Nothing.. Just a bunch of dialogues from the movie Puzzle.
“You’re so much more comfortable when you’re solving puzzles, aren’t you? Why?” “You ask a lot of questions..” “Yeah.. that’s how you get to knowsomeone” “But I don’t ask you any questions..” “Go ahead!” “I can’t think of a question right now..” “That’s my point. You’re uncomfortable around me..” “Well.. I don’t know you, but it’s not just that.. I’m not comfortable generally, because I.. Normally my mind is.. I don’t know..” “Because normally your mind moves so fast, you don’t really know where it is going. There is nowhere for you to express your mind. No one to express it to.. It makes you nervous.. So you focus on menial tasks.. Puzzles are menial task for you so you can focus. The results are aesthetically pleasing, and you like it..”
“Do you know what it’s like to spend all day, not doing what you’re good at?” “So what would you rather do? What are you good at?” “I don’t think I’m good at anything.. I want to cook mom..” “What?” “I watched you cook my whole life.. I watch cooking shows when no one’s home. I think I’d be happy doing what you do, not what dad does..” “But I don’t do anything..” “Are you f***ing kidding me? Mom, you do a million things, and you’re good at all of them..!”
“..And I never wanted kids anyway” “Why not?” “Frankly, I don’t like kids” “How can you say that? You were a kid yourself once!” “Right. And I hated it.. Not everyone’s supposed to have kids you know.. And not for only selfish reasons. Sometimes it’s for the kid’s sake. In this town, kids are an ornament, a fashion statement, an accessory, a check box.. Honestly, I never felt the need. Does that make me weird?” –Ziggy’s phone call– “Was that your son?” “Yes. My oldest ‘accessory’.. And no, it doesn’t make you weird. Just different. Different from everybody I’ve ever met..”
“Why are we wasting our time doing puzzles? It’s a childish hobby for bored people..” “You know that’s not true.” “Tell me you are not a bored rich guy.. Tell me I am not a childish housewife” “No that’s not what we are..” “You have much more important things to do. You are a man of ideas, why do you do this stupid puzzles?” “It’s a way to control the chaos–“ “That’s ridiculous” “Come on Mata you are missing the point.. Life is messy, it doesn’t make any God damn sense.. Sorry to break the news to you, life is just random.. Everything is just, random, my success, you here now; there is nothing we can do to control anything. But when you complete a puzzle, when you finish it, you know that you have made all the right choices. No matter how many wrong pieces you tried to fit into wrong places; at the very end, everything makes one perfect picture. What other pursuits can give you that kind of perfection? Faith? Ambition? Wealth…? Love…? No. Not even love can do that, Mata. Not completely..”
If one has watched all the previous eight seasons of American Horror Story, the latest season 9-1984, seems a little offbeat.
This season is kind of a ‘tribute’ to Hollywood’s slasher genre, it revolves around the camp Redwood that has been renovated and reopened by the ‘sole survivor’ (Margaret) of Mr. Jingles’ previous attack in the 60’s on the same camp. A group of youngsters go for volunteering at the camp to spend their summer away from the horrors of Los Angeles, because they believe that the serial killers get more active in summers. But later they realize that the camp is even bigger a mess than the city.
The story has some shockers (should I give the spoilers?), it has several places where the story smashes your assumed designations for victims and villains. So when we take Margaret for an overly religious Christian who keeps insisting that ‘God’s light helped her survive the attacks, and think of Mr. Jingles as an evil psycho who cannot be tamed, Donna-the enthusiastic psychologist-comes as hope for Mr. Jingles to find a cure, and changes everything. Similar to the earlier seasons, we get various shades of human nature. We get confused with the motives of each character but it later gets cleared to some extent.
It also leaves us with some bizarre plot-issues/holes.
Firstly, it’s very short, it makes one wonder if the story is even complete. Surely they have established a plot-line, but it leaves a lot of loose ends left for the viewers to wonder about. The short duration of the season limits the story to a very small and shallow ground. They introduce every character but leave their stories incomplete. Unlike earlier seasons, where every character has a past and is linked with every other character, 1984 fails to connect and tell stories of people in it.
Apart form one black character, the story is a little less inclusive, especially of the gender roles. We see a fluid sexual representation in all other seasons, while in 1984, we only see glimpses of Xavier’s struggle for identity-that too is shown as a desperate attempt for sustaining his acting career. Despite having 2 major male serial killers, the depiction of toxic masculinity was done through the male volunteers, destroying the alienation of the concept (showing you don’t have to be a psycho to exhibit toxic masculinity, it’s everywhere!)
If this were a usual AHS season, every character’s story would have grabbed our attention and we’d have swirled in the loops and connections all over the season. It doesn’t fit in as American Horror Story, because it doesn’t care about the details of plot lines other than that of the two serial killers (Benjamin Richter aka Mr. Jingles and Richard Ramirez aka The Night Stalker.) everyone else is almost a nobody.
Entering two serial killers in the same camp (Mr. Jingles and the Night-stalker) becomes very confusing especially when the real purpose behind Jingles’ first return gets revealed. Though the story propagates through Jingles’s gaze, the Night-stalker steals the limelight. And oh, all that blood(!)
Which brings to the question, what might be the need of a parallel plot for the Night stalker? Ramirez (who existed in real life) is shown to have a troubled childhood and an early exposure to crime, and that’s a fine depiction. But he is also shown to have some deal with the Satan (how convenient it is to blame the horrors done by humans on a virtual entity, isn’t it!); but the why, when and how, are unknown. Satan doesn’t even have a purpose in this season, unlike Apocalypse (season 8), in which he had a full-fledged plan and tried to execute it through Michael Langdon (and later through another Satan-baby in the epilogue). But in 1984, Satan is just, high. He, through Richard, revives any random dead-fellow that shows up (or dies down). It’s almost as if Richard acts as the HR for the Satan enterprises (!)
I won’t talk about Mr. Jingles, because that will give away everything, he’s literally the only prota/anta/whatever-gonist. Everyone else is either almost a nobody or revolves around him. But the mystery behind the blood curse in camp Redwood-though they have shown the history of it, linking it with Mr. Jingles’ childhood-remains a mystery, it doesn’t clear why it traps the souls inside the camp for the eternity and how to get out of it. I am unable to grasp how they got away with leaving it unanswered.
The curse points out another big mistake. The souls in the camp decide to trap Ramirez inside and keep killing him (because he keeps getting resurrected by Satan for no reason) to restrain him from catching Jingles’ son, who was safe in the outer world. So we see that Ramirez (or/and his soul) is inside the camp till 2019 (at least). Here we can see they’ve improvised, because the real life Richard Ramirez was immediately caught within a year, he was in jail from 1985-2013 and died of blood cancer while in custody. Going back to Season 5 (Hotel), we’ve already seen Ramirez’s soul attending the annual Devil’s night arranged by James Patrick March (in 2015). There he tells the Detective Lowe the real story. Since all the AHS seasons have a linear timeline, this information does not fit (how he managed to breakout the vigilance in the camp to visit the hotel, how he came back inside etc..), it changes everything because AHS shows strong links between seasons.
Also, the short role of Bruce (played by Dylan McDermott) who’s just another sadist who has set a target of killing x number of people, was annoying. He was not even needed in the story.. It was evident that he was in it just because he has been a major part of Murder House and Asylum (S1 and S2).
Then comes the 80’s nostalgia. It’s very clear from the name of the season that it’s mainly based in the 80’s and the season does capture the audience by quite a loud display of the iconic American capitalism and consumerism with multiple tools from that era like aerobics studios, camping site with all the slasher-gore, making everyone look extremely sex-deprived(!) and the Synth title track (it’s bad, lacks all the intensity) and rock music all over the season. But it becomes repetitive after a point and the whole season gets trapped in ‘the 80’s will never die’ narrative. It non-inclusively assumes that the viewer is all too familiar with the cultural dynamics, which doesn’t help a lot of them to connect with it. But I must say, it’s sick; or should I say the society itself is, if they really considered it glorious..(?)
But that’s not the only factor to blame. Another reason why it seems alien is that it’s too outdoor-ish. The very essence of American Horror Story is to present the ‘internal’ crisis and conflicts of Americans (or humans in general) using ghosts/supernatural tools. It uses all kinds and forms of external interventions, folklore, ghosts and whichever species one can imagine, to tell a story-a story of people, their emotions, struggles, bindings and interaction-to bring everyone’s internal horrors and pain alive in an actual form, and to show how trapped everyone is in their own personal hell (AHS S3-coven-has literally shown ‘personal hell’s of the characters). This doesn’t need the overly outdoor settee that has been used in 1984, it just leads to distraction.
Despite this, the female characters stand out in their individual performances and make a significant impact on the story. Donna, is an ambitious woman who almost directly triggered the 1984’s violence in camp Redwood. Initial perception of Donna is, a ruthless academician who doesn’t care about the human price to get her work done ‘in the name of science’. Why she was so obsessed with serial killers, gets clear after a peek into her past. Her story looks complete, but later we see a surprising switch in her character which changes the course of the story.
The relationship between Donna and Brooke’s also shows a drastic switch. Though Brooke is initially shown to be a submissive, shy girl, her experiences and alliance with Donna turn her into a ‘badass’.
But she wins us best in the season finale, where it’s revealed how she moved on and started a better life by seeing light from Mr. Jingles’s story, proving that inspiration can come from anywhere..
We don’t get to know much about Montana’s history, apart from the fact that she was probably fat-shamed in childhood and was seeking revenge for her brother’s murder (she held Brooke accountable). Initially she seems like a messed up individual; but her philosophy makes one wonder about social conventions of good and bad. She gives a very important insight when Trevor admits his love for her and tells her that he wanted to die there and spend the eternity trapped inside camp Redwood with her.
She says “It’s stupid. You don’t even know me, I’m not someone you can love. I’m not someone to die for, I’m a monster.” And when he asks her how she could say that, she tells him “My ex-boyfriend was Richard Ramirez.”
He gives a horrified expression to that and then she snaps, “Wow! I can’t believe you! I see how you look at me now; like I’m disgusting..
“Men do heinous shit all the time, (gives the triggering details), and you know what, they are treated as Rock-stars..! Fan-mails, movies, books, and research papers, articles.. And somehow, it’s always the mommy’s fault for not loving them.. Or the wife who couldn’t satisfy him.. Or the pretty girl who rejected him.. Why are we (women) always the scapegoats for sick men to blame their bullshit on? I didn’t make Richard evil, he was already messed up when I met him. F*** you all..” and she goes on with her monologue that’s relevant to the scene. Shows how twisted and biased the whole world has always been with women, may it be economy, entertainment or even scientific research & psychology!
This season also makes us wonder if the Americans were really that sick during that period, feeding on the horrors faced by others to thrive the economy. How else can we explain the way Margaret became a millionaire turning horrible experiences into tourist attractions? Or the way people worshiped the psychopaths and held ambitions to become killers like them? Or the way even after so many murders, all the musicians and fans were desperate to arrive at the camp for the program in the same week? Not to forget the extreme creativity in ideas of violence..
The only takeaway message would be- – -no there’s no takeaway message. Bye bye.
There is a huge excitement among Indian audience of Netflix in the first week of this month. After the Netflix India’s two original movies Love per Square foot and Lust stories, the first ever Netflix original Indian web series released on 6th July: Sacred Games, directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane and adapted by Varun Grover, Smita Singh and Vasant Nath from Vikram Chandra’s thriller novel having the same name.
The significance of this series had already started building up from the trailer. Firstly because of the cast-Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, along with the toppings of Neeraj Kabi and Marathi big shots Jitendra Joshi, Girish Kulkarni all together in the same place!-and secondly, because it is the first Indian Netflix original thrillerseries, curiosity was at is peak. From the trailer (I haven’t read the novel), the plot looked simple-same old story of a gangster’s rise and fall; a rather monotonous one, dealt quite a lot with in Bollywood. But while/after watching it, one can’t resist to get attached to it and want more of it. Its influence thrives per episode, and in the end of the season we are left with dumbstruck awe. It breaks a lot of stereotypes, which makes it a unique creation.
The season is entirely based in Mumbai. Saif Ali Khan, as the protagonist police inspector Sartaaj Singh who is honest but not very successful in investigations, is presented in an entirely different role which stands out from his usual carrier surface, apart from his notable contributions in movies such as Rangoon and Kalakandi. The so-called antagonist, Ganesh Gaitonde is portayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who has not only done an extraordinary job of acting, but also has owned the series in the way he says-”Kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi bhagwan hai”!. He tells us (actually, Sartaaj) his story in the entire season. He gives Sartaaj a big mystery to solve, which has a long list of sub questions-what is their connection? What’s going to happen in the next 25 days? Why and how was he betrayed? Was he scared? Where was he in the last 15-20 years? Why his third Baap is so important? and so on.. The episodes solve some of these and add a few new mysteries thereby making the viewers stick to their screens. It becomes interesting and thrilling because of his death in the very first episode. In each of the episodes we get introduced to different mythological terms–after which the episodes are named-from Mahabharat withrespect to the characters in this story, which is a good change from the bombardment of foreign mythological series.
Four women play an important role in Ganesh’s life choices. First, his mother (Vibhawari Deshpande)-though for a very short duration-has a significant impact leading him to the first ever crime he committed. His infatuation with Kukoo (Kubra Sait) despite her secrets, leads him to the rivalry with Sulaiman Isa and his gang. His wife Subhadra (Rajshri Deshpande) has a small but major part in his life, her death makes him murder 80 random innocent people, which fuels the riots in 1992 and leads him to suffer in jail. Kantabaai was Ganesh’s strong acquaintance and a sort of guide in Mumbai (portrayed by Shalini Vatsa). All these women rise bright and strong, and even dominate over Gaitonde’s being. Whereas Sartaaj Singh is initially isolated and distorted by his divorce. He eventually evolves as a person bold enough to even risk his job by diving deep into Gaitonde’s case. Saif Ali Khan has done his homework well for this character so it doesn’t, at any point, look forced.
One of the appealing features of this season was supposed to be Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte)-the RAW agent-who is shown continuously fighting the demons of patriarchy in the line of work and the tragic closure of the case of her missing father. Looking at the strong female characters Radhika has portrayed earlier, we might develop some expectations from Anjali, her being a female RAW agent. She is ‘shown’ to have been complaining that female agents, despite their abilities, are forced to do desk work rather than field work. At the same time, she is portrayed to be quite inadequate for her job-not vigilant enough-making her death look dumb. Whether it is the requirement of the character or not is another matter; but RAW certainly trains the agents well, so it’s not convincing enough. Same with Constable-and a friendly colleague of Sartaaj-Katekar’s (Jitendra Joshi) death, it looks slightly out-of-place (not so smart); but along with his family, he makes a significant presence in the season. His journey from the cop who is unenthusiastic about the missing Muslim boy to the cop who tells his wife, ”आज खूप दिवसांनी खऱ्या पोलिसासारखं वागलो (Today, I acted as a true policeman after a long time)” with satisfaction, is overwhelming.
Sartaaj and Ganesh Gaitonde, both are not originally from Mumbai, but still want to cherish it in their own ways. Ganesh’s character might remind us of the Joker from Batman, but later we realise that he is more than just a villain or anti-hero. They have done a nice job in showing the time evolution of Ganesh’s spirit, thought process and ambitions; but apart from that, we don’t get much visual input about what he is and does (i.e., details about his work and contribution to the world around him and his rivalries-which were important because he is a gangster). He talks big things through the narratives but looks idle except for the sex and killing scenes. Also, his contribution in maintaining the spirit of his gang crews is left up to viewers’ imagination. But in a way it helps in highlighting the psychology behind his choices and their consequences-the thing that’s worked out brilliantly through the narratives by Nawazuddin-without idolizing the antagonist. We also get a look at the history (of four decades) from his point of view. It is quite challenging to construct a fictional character taking part in actual history without molding it and constantly switching from flashbacks to present, but the directors and writers are successful in making it look natural.
The interesting fact is, Ganesh Gaitonde is a Brahmin by birth (with a pundit father having low self-esteem who does nothing but begs and a mother with extra marital affair-family background that is never shown for a Brahmin character in Indian fiction) and knows exactly how to meddle with and manipulate people’s religious sentiments, or if not, he doesn’t take additional efforts to sort the mess he made.
Whether the actual villain on a greater scale is Khanna Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) or Malcom Murad (Luke Kenny) is an intelligent question. Guruji resembles the string of (Hindu) manipulators who trap people in the vicious mesh of religion. Malcom is a cold blooded and impassive assasin. Their connection with each other and with Gaitonde and his network is yet to be presented in details (their desription in season 1 is vague). So it is going to be a thrilling experience to see how these two characters evolve and use Gaitonde as a pawn leading him to his own-and possibly, the city’s too-destruction (all this will be decided only when the next season arrives!). The series would bloom if they elaborate the ‘sacred’ games between these parties. They released all the 8 episodes at the same time, so the viewers can do nothing but wonder about the next season till it comes; because the end of season 1 has put up a new list of questions!
Neeraj Kabi-DCP Parulkar-has efficiently portrayed a selfish and partial character. Girish Kulkarni, as usual, does a fantastic job even in the small duration of his role, to show the journey from a local bootlicking political aspirant to a gluttonous Home Minister. One more big difference is, the characters are not talking in Hindi forcibly-they talk in their respective languages (Punjabi/Marathi) among their respective peeps. This, along with the frank swearing helps in enriching the series’ authenticity and grip. After the epics like Masaan and Gangs of Wasseypur, watching Sacred Games is exhilarating. Those who berate it for containing inappropriate language and scenes, are possibly not evolved enough as sapiens to understand that these are the least important among all other positive elements of the series.
The overall experience is wonderful and such experiments are needed to be done more often. I’d say, everyone-who is bored to watch Indian serial drama and who is bored with foreign crime drama with hero-antihero crisis (Sherlock-Moriarty, Hannibal-Graham, Batman-Joker etc..)-should watch a good work of fiction like this.
PS: The translation into English, and the subtitles in Hindi are in-depth..! (In Hindi, they are very elaborate in letting us know when there is ‘कबूतरों की गुटरगूँ’, ‘रहस्यमय संगीत’, ‘रोमांचकारी संगीत’ or ‘रहस्यमय संगीत जारी है’; and in English the cursing seems as natural as it was in Hindi..!)
Recently, I watched the newly released movie in theater-Jurassic Park: The fallen kingdom. Overall, it was a good movie, technically and otherwise. The usual plot of any Jurassic Park/world movie is almost the same, someone gets greedy and wants to use genetic technology and the dinosaurs for some purpose. For example, John Hammond wanted to create something very amazing with his money and influence so he built the theme park to astonish the world by having living dinosaurs in it, the next part has his son bringing out the T-rex for selling it to a park, the third part deals with adrenaline junkie kids to visit the island for adventure. Then there is ‘Jurassic world’ series, where the park is rebuilt and we see two parties- 1] park’s founding body who thinks that dinosaurs are just another toy to show in the amusement park & 2] The military who wants to create dinosaur species to hunt given target. In the end, everyone learns his lesson in the end in his own way.
The latest sequel talks about one more problem-the volcano on Isla Numblar getting more and more active, and having the potential to burn the island completely which would cause the elimination of all the dinosaur species from earth (once again). This starts a conflict, whether to let mother nature rule (let the dinosaurs die) or to meddle in her business (and save them by displacing them to a new island). Immediately there are two groups, those who want to save the dinosaurs and those who don’t want to take any additional actions. There is a third hidden group of the opportunists, who deceive the first group to track the dinosaurs on the island and capture them for experimentation and military purposes.
There is one incident in the movie where, from the island, military men rescue as many dinosaur species as possible and take them on their military ship. The time is critical and the volcano is on the peak of destruction. Everyone reaches on board and suddenly they all hear an excruciating sound, the sad cries of a giant Diplodocus (sort of), who was left behind, standing alone on the deck. As if she was calling them to come back for her, or saying her goodbyes, no one would know. No one could do anything. They didn’t return for her, maybe because she was just a harmless herbivore, who took too much space, and couldn’t be a killer. In seconds the lava erupted and poor dinosaur, who was once the crown jewel of the park and the epic magnanimous creature of the planet, was embraced by the flames. This triggers something in the viewers, that they can describe with no locution.
The senate witnesses a debate between first two groups-whether or not to save isla numblar’s dinosaurs from volcanic eruption? Tough question, because it starts its own list of questions-Who has more right to live than others? Who is the better one? Who has the right to decide that someone is better than others? Who gets the authority to decide everyone’s net worth? Is there any measure, any unit to describe that? How many units is good and how many is bad? What is good and what is bad?
This reminded me of another movie, ‘The Oxford Murders’. In that, the protagonist-Martin, a university student, unravels the mystery of his landlady’s murder, while being fooled by his idol-Arthur Seldom-who is actually, trying to cover the murderer because of some guilt from past. Seldom makes Martin believe that a serial killer is challenging them by giving them a mathematical problem. But his puzzles are used as a cover by a desperate father of a seven year old girl in need of a lung transplant and he murders next few (who are already on the verge of dying). He plans to blow up the school-bus of neurodivergent kids and use one of their lungs for his daughter’s transplant. He dies in the ordeal, but the curious thing is, why did he think it’s appropriate to take lives of those kids? Because their consciousness was developed in a different way from that of ours? Does it make them insignificant? The French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (on which the movie Snowpiercer is based) shows the struggle-to live on the same footage, in the ice age caused by a failed global warming experiment, done by humans of course-between the high and low classes of humans-not caring about the whereabouts of other elements of the planet’s biological sector. It, therefore, indirectly shows the narcissistic human nature-how little we care about others, may they be other humans or creatures.
There are many movies and fiction shows that show similar line of existential crisis. It’s funny how the production houses for such movies (which are mostly Hollywood, Marvel or Warner Bros, etc.) keep their own countries at the center of the decision making body in the movie and still make money on an international level. Even in kid’s cartoon, Doraemon shows Japanese earth’s representative in outer space, the Potterverse mentions the magical population from only Europe. This is of course obvious, everyone favors their own troupe. We naturally feel safe in a familiar environment with people we know. This natural instinct-a characteristic feature representing our animalistic lineage-is interpreted by human population as a license to berate the unfamiliar.
In his book Sapiens-A brief history of mankind, Yuval Noah Harari has given account of the socio-psycho-biological evolution of mankind. There were more than six species under the category of ‘Humans’ (under the genus Homo) one of which are us, Homo sapiens. In his attempt to ‘answer what made the others decline making us the only human species’, he describes the evolution of cognitive function of Homo sapiens – which is nothing but an extremely ableist narrative that gives a free pass to all the above cases of “selectivism”.
We are supposed to be cooperating with everyone of us, every single element in the world is important and deserves basic dignity, and therefore, the right to consent. We are no one to make decisions for others. If everyone understands this, it’d be easier for us to decide what to do with the dinosaurs in Isla Numblar.
We always hear complains about the absurd lyrics that many film songs have. It would be considered alright if it’s just for comic entertainment, but if they (and they do) have a significant influence on half of the population-men-and make it harass the other half, then it’s a problematic situation. Two videos from AIB- The Bollywood Diva Song and Harassment Through the Ages-correctly point it out that Bollywood songs (and movies) are not helping in uplifting the dignity and honor of women. While we have movies like Kahani, Pink, Queen, Margarita with a Straw, Highway, Mirch Masala, depicting independent strong women, we also have embarrassing songs with lyrics like Saree ke fall sa, Achchi baatein kar li bahot…Ab karunga tere saath gandi baat, Hai tujhpe right mera, or hontho pe na dil me han hoinga, and many more.
Film music/songs are listened by almost everyone on phones or radio. Anyone can be seen dancing on them in a party. It is often stated that the products of Indian film Industry are responsible for the objectification of women and are causing men to have a sense of false male ego. It can be easily seen in the portrayal of a female protagonist in almost any movie-it’s either as Abla Naari or a slut-there is no in between.
It is not an exaggeration, one can refer to the detailed discussion on this in the famous Indian show Satyamev Jayate. In 2015, Sandesh Baliga, an Indian man residing in Australia was accused of stalking, harassing two women through disturbing messages, and self declaring himself as their boyfriend. In defense, his lawyer stated that Baliga’s behaviour is heavily influenced by the Bollywood movies according to which, it’s quite normal, and is a part of his culture. Tasmania court declared him ‘not guilty’.
It’s no secret that women’s value as a human being is still a big question-mark in India despite the bombardment of ‘salute to Indian women from ISRO’ messages, or posts showing women ‘progressing’ in various fields. Still, it’s a great shame that Indian culture still has the potential to be used in defending harassing women even on an international level.
Recently, Thomas Reuters Foundation carried a survey concluding that India is the most unsafe country for women. Government of India, on the other hand, declined the reliability of this-on the same page of the newspaper where another news of a Canadian tourist getting raped in Delhi was given in a small column, irony! Actually, in a country where the celebs are worshipped as deities (no matter how corrupt they are) and where people can go on the rampage and burn school-buses just because they don’t like the content of a movie, the film industry should be more careful about what it shows about women. Maybe it’s too busy in the fight for freedom of speech, to care about women’s upliftment(!).
One from an older generation would like to argue that our youth is badly influenced by western music and films. They would simply state, ‘The films and songs were so meaningful. The audience were elites and had a taste, so the songs were based on classical music,’ or sometimes argue, ‘the youngsters are ignoring the treasures of Swadesi Classical music, which is the root cause of poor level of film songs’. These ‘elites’ are one of the reasons behind making classical music non relatable to today’s youth. They divide and discriminate between ‘classical’ music and music, where actually art should have no boundaries-there can be genres, but none is better than others. But then someone occasionally makes movies like Balgandharva, Katyar Kaaljat ghusli etc, and the elites become happily satisfied, the main issue remaining unaddressed. Now, how is this relevant to the topic of film song lyrics that was being addressed? If we have a look at the current setup of a classical mehfil (concert), it’ll get cleared.
Considering Hindustani classical music, the vital element of any Hindustani classical program is a Bandish, or cheez, a song having 4-6 lines divided into Sthayi and Antara. The singer beautifully elaborates the words inside the boundaries of a particular raaga, and at the same time, describes the raaga in the boundaries of the words. If usually the classical singer is singing the same lines for at least an hour or two, then it is really important to do some analysis on a typical bandish. There seems to be a traditional set of such bandish which were written at least 800 years ago, considering the era defining the revolutionary progression of Hindustani classical music-around 11th or 12th century or even earlier. Initially Indian classical music had more mechanical structure-Dhrupad–which contained purely deity-based verses, and music was just a means of worship. Afterwards, the north side of the country got under the influence of Muslim rulers-Sultans, Nawabs, Mughals, Nizam, etc. thereby influencing the art and culture. Indian artists embraced this because it allowed the artists to, for the first time, express themselves through the Khyal (literally meaning ‘thought’) gaayki -this sounds similar to the inspiration behind the famous painting ‘Monalisa’. The bandish were now sung in the khyal and were structured accordingly. We absorbed more elements like Thumri, Dadra, etc. which, in spite of being of only semi-classical form, are now a relentless and inexorable piece of the Hindustani classical concert.
Currently, very few bandish are based on some common theme relatable to everyone, like nature, etc. Hindustani classical bandishismostly based on either Radha & Krishna or the love of some unknown woman who is desperate to seek attention of her intended. One such example is a famous bandish in raaga Hameer:
Sthayi- Langarawaa kaise ghar jaaon, Sun paave mori saas nanadiya, Chhad de mohe dheeth | (How can I go home now? My in-laws will admonish me if they hear about this-‘this’, is explained in the antara)
Antara- Hoon jo chali panaghatava thaado, Kaun bahaane pyaare balama, Cheen lai mori sees gagariya, Barajori tihaare (sundaravaa) || (I had gone to fill water near the river, and my beloved, being naughty, snatched the pot from my head and was aggressing me-barajori could mean harassment, but it sounds welcome since it’s by husband)
One more famous bandish in a similar mood, which is quite famous, is from the raaga Puriya Dhanashree,
Sthayi- Paayaliya jhanakaar more, Jhanana jhanana baaje jhanakaar | (my anklets are so noisy, they make sound -jhanana jhanana)
Antara- Piya samajhaaun samajhat naahin, Saas nanad mori degi gaari || (My beloved is not being patient no matter how much I explain that if I move out of the house, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (saas-nanad) will listen and they will curse me.)
Both of these lyrics portray a woman who is immensely frightened of her in-laws. And there is an overeager or over demanding husband who likes to keep her in trouble. This woman can’t even go anywhere without getting scolded. Many bandish from many ragas have the same words with little bit of rearrangement. Many bandish lyrics show poor sense of poetry. There are a number of bandish where the woman is facing atrocities like in this bandish in raaga Todi:
Sthayi-Langar kaankariyaa ji naa maaro, mora angavaa laagi jaaye| (Please don’t throw stones-kankariya-at me, I’ll get hurt)
Antara- Sun paave mori saas nanadiyaa, daure daure ghar aave (if my in-laws hear about this, I’ll have to run from here to go home)
Also, some bandish also portray a woman who has extremely low self esteem, for example, in raaga Malkans:
Sthayi-Main piya sang lad pachtaayi re, bhayi akal ki kaani re| (I heavily regret arguing with my beloved. Oh I was such a brainless fool!-‘Akal ki Kaani’)
Antara- Tadap tadap ke giri se zuke, jaise meen bin paani re|| (I am suffering badly, like a fish without water.)-Arguments happen all the time, why does this lady feel terrible enough to curse her intelligence? It might be because it was against the rules meant for women to speak their mind and have a different opinion.
A similar bandish says,
Sthayi- Maan le mori baat saiyyan, beet gayi jug, naa maane saiyyan|(Here, the man is somehow unhappy and gone away, it’s been ages)
Antara- Begi begi aao levo daras, Tarasat jiya mora|(she is desperately convincing him to come again, and her soul is suffering without seeing him.)
She is portrayed to be having nothing else sensible enough to do. And it is not very surprising in India that woman is not supposed to do anything other than pleasing the man in her life and always depend on a man in the first place. So in almost all the bandish lyrics, a woman is depicted as someone desperate to please her man. The man, however, is highly notorious and is extremely ignorant of this woman. She has nothing interesting to do. Looking at the ratio of male and female classical singers (males being dominant), it is highly ironic to see
Male singers singing all this on behalf of that helpless woman, and
Female singers singing these lyrics, not caring about the hidden insult in them.
We live in the twenty-first century and sing a bandish written a thousand years back. In the theory of classical music, Khyal is defined as the thoughts (of the singer) described by the singer. So if it is supposed to be the singer’s own Khyal, looking at these bandish lyrics,is it really his/her own thought? It’s a tragedy to have an entire regime of art, based on fake assumptions. Also, they have huge influence of a single community and their deities, so it’s not really relatable to every group of people in the country (apart from it not being relatable to half of the population-women).
The kingdom of Thumri, has slightly more frank depiction of so-called human emotions-mainly love. It takes all the freedom to break the boundaries of raaga and explore further, just like the courtesans-Tawaifs-who left the boundaries (as well as their right to be honored-whether they left those boundaries, or they were made to leave them, is a question yet to be answered). It is superficially stated that the rulers of the medieval period encouraged thumri and took it to the mainstream art-both dance and music. Earlier, thumri was being performed by the courtesans-who were kathak dancers as well-along with dance (bol-baant). It evolved mostly in Lucknow in the court of Nawab Waajid Ali Shah.
Soon, the sophisticated elites of classical music realised the elegance of this genre, and a new version of thumri arose and evolved in Varanasi in the late 19th century, which was independent of dance, and much more slow-paced (bol-banav). Thumri got honorary place in the Hindustani classical music, at the cost of the decline in the grace of tawaifs-who actually originated the art-causing their fall into consequences as bad as prostitution. Curious species would notice that in the old era, women dominated in thumri, but classical music was dominated by men. And women performing thumri didn’t have much honorary life-as we’ll get to see in the upcoming biopic of Gauhar Jaan-and women weren’t encouraged in the genre of classical music (one could conclude from this that women performing any kind of music were looked down upon anyway). Now the picture has changed with time. Now we have both male and female thumri singers in almost same ratio. Some examples of the thumri that is sung today:
Raag Sindhura: Baalam tere jhagde mein rain gayi (oh dearest, you have wasted the entire night in the fight(argument)). Sometimes it is only a single line.
And the famous one in raag Tilak Kamod,
Sthayi- Neer bharan kaise jaoon sakhi ab, Dagar chalat mo seh karat raar mein (O my friend, how do I go to fill water? On the way he (Krishna) teases me).
Antara- Eiso chanchal chapal hat nat khat maan, Tana kahu ki baat, Vinati karat mein gayi re haar ab (He is clever naughty, dramatic and very stubborn, doesn’t listen to anybody. I am tired of requesting him not to tease me).
And so on.. So basically, all the thumris have the same essence-woman stays in trouble. It is a wonder how singers don’t have any problem while singing this, while expressing the khyal-emotions and thoughts-which completely cut all the hopes for the upliftment of women. Yet we blame Bollywood for writing offensive lyrics, while even the original, ‘classical’ art doesn’t allow a woman to grow out of her old under-confident, suppressed form. It is often stated that the skeleton of Indian film music is classical music. Everyone who wants to be associated with Indian film music, is advised to learn the basics of classical music, which of course includes the same bandish, though in its basic form. It would not be absurd to say that along with the basic skeleton, the practice of humiliating women through lyrics has also passed on from classical to film music.
All this clearly indicates that an update of some kind is extremely important in this sphere of art. One would come with an argument that these bandish’ preserve the old tradition and culture. But we already have a rich kingdom of folk arts for the preservation of culture and tradition. Folk artists from different caste and crews have already been assigned this task by the customs, and they are struggling to keep up with it while wondering about staying alive (but thanks to the bits of support and encouragement from AIR, reality TV shows and Cultural Ministry). Some make a (reasonably valid) point that in classical music, the notes (sur) and vocals (gaayki) are dominant over lyrics. Sure, words are not as dominant here as they are in gazal-where poetry is at its peak. This would have made ‘Tarana’s more popular. But khyal-gaayki is still intact, so we still need proper words to elaborate the raga-so it can be vaguely said that words in classical music are like salt in food, their presence doesn’t count but absence makes it tasteless.
Classical music should be regularly assessed, scrutinized, improvised and updated. It should embrace a systematic ‘research and development’ culture. Those who look at music just for entertaining audience and earning money, or those who make excuses like, ‘Music is a language in itself, once the singer enters the raaga he forgets everything, even words! Then does it really matter?’ cannot make a change. Public often considers artists to be crazy or self centered and many times they actually are, and show irresponsible behavior towards the society. Artists are an important part of a civilization, they hold the capacity to start great revolution just through their art. Any form of art they perform or present, should have a conscience and they should continuously improvise their art to encourage the progression of the society to a better condition.