January 13, 2012

Hope amid Despair

The next few days will see me travelling for a bit hence I will be silent here for the rest of this month. However, before I take off, I would like to leave you with this image that I discovered via what is easily one of my favorite websites, Mumbai Boss:

Post earthquake in Natori, Japan - Yasuyoshi Chiba, April 2011

Deepanjana Pal has written such a beautifully worded response to this image (fittingly enough, in regard to the newly minted 2012) so much so that I feel that I have little to say which will further contribute towards the understanding and appreciation of this image. However, what does powerfully resonate with me whenever I glimpse this image is the existence of hope amid despair and such incredible beauty growing and flourishing in this wasteland of shattered hopes, dreams, and human souls. In a sense, this image creates such an incredibly deep metaphor for all of us at both a personal and universal level...that one must never renounce hope, come what may.

Has there been a particular image which has impacted you at a visceral level?

January 4, 2012

Chashme Budoor - May Evil Stay Faraway!

Hope the new year is treating you fantastically well so far, dear readers...well, I had originally prepared something else as the first post of 2012. However, that was a little too intense and melancholy and I thought of beginning the year on a more playful, light-hearted note - after all, I feel that 2011 was intense and dramatic enough already on various levels and here's hoping that 2012 (as long as the Mayan predictions of doomsday this year aren't planning to come true!) ushers in much happiness and laughter for us all.

To kick off the year, I found myself revisiting a favorite film of mine, Chashme Budoor (1981, dir: Sai Paranjpe) - the title refers to a phrase which is associated with warding off the evil eye (more about that later!). Starring Farooque Sheikh, Deepti Naval, Rakesh Bedi, Ravi Baswani, and Saeed Jaffery, this is one of those charming, slice of life films, depicting an era where one could experience time unfurl like a budding flower - where one carefully curated life's experiences, rather than simply rushing head-long into life and having no time whatsoever to acknowledge the presence of flowers, let alone inhale their fragrance. 

The trio: Omi, Siddharth, and Zomo

Revolving around three university students, (unsuccessful) skirt-chasers, Omi (Bedi) and  Zomo (Baswani) and dedicated student, Siddharth (a terribly charming, endearing Sheikh) and their respective encounter swith a beautiful, young woman, Neha (Naval), the film offers delightful vignettes of Delhi life at the time. Yet, even though the film is obviously shot in a metropolis and a capital at that, Delhi being a pervasive presence throughout it, I still funnily enough somehow get a sense of a small-town ethos from the film. Or perhaps, it's just me then ;)

One of my favorite scenes: Siddharth telling Lallan Mian that he will renounce cigarettes if a 'special girl' tells him to do so

The film is a lovely and lovingly assembled mosaic of engaging characters, situations, and places. There is the corner cigarette-paan wallah, Lallan Mian (Saeed Jaffery), whom the students are eternally in debt to  and whom he constantly harangues for money...although he does make an exception for Siddharth. Having fruitlessly chased a girl (Sai Paranjpe's daughter, Winnie in a cameo) after abandoning Omi at Lallan Mian's stall, Zomo's motorcycle spectacularly conks out in the vicinity of huge bungalows and tree-lined  broad avenues. There are trysts in tomb-studded, bougainvillea-strewn gardens, imagined boat-rides in lakes fringing medieval forts, and couples sitting on benches dappled with afternoon shadows of ancient trees' branches. I also particularly love what I subsequently discovered to be the Talkatora gardens, where Siddharth and Neha have their first date and then regularly meet to enjoy their favorite Tutti-frutti ice-cream dessert.

Neha and Siddarth's memorable first meeting

The attention invested in the art-direction also greatly appealed to me: for example, the students' room, whose three walls reflect their individual personalities and functions as  a crucial space in the film, the film-obsessed Jai's collage explosion of film-posters and images or the closet poet, Omi's having pasted on  lines of Urdu poetry on his wall or finally, Siddharth's wall bearing Van Gogh's legendary sunflowers and Mahatma Gandhi's images. At one point, Zomo and Omi refer to Siddarth as Aristotle and one notes in a subsequent scene that Siddharth sits on a chair entitled Aristotle back in his room. During Siddharth and Neha's first encounter in the room itself, Siddarth offers her ladoos and serves it in a tea-cup in absence of a (presumably, clean) plate.

All in all, what is patently apparent is that there is such unadorned, heart-warming simplicity to the film, which is so rich in much witty banter, humor, and good spirits...

Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in Silsila...and roses
Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha also make special appearances in the film, which is strewn with references to popular cinema and implicitly subverts the traditional commercial Hindi film paradigm (at one point, Neha asks Siddharth, we are sitting in a garden, shouldn't we be singing a song, illustrating how closely interwoven songs were -are!- into Hindi films' structure; similarly, Zomo also imagines his encounter with Neha in a filmi context, echoed years later in the fabulous 'Woh Ladki Hai Kahan' in Dil Chahta Hai ). The insertion of these uber-filmi personalities into the film's delightful and consciously quotidian environment becomes even more interesting considering both happened to star in Silsila (dir: Yash Chopra), which also released in the same year and garnered much attention for its explosive star-cast and the off-screen subtexts. Furthermore, Silsila too is also very much a Delhi film, albeit a much more grand, extravagant one: AB driving around in a flashy Mercedes, coffees and lunches at the Taj, lavish theatre productions, flower-shows, Rekha's super glamorous avatar (fashion fangirly moment: love her clutches!), the sprawling bungalows with their exquisitely appointed drawing and dining rooms - it seemed even the roses in the film possessed a deeper hue and fragrance when having become part of the film's finely tuned aesthetic fabric. We see two different Delhis in films released in the same year itself, each representation of Delhi contingent upon each film's tone and agenda.

Finally, I did like to make note of the title, Chashme Budoor; when Siddharth and Neha have had a jealous Zomo-Omi engineered tiff, Neha's grandmother (whom I found simply adorable - her interaction with Zomo and Omi in their room is one of the funniest moments in the film) contemplatively shakes her head and remarks, "Kisi ki nazar lag gayi [Someone cast an evil eye].' The phenomenon of 'nazar' or evil eye is common amongst many cultures and in the film, one can even spot a rather nasty looking face which is inscribed upon the friends' dorm room door with Chashme Budoor written below it and prominently appears in the frames at certain times, reminding us of the negative power of the envy-propelled gaze. It made me recall the time I was walking around the Chandni Chowk market in Delhi and was photographing the shops. I saw a rather ferocious face-mask hanging upon the door of one of the shops and while photographing it, I heard the shop-keeper tell me that it was there to ward off the evil spirits. Even in a film otherwise so buoyant and light, albeit with a sub-plot of a spate of kidnappings occurring in the city and which eventually ties up with the film's climax, there is an uneasy subterranean indication that looks can be seemingly deceptive...and not is all as it looks.