When I was a kid I had a favorite TV show called Jungle Book. It was a time when India and Doordarshan had good shows, even animations or adaptations. Jungle book was an animation of the celebrated book ( directed by no other that Fumio Kurokawa) and since the book was written in India, perhaps a better children’s book for Indian kids with animals doesn’t exist ( or so I think). It would upset me when I missed the opening track. Every time, I had to listen to it. There were just a few lines, but I sang along every time. As did my dad. It was his favorite too. The video is linked.
Jungle, jungle baat chali hai, pata chala hai… ( A bit of news has spread through all the jungles.. )
Chaddi pehenke phool khila hai phool khila hai ( that a flower- wearing underpants, has just blossomed!- this is the reference to Mowgli)
Ek Parinda hain sharminda tha woh nanga ( a little birdie is ashamed of being (born) naked)
Bhai, isse to ande ke andar tha woh changa ( he was much better off inside the egg!)
Soch raha hai bahar akhir kyu nikla hain ( he wonders why he ever came out of the egg..)
Chaddi pehenke phool ke hila hai phool khila hain ( encore) . The lyrics are by the unsecondable Gulzar and the music was by the (then) newly hatched Vishal Bhardwaj. I didn’t know this till a while later, when we were watching the reruns and I was older. He did scores for several other Hindi TV shows and if you listen to those title tracks, like that of Gubbare, they have a lasting quality that is again, and still, unseconded. They (Gulzar and Bhardwaj) made a peerless pair and a lot can be written ( and surprisingly has not been! although I suppose the people know, who want to) about them. I will only write about Maachis here, the movie that changed my outlook towards terrorism in Punjab, I was 14. Although India as a state can state ‘ending’ terrorism in Punjab as one of its true victories, what ‘me’, the common Indian child brought up in Delhi when Punjab was still changing, thought of terrorists would be effected greatly by that movie. One of those times, when a good movie actually gets what it deserves from the audience. I find myself humming a few of its tunes even today, unknowingly. Hase to do galo pe, bhawar pada karte the.. Chod aaye hum woh galiya. Tabu, in 1993 when she first started, was tagged by my 11 yr old brain as not pretty enough to make it as a “heroine” (by which I must have meant as having too intelligent a face that cannot help but look out of place in a typical bollywood film: as I like to think of myself as someone who has always spotted talent-smirk). But Maachis was not typical. She reigned in it. I came back from the theatre feeling most depressed and strange. Initially, I thought that was because she dies in the end, heroines never die in the end in Indian movies. They often do nothing, but even so, they definitely don’t die in the end. It was a very new feeling and only now have I seen enough movies to recognize what that meant. It meant: that I had changed a little. That the movie worked. I have read books that do that, but books that actually change your thinking need a mature brain to digest. I think mine was not that mature at the time. Then, I read books to know more about the world, which is the beginning of the journey inwards.
But time passed and I was again molding to fit the crowd I was surrounded by, I watched Vijaypath and remember thinking that I had been originally right about Tabu and imagined she too would be lost to the industry soon enough. How wrong I was, and how wonderful that is.
Fast forward to Omkara (2006).. I first heard the music and I was like, oh Sukhwinder Singh is god ( he is) and who is that guy singing that romantic song ‘o saathi re’ ( it is Vishal Bhardwaj himself). I loved all the soundtracks and didn’t realize it was my chaddi friend (Bhardwaj) until I think my dad mentioned it. Omkara brought out the best in all of the actors involved. Ajay Devgn (who did have other feathers like Zakhm in his cap and can hold his own, when the need arises) gave his careers best and has since decided he doesn’t need to worry about which movies he does any more. After all, how can he possibly better Omkara? Kareena Kapoor who was perfectly cast and will also never do anything like that again, I fear (but I don’t really care). Saif gave the performance of his lifetime. He can actually die happy having done that movie. I think, he had been working up to that pinnacle in his previous life as an actor and making headway with Dil Chahta Hain, Being Cyrus and Parineeta, then he reached it in Omkara and is now busy digging his way out.
I am not an English Lit. reader and while I think I have read most of Shakespeare’s plays, they were likely simplified versions. Like everyone else I seem to know the stories, more, through osmosis. I am not that ashamed of this, it is like my shameless indifference (although no lack of admiration) to Beatles’ ( other than ‘Hey Jude’, mostly, as I have previously noted in this very blog) and Agatha Christie. But between Othello and Hamlet, I would probably choose Hamlet. Between Omkara and Haider, I would choose, with not-a-little sigh..: Haider.
From play at words with ‘chutzpah’ ( the hebrew word loosely meaning ‘audacity’ but in the script takes on its own meaning, from ‘winning accolades’ to ‘something like courage or misinterpretaion of it’ and lov-ed and use-ed ( the words are spoken with a ‘Kashmiri’ accent where the final ‘ed’ is like the name Ed). Bhardwaj has used a similar dialectic in Omkara where Kareena couldn’t pronounce ‘boTTom’ with appropriate refinement. I may be completely mistaken but I could not help but be reminded of the hindi slang word, very commonly used with a wide variety and shades of meanings, sounding very close to chutzpah (which itself is a sophisticated word). I took this opportunity to create my own wordplay (see above). Then there is the fitting parody of the popular icons of entertainment in the form of Salmans (the Salman Khan fans of Kashmir) who are the counterparts of the courtiers in the original play. Shahid Kapoor is no doubt in his career’s best (but hopefully not his last at that). To me, he does look and act like his dad in more than a few scenes, but when your dad is Pankaj Kapoor that is a compliment. In the song Bismil, Shahid Kapoor doesn’t just strike, but creates his own chords to play and in my eyes achieves the exalted status of a pure artist that many actors never acheive in decades of their career. Or ever. If he ever feels the need for reassurance in this unforgiving field, all he needs to do is see himself telling a story in Bismil. I would recommend it to everyone who doubts that bollywood is as good as Hollywood (but again, don’t waste your time explaining to people who like stereotyping). The Freudian dynamic between Shahid and Tabu, playing his mom who starts sleeping with and ends up marrying Hamlet’s uncle soon after his father is killed (deceitfully by the uncle), are expertly portrayed and enacted. In her second role in a Shakespearan adaptation (the previous one was in Maqbool- Macbeth by Bhardwaj as well- I didn’t watch Maqbool till years after its release) Tabu shines brighter than ever before. The shades of Gertrude of innocence and innocent deceit, love, vulnerability and artfulness are all shown with equal conviction. That’s what real women are, especially the ones married to god-like people who are truly generous and selfless, so much, that they spend their lives healing and helping others and sacrifice a more human, perhaps sensitive, wife. She is not as selfless perhaps, or maybe all she needs is a little attention. Anyone can pay her that, even if it is her brother in law. Over the years Tabu chooses to lie low, I have seen her disappear for a few years, every time she returns with a flair. I am glad I lived long enough to watch her in this, she gave me hope through her role in Haider that perhaps her best and maybe mine: as I don’t seem to fit anywhere myself, is yet to come. Kay Kay Menon is one lucky actor. I don’t think he ever did a character he didn’t want to. He has done more honest, meaningful or hard hitting films than any one person in India, I think. No, I am pretty sure. Not even Naseeruddin Shah can say that and that is saying something. I expect nothing less than perfection from him and anyone else who has seen Paanch ( directed by Anurag Kashyap, but not released until >5 yrs post making) would not either. He delivers too, every time. Luck is not easily created in Bollywood or India. Irrfan Khan is the ghost. This man can be invisible and still give you goosebumps. He does. One day I will write about only him, his best is expected to release every year from now to forever.
Bhardwaj says, in an interview , in his adaptation, Kashmir itself is ‘Hamlet’, taking on the character instead of remaining just the backdrop of the story. With my limited knowledge of all the interpretations of Shakespeare, I am still thinking about that comment. Is India this orphan’s mother or father or uncle? Or all of them at different times.. Using Kashmir, the Indian army’s handling of terrorists, the curfews and searches as the story’s backdrop gives an insight that no one has ever given viewers without seeming to be patronizing or trivializing this hyper-real issue. Haider does that successfully in a commercial Indian movie to boot. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s trite attempt at Romeo and Juliet, even with Ranveer Singh, seems even worse now. Chaddi pehenke phool khila tha, ab Mughal garden ho gaya hai ( the flower that blossomed years ago, has turned into the Mughal gardens : Kashmir’s well known gardens , with a version in Delhi’s President’s house as well). The floods have taken the garden in Kashmir, I heard recently. We need a fresh start. That’s not Bang Bang. Just saying.