Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rajnigandha

Something on Bollywood for a change. I wanted to see this film ever since I read the Hindi short story "Yehi Sach Hai" (This is the truth) by Mannu Bhandari last year. (The full story is available here. The hindi fonts may not appear correctly on all platforms.) Surprisingly I had never seen it before. Finally I saw it yesterday. The original story is one of my favourites. It is a wonderful little love story. It is also a great example and a very good introduction to the "Nai Kahani" (new story) movement that became popular in the fifties and sixties. There stories (and novels) were characterised by the urban settings and middle class characters which was a contrast to the existing critical social realist model in which literature was supposed to serve the progressive ideologies of its time, by questioning and critiquing the social and cultural institutions which helped perpetuate all sorts of discrimination and exploitation.

In contrast these new stories were more concerned with the interiority of their characters. The main focus was on how the collapse of traditional communities and structures with the advent of modernity had left people without certainties and how this rootlessness fed the general anxiety and the existential malaise and how it all affected the personal relationships. As a result in most of these stories there was not much of a "story" in the sense that not much really happened. There was very little description of the external world and conventional approach to character building, either by caricature or a unified psychological portrait, was avoided. (In many of the stories by Nirmal Verma for example, everything remained anonymous, characters, places, historical period, nothing was explicitly named!). What came out in the end was a completely fragmented self, a radical kind of self-alienation, disjunction between thought and action and how it resulted in the crisis of interpersonal relationships. This same problem of inaction and indecision in the modern world and the so-called "crisis of faith" was the main theme of western modernist writers too. These hindi stories though nowhere even near the complexity of say Musil, Kafka or Woolf, still explore the same territory. What makes these fascinating is that they manage to capture not just isolated people struggling with themselves but rather a society in transition too. Something that is still a work in progress.

"Yehi Sach Hai" is a very simple love triangle on the surface. Deepa, a middle class girl probably in her mid twenties (no such details are explicitly given), who lives alone in Kanpur and is currently completing her doctoral thesis (again we aren't told which subject it is). She is involved with a man named Sanjay and they soon plan to get married. At the beginning of the story she has just received an an interview call for a teaching job in calcutta which appears to solve their problems since Sanjay is having some trouble with the office politics and with her in Calcutta he can have a transfer and they can then get married. In Calcutta however she runs into an old fling, who she broke up with after a lot of mutual recrimination. She thought she had moved on but once he starts showing interest in helping her get the job her old feelings start to return and things get so complicated for her that she can no longer decide who she wants to marry and live with and can no longer be sure which of the two "is the real truth!" The story is written in the form of diary like entries in first person present tense so we always see everything from the perspective of Deepa and are as confused about everything as she is. The story is basically a portrait of her indecision and emotional confusion.

Now the film adaptation is very faithful. It actually won lot of acclaim and even won the best film award of that year. It also started a trend of similarly low budget romantic films featuring ordinary characters and their lives. Many of these films featured Amol Palekar too. The story about problems of commitment in relationships and existential angst may remind one of Antonioni (and indeed L'avventura and L'Eclisse explore the same territory) but this film uses a straight-forward objective style. (In fact in one of the scenes two people joke about the pretentiousness of an Antonioni film!) The ordinariness of the locations and the characters are stressed everywhere. There are freeze-frames and voice overs which mimic the monologic nature of the story but otherwise it is a straight-forward retelling of the story. There are also some flashbacks which are added in the film to make it more "complete" than the story which defeat the purpose to a large extent because the story works precisely because it doesn't stress on psychological specifics, rather it looks on a general situation or a way of life in general terms. Still a satisfying film overall. The cast is uniformly very good and the two songs (yes only two) are two of my favourites ever. You can listen to them here. I was a little confused about the English name of the eponymous flower. Wikipedia has some details about it.

3 comments:

jyothsnay said...

Yes Mr Zembla (a happy grin, I pray thee let me address you by this trad)
One of a few offbeat movies I continue to admire, bold w.r.t their ability provoke the audience, if not, at least make people to ponder over their lives for a change..else, most Bollywood concoctions are heady and an affordable escape mechanisms (huh!)
a truthful rendition by Basu Chatterjee..I still remember one scene - she is standing in the balcony, anticipating a message from him, i.e. a letter, and a whole bunch of Rajanigandha flowers (long stemmed lillies- heartless assassins work like tranquilizers on humans' senses and douse them with passion....I was in such an impressionable age of my life, I fell in love with these flowers after this movie...)
at the door..she would have appreciated them more if they were sent by that man in her life...what a moment of realization! as she was brought down to the earth under her feet..true Pragmatist view of life! life is crammed with choices, choices where there is no end, but one moves on, still thinking about the puzzle, which they had encountered a few days ago
the title is so apt, as the fragrance of these white lillies creates such a tempest in one's heart, one extends self to reach them and participate in the celebration,the more one efforts, the more the fragrance becomes ELUSIVE....one amongst those few Hindi movies which managed to capture "deep sadness" effortlessly..what do you say?

Alok said...

wow, you remember the film!

yes, too many choices means too much confusion and too much angst. thats the sad lesson of the film.

she seems to be free from the traditions and customs and free to choose how she wants to live and still she is not free. bounded by her own past and emotions.

i dont know how good your hindi is but the original hindi story that i linked in the post is very nice too.

jyothsnay said...

yup, a few Hindi movies that I do not get tired of watching them time and again..say Chupke Chupke, Baawarchi (how mch I love this movie), Chashme Badoor (have I spell this our right?), Intezaar etc etc
umm, more like existential philosophy is not it? within one's freedom,one struggles with his/her choices that are made and the core nature. Within a free will, seeing exposed to many choices, weighing pros & cons of each choice is a big decision, thus facing an emotional stress which leads to a much higher sense of satisfaction of being able to face life in its unbiased format, a few decisions could be logical, while a few are irrational or absurd devoid of explanation and that stubborness to follow through once a decision is made, irrespective of the consequences...
my hindi is pretty good, knowledge of the language has come from a strong foundation (I became a pundit, MA in Hindi, courtesy Dakshin Hindi Prachaar sabha, much before I passed out of the class X...it's the lack of need to internalise it (as a language of conversation) in daily rigmarolic existence distorted my hindi terribly....English became the firm grip to latch onto!