Even before seeing the film one could not help but be most impressed by the wonderful soul stirring music of Gulaal. But I am always conflicted about Anurag Kashyap – prodigy or poseur? He wants to make a statement with every film, and it is an in-your-face one, often sledgehammer in approach. The recent Dev D sat uneasily with me; it seemed cleverly crafted for the “cool to be rude and crude” crowd. Only the last third appealed to me in any way. But with such divine music, one is obligated to view, if only to figure out whether the director used the music well or made a hash of it.
Most of film is seen from the POV of Dileep Singh (Raj Singh Chaudahry), newly arrived from Bikaner to start college. Unable to find place in any hostel he stays in a pub with the maverick Rananjay Singh (Ranasa – Abhimanyu Singh). A horrendous ragging event at the hands of some raucous goons in the hostel leads to him getting thrown into a room with a battered Anuja (Jesse Randhawa), a teacher at the college. The stories are spun in rapid progression as we meet Mrityunjay Singh (Dukey Bana – Kay Kay Menon), a man bitter at the mistreatment of Rajputs at the hands of the government, obsessed with independent Rajputana, and ready to go to any length to achieve his aim; his brother Prithvi Bana (Piyush Mishra) who studied abroad, wears a Lennon locket, and is accompanied by a half blue half white painted ardhnarishwar drummer; the brother sister duo of Karan (Aditya Srivastava) and Kiran (Ayesha Mohan), illegitimate and spurned offspring of “His Highness” Ranasa’s father, desperately seeking legitimacy and the stamp of approval of the clan; a beauty parlor owner plus courtesan by night Madhuri (Mahie Gill), who loves and hates Dukey Bana, and can shake a mean leg (or hip!); a staunch follower of Dukey Bana and his lieutenant Bhati (Deepak Dobriyal), who sees all, and tries to speak but to no avail.
Like a rapidly whirling kaleidoscope that he is firmly in control of, Kashyap quickly places the puzzle pieces before us. Everyone has motives within motives and the naive Dileep is a bemused pawn at the hands of the warring factions, unable to see why he was made president of the college union, and why Kiran has fallen for him. The body count rises, as the mad Prithvi Bana seems the only sane person in the mix. The politics behind student unions, the power of the very rich over the ordinary, gender politics, the search for identity, all these elements seethe n the film as the helpless pawn, the outsider, struggles to first stay aloof, then to understand, and finally to confront. The story builds to fever pitch, but in the end it has a less than satisfactory resolution. By then we are helplessly caught in the whirlpool of the events (like Dileep), and overwhelmed by the energy, passion and power of the film.
The performances by the male cast are very strong. Leading the pack is Kay Kay Menon – what a bravura performance. When he is on screen his energy and intensity is mesmerizing, be it his “Jack and Jill went up the ……….”, his breaking into violence at every roadblock, his cool contempt of his wife, his anger at the Government betrayal (the end of the Privy Purses in 1971) that causes his father to commit suicide, and barely restrained exasperation at his elder brother. He just goes from strength to strength in every film. Once you see Kay Kay you wonder why Kashyap bothered with the much watered down Abhay Deol in Dev D – now Kay Kay in Dev D, that would have been a treat. Piyush Mishra is amazing as the deranged poet singer, a socialist at heart, he is wonderful in the scene where he is railing at George Bush on the phone and one discovers the line has been unplugged all along! The mujra Rana Ji – as sung by him on screen “Jaise Sare Aam Iraq mein ja ke jam gaye Uncle Sam!” suddenly makes perfect sense. Deepak Dobriyal and Abhimanyu Singh are excellent, Aditya Srivastava and Raj Singh Chaudhary are decent – the latter is somewhat unconvincing in the final third of the film. He starts out bewildered and wooden and never progresses much beyond that even when intensely in love and ready to die for it. The failure in the film comes from the three female characters. There is some deep gender bias and perversion at play when a brother “whores” his sister out so he can attain respectability, and the Anuja (Jesse) track goes nowhere and peters out. Although her introduction in a combination of dialog and partial physical visibility makes one imagine the worse and be horrified by it – excellently done. Mahie Gill does well as the dancer but is strangely playacting and plastic in her breakdown moment – almost as though no one knows what she should be doing. The weakest link is Kiran (Ayesha Mohan) – again wooden and largely unexplained in the path her character takes.
The film was made several years ago, perhaps on a shoestring budget (which shows in parts), but if this is what lack of moolah does, then may the curse of poverty fall on all our directors. The real locations and stark scenery help build the atmosphere of urgency, unease and intensity. The dialogs shine and this is the first time I felt the copious use of expletives was necessary and organic to the narrative – or maybe Kay Kay is just one hell of a cusser! The music is divine and well placed in the film – good use is made of the two mujra tracks and the somber Yeh Duniya, Seher, Aarambh, and most importantly Yaara Maula:
Phir who aaye bheed ban kar haath mein thay unke khanjar
Bole phainko yeh kitaben aur sambhalo yeh salakhein!!
This track reminds me of Neeraj’s:
Swapan jhare phool se, meet chubhe shool se
Lut Gaye Singaar sabhi bagh ke babool se
Aur hum khade khade bahaar dekhte rahe
Karwaan guzar gaya gubaar dekhte rahe!
in the general tone of helplessness, disenchantment and disillusionment that follows in the wake of student political movements. Some points to ponder – the Rajputs often used their women for political gain (thus a Jodhaa was married off to Akbar), often by making alliances – is that what Karan is forcing Kiran to do? Dukey Bana is in essence a freedom fighter – much like those who gave up life for the freedom of our nation. He fights by fair means or foul, but for what he thinks is the larger good of Rajputana. But this “idealism” is rewarded with death. At the same time we see a triumph of the man who does everything for selfish motive and personal gain. Is this a commentary on what we had to do to achieve a free nation, and where we are taking it now? It is fitting to end this review with Piyush’s homage to the song from Pyaasa, but redone in a very contemporary political context:
Reh jaata hai jo savera woh dhoondhe
Jalte maqaan mein basera who dhoondhe
Jaise bachi hai waisi ki wasi bachalo yeh duniya
Apna samajh ke apnon ke jaise utha lo yeh duniya
I consider this to be the best of Anurag Kashayp and hope that it is the Gulaal and NOT Dev D track that he follows from here on out!