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Welcome to my Film Conversations

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As I write this, I hope to be on the verge of a relationship that would last. I want to take this plunge into the sea of good, bad and great films. I am happy drowning in this sea. In fact, I am terrified that if I am rescued this time, I may not take this plunge again. And by drowning here I hope to discover the films better and to remain afloat in the sea of cinema.

I thank my readers for taking the plunge into the lake of my words. Happy Drowning! 🙂

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Viceroy’s House by Gurinder Chadha

As I walked in the India premiere of Gurinder Chadha’s film on Partition, I wasn’t too excited about it. I had seen the trailer and it didn’t seem very enticing. I came out drenched in emotions and satisfied.

Viceroy’s House is the India-Pakistan partition story told from the point of view of British India’s last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten’s house in Delhi. Yes, from the point of view of a house. The story is not just about how Lord Mountbatten carried out his regime in India, it’s also about his wife and daughter. It’s also about the careful affair between his attendant Jeet Kumar and Lady Edwina Mountbatten’s attendant Aalia. It’s also about other people in staff that worked in the house. And it’s also about the Partition of India, whose destiny was locked in Viceroy’s House as well, or was it? Gurinder Chadha admitted after the film’s screening that she chose to narrate the story from Viceroy’s perspective because of the budget constraints. However, I feel this may have been a blessing in disguise. For the film’s treatment makes the old partition story seem fresh and interesting.

The film begins with the preparations of Lord Mountbatten and his family’s arrival to Viceroy’s house, which is Rashtrapati Bhawan in the independent India. Jeet Kumar and Aliya, who have been in love and apart for years since the time when Jeet tended to her father in Jail, are appointed their new duties that would allow them to see each other quite often. Aalia is the reluctant one in this inter-faith romance as she is promised to a certain Aasif who has been away for years fighting for British in the 2nd World War.

The new Viceroy and his family fly into India with noble intentions. They want to hand the power to Indians as smoothly as possible. When they arrive at their new residence, they are greeted by a host of crowds on the streets and several hundred men and women in the staff of the residence. There is awe evident in Indians, there is skepticism as well and then there is miscommunication between the new masters and their servants. All of it is interesting at the very least.

At the post-screening interview, Gurinder Chadha also said that she had to use shots from other documentaries due to the budget constraints. Again, I really liked the placement of those shots. I feel they gave the story an authentic feel. She has also shot some of the iconic scenes in the film like the old documentaries. I really enjoyed these shots. They made me feel as if I was really watching Lord Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah.

Mountbatten family’s time in India makes for great storytelling. While Lord Mountbatten meets Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi, Lady Mountbatten tries to understand the root problems of Indians and empathizes with them. It is the romance between Jeet and Aalia that often feels indulgent. It’s a little hard to feel for this personal conflict in the larger scheme of things, even if it’s connected to the larger conflict of the film.

But what keeps this ship sailing and even soaring are the performances of all the lead players. The empathy in Lord and Lady Mountbatten and their daughter is sincere. I have never seen a more enthusiastic Nehru in a film. Jinnah is much too outspoken for his reputation. Neeraj Kabi disappears into the skin of Gandhi, so does Gillian Anderson in Edwina Mountbatten. There is a scene where Lady Mountbatten can be seen stealing glances at the determined Nehru.

A.R. Rahman fills the tragic visuals captured by the D.O.P Ben Smithard with his heartwarming music. One shot of the film that has especially stayed with me is from the opening scene where the camera pans from Rajpath to the building we have known as the Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House). And then the camera tilts up to reveal the Union Jack flag. It felt like a great way of exposition.

Anand by Hrishikesh Mukherjee

In his interviews with film directors, Rajeev Masand asks them about the film that changed their lives. Since no Rajeev Masand cares about the film that changed my life, I asked myself. After some time of consideration I realized that if there is one film that actually affected my life, it was Anand.

It was in the first class of the Film Appreciation basket course during my first semester in engineering that I saw Anand the first time with an adult’s sensibility. It moved me so much, and it was the first time a film moved me. I realized the power of cinema, and I realized that filmmaking could be something I would want to do.

Anand begins with the director’s dedication to the city of Bombay and to Raj Kapoor. The opening credits play along with the landscapes of the city of Mumbai, then known as Bombay. The film opens with a literary event where Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) is being given a literary award for his first novel, Anand. In his speech, Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee confesses that Anand is a character from his life he had met in the days when he had given up on the profession of the doctor and felt helpless at his inability to save lives of the poor.

Fifteen minutes into the film we are informed that the main character of the film, Anand has lymphosarcoma of the intestine and is coming to Bombay for his treatment. Dr. Bhaskar barely looking at Anand’s X-Ray proclaims that he’ll live for six months at best. Enters Anand like a storm, as Bhaskar Banerjee later describes in his diary. He starts blabbering and rambling. He jokes about everything, including his disease, and ends up irritating Bhaskar. To which Anand reacts by saying, “Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi.” A life should be big, not long. Just before the end of the scene after Anand exits, we find sympathy in Dr. Bhaskar’s tone as he talks to his friend Dr. Kulkarni about Anand’s disease. So just the first scene with Anand starts bringing a transition in Dr. Bhaskar from being cold and indifferent to empathetic.

“Zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi.” This one line becomes the anthem of the film from here on as Anand leads us into a story where we head towards a hopeless end and yet find ourselves completely engaged in the film. Like Bhaskar says at the beginning of the film, Anand likes to make friends. With his magic, he turns the cynical Dr. Bhaskar into Babu Moshai, he becomes the brother to Dr. Kulkarni’s wife, Suman. He turns a matchmaker to bring together the shy lovers, Bhaskar-Renu. He becomes a son to Renu’s mother. He becomes the chela of Issa Bhai, who owns a drama company. Basically, there is nothing Anand can’t do, except overcoming his disease. But then even when Suman takes him to Moni Baba, who can supposedly cure one of any disease, he asks Baba to bless him with a happy mind that makes everyone happy, instead of the body that’s dying anyway.

But then even Anand is only a mortal. He lost his parents to India-Pakistan Partition, migrated to India, was disappointed by the relatives who treated him like a burden. He loved a girl in Delhi but probably left her because of his disease. Then he came to Bombay and fell in love with the city and its people.

Anand is written, directed and edited by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. It is arguably his best film. However, after revisiting the film a lot of times, I’ve come to find a lot of Gulzar in the film. Gulzar is credited for dialogue and lyrics of the film, and anyone who is remotely aware of his work can identify him in the text. There are countless great, memorable dialogues in the film, and its album, composed by Salil Choudhary is still as popular as well.

Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan were the two emerging stars at that time. While Khanna already had a big hit in Aradhana, Bachchan was just starting out. Both of them went onto have great careers after Anand, but their comradery in Anand is one of the most memorable in the Indian films. The climax of the film is one of the most iconic scenes ever. Personally, it is the most emotional scene for me. I get emotional watching it, every time I watch the film. But then follow the last words of the film, the most fulfilling words. The words of Gulzar, in the voice of Bachchan:

“Anand mara nahin, Anand marte nahin” 

Anand didn’t die, Anand doesn’t die