Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dhobi Ghat - More Than A Review

After watching Dhobi Ghat today, I ventured onto the film's IMDB page. One of the questions on the discussion forums was "What change are you expecting in Bollywood after watching Dhobi Ghat?" After a sprinkle of answers saying that people are now switching from mindless comedies to serious films came an answer, by a user ‘colour-me-kubrick’, so short and so positively cynical.


And that is exactly what I feel about the film too. Not that I'm saying it is bad. It is, indeed, a well-made film, and a montage of stories well-portrayed. But if you expect any major changes to take place among Bollywood producers or directors or in the viewing patterns of the general public, then we can only keep on hoping.

But to talk about the after-effects of such a film would be to take away from this film. Some films can bring about a change; a revolution too (case in point Aamir Khan's earlier Rang De Basanti) but Dhobi Ghat is not that film. It is a film that will affect you, more so if you are a Bombayite (Mumbaikar, if you prefer!) The characters in this film are believable, not like those just handpicked out of one's cloud of imagination and put onto the drawing board.

You believe that a character like Munna (played by Prateik) exists. You've probably heard the class-difference love story many times before, but you don't mind it again. Munna captivates you. You wonder how many boats this boy has got his legs into? Dhobi. Rat-killer. Guide. Wannabe actor. 'Extra services' free of cost. And yet he is likable because we too have so many different roles in our day-to-day lives. Roles taken up by the left hand that the right hand is not aware of.

Shai (played by Monica Dogra), the returning Indian from abroad. Why? To take some time off. To connect with her roots. We've seen such a character before and yet we don't mind it. She is looking for love, for friendship: a relationship. But she's confused. Aren't we?

The painter Arun (played by Aamir Khan) comes across as a rather stereotypical caricature of an artist. He doesn't want to be in serious relationships, has mood swings, says stuff like "Mumbai, my muse, my whore, my beloved city”, obsesses about a girl whom he doesn’t even know. We’ve seen such an artist before. And yet we know what it is to have a muse. To be obsessed with someone we know we will never meet.

Yasmeen (played by Kriti Malhotra) is the wife who has been married off against her wishes and brought to the city. She finds out that her husband’s business trips are actually dates with a mistress. She commits suicide. We’ve seen such a character before. And yet what she does differently is that she makes a video documentary of sorts capturing the different sights of Bombay which eventually becomes the crux of this film.

Bombay is the fifth character in the film. The torrential rain, the unending traffic noise, the relentless chugging-by of trains, the piercing silence in the subways or at night: all of this form our four earlier characters into what they eventually become. But Bombay remains unchanged.

The cinematography by Tushar Ray Kanti is terrific. The background score by Gustavo Santaolalla is not your typical Bollywood score. It provides support to the scenes, though I wish we had a little more of it. The acting is top-notch, except for Aamir Khan who doesn’t seem at ease at all in his role as the artist. Surprising.

Sometime ago, Aamir Khan said that Dhobi Ghat was an intelligent film; his exact words were, “I fear that masses may not like Dhobi Ghat because it is a very fine and delicate film. People who understand film, people who are sensitive - this film is for them. This is not a mainstream film.”

I agree that Dhobi Ghat is a fine film. I agree that it is delicate. But I think Aamir should have let the judgment of whether a film is good or not be left upon the public. Agreed that this is not a mainstream film, and that as ‘colour-me-kubrick’ mentioned, “Nothing” will change. But we can hope. Isn’t that what the films tells us as well?

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Divorce Choir

This is a story I wrote for my Creative Writing assignment. There is a second version of it too, which I will put up a few posts later. The second version was written to incorporate a few changes as well as the fact that divorces do not take place in Roman Catholic churches, which is the setting.

The names of the characters may bear resemblance to a few familiar people, but their characteristics are entirely coincidental.

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Matthew 19:6

“Should we stop, or should we not?”

Silence was all Arlene could hear. She expected it.

“I don’t think we should,” Valerie said, breaking the uneasiness in the room. “We haven’t come together for weddings, and it’s not our fault they always break up.”

“True, that,” Nigel nodded. “Couples divorcing are not our premise.”

“Surely it isn’t, Nigel, couples hooking up are our premise,” Arlene said, at which everyone burst out laughing. Everyone knew that the guitarist and Sylvia were going around since the past couple of months. All thanks to the choir.

“Ahem! We’re here to speak about the choir,” Sylvia said, thus getting the choir members to quieten down again.

Arlene winked at Sylvia and turning around to the rest said, “Okay, so let’s get things into perspective then…”

“Bravo! Spoken like a true management student!” Sullivan applauded, and everyone laughed again. Arlene, on the other hand, glared at Sullivan.

“Come on, Arlene. Why so serious?” Sullivan asked.

“Because these ‘accusations’ are becoming serious Sullivan, and I am worried,” Arlene gulped. The atmosphere was tense once again.

“We’ve sung at ten marriage masses so far. Of those nine, that’s ninety per cent, have divorced. That’s a terrible lot,” Arlene said, despair in her voice.

“But what is the problem here?” Sullivan asked. “As in, we are singing for the Lord, aren’t we? We can stop singing for wedding masses.”

“I agree,” Valerie said, “And it wouldn’t have been a problem had we been the only people who had noticed it. People are talking now. Many of them have already approached Fr. Neshwin to complain. And you know how he is. Always giving in to the parishioners. He spoke to Arlene about this. And that is why this meeting has been called.”

“And then,” Nigel added, “You also have to remember the money that comes in through these wedding masses.”

“Come on Nigel, you play for the money?” Valerie said. “You kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not,” Nigel persisted. “Look at it my way dude. I’m not earning yet. It’s a better way of getting some cash than asking my pop all the time.”

Silence descended upon them again. Nigel picked up his guitar and started strumming a hymn. C Am F G. Set Me Like A Seal On Your Heart. The quintessential wedding hymn.

“I don’t want to stop singing. This is like being strangled,” Sylvia said.

C Am F G.

“But the parishioners want us out. They think we are jinxed,” Arlene said.

“I think we need a PR agent,” Sullivan smirked.

C Am F G.

“No, I think all the couples in our parish need to get divorced,” Nigel said, still strumming on his guitar. Everyone turned to look at him. Nigel looked up from his guitar.

“I mean, they should also understand what we are going through at this moment, right?” he smiled and continued fingering the strings again.

C Am F G.

“I think we should throw Nigel from the choir, he is the Jinx here,” Valerie said.

C Am F G.

“I think we should find out whether the other choir is facing a problem too,” Sullivan said.

“Clearly they are not,” Sylvia said. “In fact, Bonhoffer was one of the persons who complained to the priest.”
C Am F G.

“That curly-haired rascal, that stinker!” Nigel cried. “When he opens his mouth, bad breath escapes it more than his voice.”

“Legend has it that he loves onions and garlic,” Sylvia smirked.

“And if we keep going off the topic like that, we soon shall be legend,” Arlene said.

C Am F G.

Valerie stood up and said, “Let’s speak to Fr. Neshwin…”

C Am F Em.

“Nigel, that was way off,” Sylvia said.

“Well, can’t help it, can I?” Nigel said holding up his guitar. “Valerie just spoke the impossible.”

“Nigel, we have to try whatever we can,” Sullivan said. “And anyway, he’s one of the few hopes we have left now.”

“See, frankly, what I think,” Sylvia started, “is that we should stop singing for wedding masses. I mean that’s where the problem lies, right? So we’ll stop.”

“Ok, let’s consider what you say,” Valerie said, “What about the regular masses?”

“I think what Sylvia’s saying is right,” Arlene said. “No one can stop us from playing at regular masses…”

“Except God, if he hears our miserable voices and comes down and stops us,” Nigel interrupted.

“…so, I think,” Arlene continued, eyeing Nigel with the corner of her eyes, “we are in the right there. We just stop singing at the wedding masses.”

“But,” Nigel shrieked, “the money?”

“Shut up, Nigel,” Sylvia said. Nigel started tightening the strings on his guitar. “So how many people say that we should stop singing at wedding masses but continue for the regular ones?”

All hands went up except Nigel’s.

“How can you assure Father Neshwin’ll allow us to continue singing for the regular masses?” Nigel asked.

“Oh, come on,” Valerie said. “He’s not that bad. I’m sure he’ll allow us.”

“What days we have to see!” Nigel grumbled, now playing the chords to I Am The Bread Of Life, the funeral hymn. “At the most he’ll suggest that we start singing for funerals.”

G D Em C.

“No way,” Sullivan screamed. “People will start going to hell. Not that they’re not going otherwise. Perhaps we’ll just quicken the process.”

G D Em C.

Sylvia turned to Arlene and Valerie and said “Perhaps we should send Nigel and Sullivan to Father Neshwin’s room. We’ll kick them so that we quicken the process.”

G D Em C.

“Do I hear my name being proclaimed?” boomed a loud voice.

G C Em D.

“Totally off,” Sullivan said. “Either way.”

Sure enough, Fr. Neshwin entered through the sacristy doors. The first thing one noticed about him was his pot-belly thanks to the endless supply of beer in his refrigerator; that was if you hadn’t heard his voice till then.

“So who were you going to kick, Sylvia?” Fr. Neshwin asked her. He had good ears too.

“No one, Father,” Sylvia answered. “These boys were being mischievous.”

“Oh yes, I can understand Nigel being mischievous with you, my child. But Sullivan too? Now, now, naughty boy,” Fr. Neshwin said, giving the teasing look that he was well-known for.

Nigel whispered to Sullivan, “We need to open the files on this guy. Bet he had some flings in the past.”

Sullivan replied, “Him? You sure? Beer-guzzler! If I were a girl, I’d run away. Taking the beer along of course.”

“Did I hear beer?” Fr. Neshwin turned around to Sullivan.

“Yes, Father, we were talking about beer before you arrived. That is why the girls wanted to kick us,” Sullivan said. “Anyway, Father, we were coming to your room. Had to discuss about the choir.”

“Oh yes, I do remember. In fact, I came downstairs to speak with you people about that,” he said. Fr. Neshwin sat down on the seat meant for the keyboard player. Arlene’s eyes closed, concerned for her seat.

“Father, we are troubled by the suggestion that we have to stop singing,” Arlene started. “And why can’t we continue singing for the remaining masses?”

“Yes, Father,” Valerie added. “We won’t take marriage masses anymore.”

“Yes, Father,” Nigel said. “Or if you want, we’ll sing at those Vegas style marriages. Which break up immediately. We’ll get the cash that way too.”

“Nigel!” Valerie screamed. “Get some sense in that head of yours.”

“What!” Nigel leaped back. “Can’t a man get away with a few jokes?”

“Quiet, Nigel,” Sylvia said, her hand on his shoulder.

“So we see the display of love,” Fr. Neshwin joked. “See the manner in which Nigel is quiet now. Anyway, now that we don’t have any jibes running here, let us take a quick decision.”

“Yes, Father,” Arlene said. “Hope we can continue singing.”

“And gracing the church with our melodious voices,” Nigel teased.

“And divorcing couples due to their jinxed choices,” Fr. Neshwin said. “So, Arlene, as I was saying, we need to solve this problem immediately. And it looks like I have a solution,” his face beaming with pride.

“You do?” everyone jumped.

“What is it?” Sylvia asked.

“I’m telling you na,” Nigel said. “Father will allow us to sing for funerals.”

“Nigel, shut up,” Sullivan yelled. “Or Father will have to begin a funeral mass right now.”

“Thank you, Sullivan,” Fr. Neshwin said. “So, as I was saying, do you remember Mr. and Mrs. Santos?”

“Aaron and Jenell?” Valerie asked. “Yes, we do. They were the first couple we sang for.”

“And also the first to get divorced,” Nigel said.

“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said in this conversation,” Fr. Neshwin said. “It’s a surprise you remember them. Usually your memory doesn’t go back to much more than three weeks.”

“How could I forget them, Father?” Nigel said. “They gave us three grands after we sang for them. People rarely give one grand, and we got three from them. I felt sorry for Aaron, he must’ve had to pay a lot of alimony.”

“Well, I don’t think that was needed,” he said.

“What?” Sullivan asked. “The alimony wasn’t needed? Why?”

“I’ll tell you why. They divorced two years ago, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Yes, Father,” Sylvia said. “But what do they have to do with all this?”

“Well, I have been the one counselling both of them…”

“You counsel people too?” Nigel asked. “I mean, after divorces?”

“Yes, I do, Nigel,” Fr. Neshwin responded. “In this case. Anyway, they realised a year ago that the divorce was a big mistake and that it shouldn’t have happened.”

“Very early,” Nigel said. “What about the harm caused to our reputation?”

“I shall now ignore him,” Fr. Neshwin said. “So they now want to get married. Again.”

“Wow!” Valerie exclaimed. “Now that is something we don’t get to see every day.”

“But what is the assurance that they won’t divorce again?” Arlene asked.

“I will assure that such a situation will not arise,” Fr. Neshwin said. “This marriage will last. And they want everything to be the same as the first time. Not a single different thing.”

“Which means,” Sullivan said, “Same church.”

“That it is,” Fr. Neshwin said. “Our Lady of Nazareth.”

“Same date?” Valerie asked.

“Definitely,” he confirmed. “December 27th. That’s just a week away.”

“Same priest,” Arlene said.

“Surely,” he replied, “Father Neshwin Noel Almeida.”

“And the same choir,” Sylvia said, uttering what was on everyone’s minds.

“Yes,” he sniggered, “The Angels of Nazareth, or rather, the Divorce Choir?”

Everyone turned to Fr. Neshwin. He winked back at them. Everyone except Nigel.

“What happened, Nigel?” Fr. Neshwin asked.

Nigel looked up, smiled wryly and asked, “Same remuneration?”