June 10, 2012

Lamhe: Marriage of Places and Spaces

Desert calling: Morni Bhaga...

Lamhe (dir: Yash Chopra, starring: Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Anupam Kher, and Waheeda Rehman) is one of my most favorite films, period. However, when it was initially released in 1991, it was a huge box office disaster in India although critically feted**; the film was considered a little too ahead of its time then. Twenty two years later on, I wonder how a film revolving around a similar concept will work in contemporary Bollywood, where masala and indie cinema are enjoying a rather lively co-existence, providing a win-win situation for the audience who are privy  and desiring to witness to all sorts of stories. For me, it has made for extremely enjoyable viewing each time I have watched it - that does not necessarily mean that I do not question or find it problematic on many levels though. There is quite a lot to unpack from it and perhaps that is what makes it such an engaging watch each time...

Nunmere Hall, United Kingdom moonlights as Viren's England home

Personally speaking, for me and for the purpose of this post, I am fascinated by the role of place and space in the film. It is set and shot in two places dear to me: Rajasthan (yes, there it comes again!) and England and I find the juxtaposition of the spare, clean, dunes, the traditional architecture, and Rajasthani ethos with the modern trappings of England - the malls, restaurants, and shops, the great mansion, and the abundant greenery -  very interesting. One can also further read into the subtext of the aristocracy in the film - Viren (Anil Kapoor) is a Rajput aristocrat, who has lived all his life in England following the death of his parents and happens to be making his first visit back home when he encounters the vivacious Pallavi (Sridevi). It is his unrequited love for her that so powerfully shapes the rest of his life and those associated with it: nanny/surrogate mother figure, Daija (Waheeda Rehman), Prem, his best friend (Anupam Kher), Pallavi's daughter, Pooja (Sridevi in a double role) and his girlfriend/fiancee, Anita. While the first half of the film focuses upon his younger days and life in Rajasthan, the second half dramatically introduces us to his life in England, where he lives in a ornate, rather extravagantly decorated manor with manicured gardens, swimming pool, and an army of servants (more invisible here than in the Rajasthan haveli!)

Meanwhile, Rambagh Palace, Jaipur is Viren 's 'haveli'

Space plays an equally important role in the film. Pallavi's father has to renounce his haveli owing to property disputes and it eventually culminates in his death and Pallavi eventually marrying her boyfriend, Siddartha and leaving the place. This has implications years later when Pallavi and her husband pass away and Pooja is brought up by Daija in Viren's haveli. "Don't forget, Viren has brought you up," Anita, contesting for his affections alongside Pooja, tells her in a dramatic encounter. "No, he hasn't. Daija has brought me up. I may have lived in his ancestral haveli but he has played no role in bringing me up. To bring up and be brought up - there is a lot of difference there, Anita-ji," Pooja shoots back. In the second half, the mansion becomes a stage in which Pooja's love for Viren is played out while he still oscillates between his memories of Pallavi and denying his love for Pooja.

Pooja's mansion of illusions

This is a film of fluid, double identities: no one and nothing is quite what they are. Daijia, the nanny, becomes a mother figure to both Viren and Pooja. Prem, the best friend, is a confidante to both Viren and Pooja. Pooja is Pallavi's double - and yet she is not. Viren himself oscillates between being the awe-struck, besotted younger Viren, pining for Pallavi and the aloof, reserved, controlled businessman. While he mentally voyages back and forth between Rajasthan and England, he interestingly imagines the desert Rajasthan studded with blooms of the wonderful moments he spent with Pallavi and the lush greenness he is surrounded by in England with a barrenness, an absence.

Amer Fort, Jaipur serves as the space of declaration

The film comes full circle towards the end when we find ourselves in Rajasthan once more; however, as opposed to the haveli, it is the fort (or more specifically, Amer Fort) which becomes the space of declaration of Viren and Pooja's mutual love; Pooja has finished narrating a love-story to an audience and is leaving the place when she encounters Viren. Interestingly, rather than utilising the prettiness of the surroundings to the hilt, the fort courtyard is in fact submerged in darkness and the spotlight (quite literally) shines upon Viren and Pooja. In the end, the places, spaces and the scenery eventually all become irrelevant; we are only privy to the crystallisation of a story that began many years ago...and that is the definitive moment which ultimately matters in the end.

**However, the film was immensely successful in its overseas run