Okay, now I’ll stop. The post is already way too long. I’ll just say that this is in true bollywood style as given by this quote from Ebert:

Bollywood musicals are the Swiss Army Knives of the cinema, with a tool for every job: comedy, drama, song and dance, farce, pathos, adventure, great scenery, improbably handsome heroes, teeth-gnashing villains, marriage-obsessed mothers and their tragically unmarried daughters, who are invariably ethereal beauties.

It is hilariously funny, a great musical, has some though not many unplumbed depths, has some gritty reality, and has Arronofsky-sequences. What more can we ask? Well, it’s not perfect. It has a substantial number of sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb shots, and it often glosses over real sadness, perhaps in an attempt to make us feel Dev’s flatness of emotion but which results in a sort of apathy.

The Twilight Players, three singers who keep on randomly turning up in the Delhi segments

The Twilight Players, three singers who keep on randomly turning up in the Delhi segments

Posted in Kashyap, Anurag, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »