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A Hindi film that hits you hard

Gulaal is an extraordinary and overpowering film. I watched it a fortnight ago,and I watched it again ten days ago.....

Written by Sandipan Deb |
April 5, 2009 12:48:01 am

Gulaal is an extraordinary and overpowering film. I watched it a fortnight ago,and I watched it again ten days ago,and it has stayed with me,can’t seem to get over it. This year has been a good year so far for Hindi films,or at least for the slightly adventurous Hindi film viewer: Oye Lucky Lucky Oye,then Dev.D,then Gulaal. If you haven’t seen any of these films,I would suggest that you watch them in this order: Dev.D first,Lucky next,and finally Gulaal.

At the risk of huge generalisation and pomposity,let me posit this: There are two types of good films. One,a film where,as you watch,you admire the directorial thought has gone into it. You are not really emotionally engaged with what the characters in the film are going through,but every moment you admire the presentation and the craft. Examples: Maqbool and Omkara made by Vishal Bharadwaj. You love the intelligence and expertise that have gone into it,but you don’t get dewey-eyed about the travails of the lead characters,even though it’s Macbeth and Othello (especially Othello). The other type of film is immersive: you feel and crave for (or hate) the people you are seeing on screen,and when you come out of the hall,you have had either a cathartic experience or a very satisfying meal. You have not noticed the emotional manipulation you have been through,or you don’t care,you have had your money’s worth. I don’t want to mention any specific example of this type of film-viewing experience,because the line here stretches from Karan Johar to Eisenstein,so let’s just say this would typify classic Hollywood films,from Hitchcock to Spielberg.

OK,this is high praise,but Gulaal hits you at both levels. It gets you at gut level and you come out marveling at the amount of thought and detail that has gone into it. And a second viewing gives you more detail,more thought. After all,you are dealing with a film,which,in addition to everything else,is giving you all sorts of throwaway stuff which it doesn’t expect most of you to notice,like the brand names of all the booze that the characters drink. And the lyrics. The lyrics. A very strange thing to say for a man who is not very good at either Hindi or Urdu,and has never paid any attention to the words in a song (I mean,who gives a damn for lyrics,for god’s sake!),but these lyrics get you by the crotch. A nautch girl in a small town in Rajasthan sings to drunk louts in a haveli: “Jaise door des ke tower mein ghus jaaye re aeroplane” (The way aeroplanes flew into towers in a far-away country). She follows it up with: “Jaise sare aam Iraq mein jaake jam gaye Uncle Sam” (The way Uncle Sam shamelessly settled in Iraq). The lyrics of the songs in Gulaal,especially the closing song,as the (for the lack of a better word) protagonist stumbles back home after being shot—Oh ri Duniya,oh ri Duniya,aye duniya/Aye surmayee aankhein ke pyaalo ki duniya (I won’t even attempt to translate this)—can give you gooseflesh.

This is Hindi cinema at its best,and I say Hindi cinema,because Gulaal follows the unique tradition of the Bombay film industry of having songs at the drop of a hat. Only in this case,the hat is weighty and the sound is a thud. It is a film which perhaps will not make much money. I had gone to the loo during the interval when I watched it the first time,and I heard people asking one another: “Yaar,what’s the story?” In fact,the story is powerful and tightly plotted,but it’s so different from anything that you’ve seen in a Hindi film before that it is possible you could be flummoxed for a while.

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I have never met the film’s director Anurag Kashyap,or Piyush Mishra,who has acted in the film,and written the lyrics and scored the music,so I have no vested interest in doing this big plug for this small film. But this is a film that is a rare mix of intense passion and high intellect. You are emotionally imprisoned as you watch,and when you walk out of the hall,you replay it in your head and analyse and brood. It is assured of a cult following,but it deserves more than that. Watch it,your money won’t be wasted. And you can save some cash too: you needn’t buy the popcorn,this is not a popcorn movie.

Sandipan Deb is the editor of RPG Enterprises’ weekly features and current affairs magazine,Open

sandipan@openmedianetwork.in

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