The pop corn seemed potent. And the coke tasted like neat vodka. Watching Dev D is like going on a dizzy ride into fantasy, rather ecstasy. The thrill is quite similar to screaming together in a rock show, watching the local band belt out ‘cocaine’. The intoxication is so misleading, that you start confusing the cheap liquor inside you to be something of an higher order.
Fluorescent streaks of colour, crazy camera works, eclectic sound effects transport you to a world that you only hangovered about till now.
It looks like the director, the cast, the cameraman, the spot boy, the editor were on dope throughout the making of this film. And the censor board was on a overdose to pass it.
The film is a narcotic pot boiler (quite literally) of a man who indulges in everything that you only had seventh hand information about. All said and done it was one hellofatrip in the name of modern cinema. All the weed that Anurag Kashyap sowed has reaped off. And it shows.
What distinctly catches your eye in that dark tele cine are a few scenes, infact single symbolic shots, like the sex starved punjabi kudi who cycles away to the some ganne ke kheth with a bed on her carrier, freeing the location from the clutches of Yash Chopra and his disciples, and putting it to better use.
Or the scene where Abhay Deol walks in slow motion, out of a wine store balancing an entire carton of vodka on one hand, to depict the extent of his misery. Worth learning how to whistle.
Or the scene where the firangi girl turned prostitute, regrets why her father did not pardon her for all her sins, and Abhay Deol pulls her close and gives her a hug, reciting the same lines that she wanted to hear from her father.
Yes, there could be people who would argue that this encourages alcoholism and drugs and spreads messages that are against our culture. But again, it is only a movie. Nobody set out to install lightbulbs in villages after seeing Swades. Maybe, movies can only do so much. So, it’s best to leave your moralistic viewpoints aside, and watch this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching good cinema.
The guts behind getting a local brass band to lend their voice for the lead single ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ says a lot about the director wanting to redefine the tried and tested Sonu and Udit for delivering a hit, or for that matter engaging a garage musician to score the music tracks.
Apparently, most of the songs were written by the singers themselves, because Anurag had identified closet poets behind those voices.
This movie actually reminded me of someone closer home who tried what Anurag accomplished, a decade ago. Uppi.
Yes, if you follow closely, there is an uncanny resemblance to what Uppi set out to do when the audience had still not got their fill with run of the mill stuff (the rhyme happened without my knowledge, sorry about that). Right from the title, Uppi decided to be different, yes just for the sake of being different. Titles like A, Shhh, Om, Upendra, Swastik, H2O and other titles that weren’t as distinct as the ones above.
However prepared you might have been for unpreparedness, Uppi still had surprises. Surprises that you enjoyed. Fleeting references to situations that you’ve been through in the past. He narrated stories from a place that you left behind to join a group that you actually don’t belong to. He sucked you in, releasing you from the trappings that you have so stupidly got yourself into. He welcomed you back to a world that is loud, unpretentious and mediocre, where appreciation required no additional knowledge or effort on your part. Letting you give in to the unpolished side of yourself, that you sometimes so desperately seek in the world you’ve graduated into.
Crude dialogues, unpoetic lyrics and extreme performances found a method to creep into plots that made the last benchers of school, first benchers in the cinema hall. Weaved into stories where you willingly reduced yourself to the lowest common denominator.
Sample this dialogue from A…”Indian culture is great, Indian tradition is great, Indian heritage is great….but Indians are not great.” This is juxtaposed against a rape scene, where he steps in to save the victim. Over the top and deshdrohi..ish, but thoroughly enjoyable when you become one with the crowd and whistle along.
The story lines made you uncomfortable in your seat, and the message was conveyed only after tossing and turning in your bed that night. For instance, Upendra was a film that set out to prove that a man can actually have relationships with three different women, one for love, another for lust and the third for marriage, as all the three from one person could be unsatisfying. Or H2O was a story about a Kannadiga and a Tamilian falling in love with the same woman called Cauvery. And just to make it more difficult for audiences used to regular cinema, he made it a bi-lingual film, where the two heroes (He and Prabhudeva), spoke in Kannada and Tamil respectively. What happened was not as surprising as the film. It was promptly banned.
Strangely, I find far too many similarities between these two geniuses of cinema.
I found the cinematic treatment of Dev D slipping into trance, quite similar to Uppi’s introduction shot in Upendra. A technique where still photographs are taken on a trolley that rotates around the subject, and then strung together in high speed, to give you a crazy rush. Apparently, Danny Boyle advised Anurag to use this technique to get the desired effect, while Uppi plainly learnt it from ignorance.
Or for that matter, the shaky camera that blurs on and off as Dev D approaches his lover after downing a bottle, is quite close to the ‘helkolakke ondu ooru’ song where Uppi in a similar state goes swaggering all over the place, conveniently transferring the buzz in his head on to yours. And made it a universal favorite of every boozard in crowded cheapo bars, when alcohol began to corner them to solitude. Suddenly a lonely victim from under a zero watt bulb would break into this number, slowly drawing the fellow drunkards into his gloomy world. Eventually, the entire bar would echo his sentiments, pour their left over drinks to plastic tumblers and sway down the dark stairway, singing in chorus, bumping into each other and bonding like buddies, finding similarities in the shitty scripts that God had written for them.
Uppi then offered further comfort to lonely love-struck boozards with an optional number in H2O, ‘Dil ilde love maadukke”, repeating his cinematic treatment with lyrics that conveyed feelings for his beloved by comparing them to alcohol, that roughly translated like this ‘If I see you, it is like downing a 60. If you laugh, it is like downing a 90. If you talk to me and laugh at the same time, it is like downing a full bottle.’ These automatically found an emosanal connection with Auto drivers and truck drivers, who paid homage in the form of distorted caricatures of Uppi on truck and auto backs.
Uppi fused popular advertising baselines like ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’, or ‘Amul, a gift for someone you love’ into his film’s music track of ‘A’. As juvenile and crazy it might sound, it certainly boasted of a newcomer’s guts who gave into his raw instincts without letting them steer away into logic, without processing them till they came back without that spunk of spontaneity.
Even the posters were eccentric. The poster for ‘A’ had Uppi pulling a handcart with a woman sitting on it. He narrated the script to a local artist, and asked him to paint anything that came to his mind after hearing the story. He then added a baseline under the painting that read ‘For intelligent people only’. The poster for the film ‘Upendra’ had Uppi screaming, with the letters “FRID’ in bold. He later told me that it meant nothing. He wanted to write something in the poster that meant ‘nothing’, just to get people talking about it. And it worked. The public went bonkers trying to decode that nonsense, and even drove them to buy a ticket, just to solve the puzzle.
He then wanted to make a movie with no title. His distributors who were still clinging on to sanity, requested him to call it something, or they would not be able to list it in the papers. Uppi found an intelligent solution that could keep both of them happy. He gave it a symbol instead, the symbol of Swastik. The posters had nothing but the sign of Swastik. This time, he got people guessing, what the name of the film could be.
Eventually, Uppi had to catch up with the audience, who had now returned to their regular cinema after that brief stint with insanity, dragging him there in the process.
Unfortunately, Uppi did not have the finesse to elevate his kitschness to an art form, that could be openly appreciated by MG Road audiences of Bangalore. Uppi restricted himself to kannada speaking audiences and failed to transcend beyond these provinces. Nevertheless, it was incredible to see him blend his learnings from world class cinema, suitable enough to an audience that he knew so well. Which after a long time, I now see in Anurag Kashyap, who operates in a language that is more fortunate.
Sophistication is a curse on mankind, imposed by people who are too jealous of men being themselves. Dev D, Oye lucky lucky Oye, Slumdog Millionaire welcome loud, crass and over-the-top depictions of life into the basket of appreciatable cinema. Restraint and silence are replaced with energy and kitsch. Old fundas of realism in cinema that stretched the ‘thought for the day’ on your school boards to snail paced renditions of unattractive looking people enacting bodily functions like eating and sleeping to painfully long durations, with absolutely no background score, has thankfully been thrown out of the window. Tacky camerawork that masquerade as natural lighting have faded out. Stories on poverty are no longer supported with budgets that are similar. And dialogues that deserve seetis have percolated down to non-starry films. Thankfully, art cinema has progressed beyond serving these self obsessed audiences who take great pride and pleasure being amidst boredom.
Whatever you may call them- multiplex cinema, new age cinema, alternative cinema, parallel cinema or offbeat cinema or any other term, this too shall pass, and there will no longer be the great divide that separates films that are watched and films that need to be watched. The new brigade knows that the audience is there to be entertained, and not to support someone’s mission of picking up a national award. It’s relieving to know that you no more have to be subjected to subjects devoid of entertainment.
It seems like Indian Cinema never had it better.