Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ghalib in Hindi Films

I realize that the title of this post can be a little misleading. This is not about Mirza Ghalib, the 1954 film by Sohrab Modi that had Bharat Bhushan and Suraiya in lead roles. I am talking about how Ghalib’s poetry has been adapted in Hindi films. Again, not Ghalib’s ghazals that were used in that film., but about adaptation of his poetry.

While searching for rare Lata Mangeshkar melodies from the 40s and 50s, I came across a ghazal from the 1950 film Aadhi Raat, composed by Husnalal Bhagatram. The song went:

दिल ही तो है तड़प गया, दर्द से भर न आए क्यूँ
रोएंगे हम हज़ार बार कोई हमें सताए क्यूँ

रोते हुए गुज़ार दी जिसने तमाम ज़िन्दगी
उसको हँसी से काम क्या कोई उसे हँसाए क्यूँ

ऐ मेरे बदनसीब दिल देख ये तेरी भूल है
तू तो ख़िज़ाँ का फूल है तुझ पे बहार आए क्यूँ

आँख में आँसू दिल में ग़म जीने को जी रहे हैं हम
मौत से पहले ज़िन्दगी ग़म से निजात पाए क्यूँ

Dil hi to hai tadap gaya dard se bhar na aaye kyuN
RoeNge hum hazaar baar koi hameiN sataye kyuN

Rote hue guzaar di jisne tamam zindagi
Usko haNsi se kaam kya koi use haNsaye kyuN

Ae mere badnaseeb dil dekh ye teri bhool hai
Tu to khizaaN ka phool hai tujh pe bahar aaye kyuN

AaNkh meiN aaNsoo dil meiN gham jine ko ji rahe haiN hum
Maut se pehle zindagi gham se nijaat paye kyuN

Just read the opening and the closing couplets: they are clearly ‘inspired’ by Ghalib’s famous ghazal:

दिल ही तो है न सन्ग-ओ-ख़िश्त दर्द से भर न आए क्यूँ
रोएंगे हम हज़ार बार कोई हमें सताए क्यूँ

क़ैद-ए-हयात-ओ-बन्द-ए-ग़म अस्ल में दोनो एक हैं
मौत से पहले आदमी ग़म से निजात पाए क्यूँ

Dil hi to hai na sang-o-khisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyuN
RoeNge hum hazaar baar koi hameiN sataye kyuN

Qaid-e-hayaat-o-band-e-gham asl meiN dono ek haiN
Maut se pehle aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyuN

I don’t know much about what the credits of this song said when it was released, so I am not sure if one can call it plagiarism. However, it is quite clear the seemingly tough words from the original were ‘toned down’ to ensure wider comprehension. Personally, I feel that by changing the words, the intent of the original is completely lost, especially in the last couplet. The philosophical mood and existential angst of the original got transformed into a very trite depiction of personal sorrow.

Interestingly, the song is written by Asad Bhopali, who shares his pen name – Asad – with the great Mirza Ghalib.

The brings me to another song, where one of Ghalib’s couplet was modified to form the mukhda for an otherwise original, and, if I might say, very evocative poetry. I’m talking about Gulzar’s Dil DhooNdhta Hai from Mausam (1975). The modification of the opening couplet was quite significant. Consider this:

दिल ढूँढता है फिर वही फ़ुर्सत के रात दिन (गुलज़ार)
जी ढूँढता है फिर वही फ़ुर्सत कि रात दिन… (ग़ालिब)

Dil DhooNdhta Hai Phir Wohi Fursat Ke Raat Din (Gulzar)
Jee DhooNdhta Hai Phir Wohi Fursat Kih Raat Din… (Ghalib)

There are two differences in the above line. Jee (जी) was changed to Dil (दिल), apparently on Madan Mohan’s suggestion. This does not change the meaning much, but let’s look at the other modification. Gulzar got rid of the enjambement that Ghalib’s verse had. Translated into English:

The Heart searches for days and nights of leisure (Gulzar)
The heart searches for leisure, so that day and night…. (Ghalib)

Ghalib’s she’r would not make sense without the next line, which is:

बैठे रहें तसव्वुर-ए-जानाँ किये हुए

Baithe raheN tassavur-e-jaanaN kiye huye
Translation: ...Keep sitting with the thoughts of the beautiful ones

And that is what makes Ghalib’s verse so beautiful. In true mushaira tradition, it leaves the first line open-ended so that you eagerly wait for the next line. That kind of anticipation is missing from Gulzar’s version as the first line is syntactically and structurally complete.

However, Gulzar’s modification works well in the context of the song, where his character is off on a vacation and sitting with the thoughts of the beautiful ones (तसव्वुर-ए-जानाँ) is not the only thing he is seeking, as the antaras (stanzas) of the song reveal. He’s looking for leisure when he could sit with the thoughts of the beautiful ones OR laze around and enjoy the winter sun OR sleep on roof tops on a hot summer night….

So here you get two instances, one where simplification makes the poetry seem pedestrian and another where modification adds another dimension.

I am looking out for more such adaptations of Ghalib’s poetry …

Saturday, January 12, 2008

14th Star Screen Awards: Unintentionally Funny

The first awards for Hindi Films in 2007 - 14th Star Screen Awards - have been announced, setting the stage for a jamboree of farcical film awards in the coming months. Enough has been written about how film awards in India are biased, corrupt, redundant, serve no purpose, etc. etc. But I wonder why no one – I mean those who give away these awards – even tries to change that perception and build at least a modicum of credibility. No, I’m not asking for more transparency in the process. I don’t even care if they invent new categories just to please everyone. All I’m asking for is at least a credible list of nominees and a consistency in the definition of each category. Does anyone even care?

I wouldn't go into each and every category of the 14th Star Screen Awards, but there are a few categories where the list of winners left me speechless!

The most ridiculous nomination, in my opinion, was for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Female) category. Usually, each category has 4-5 nominees, but what would you say if a category has 19 nominations!! And 16 of them walk away with the award!! That's exactly what happened: 'Chak De Girls' was one of the nominees for this award and won!! So be prepared for the nominations in 2008, when 'Akbar's Army' in Jodha Akbar is sure to emerge victorious. That said, I’m still curious as to why the Chak De Girls didn't get nominated for the Best Actor (Female) category. If you count them as one, they were certainly the female leads in the film?

Then I come to the Best Actor in a Negative Role category. Does this mean that you can get the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor award only if you play a positive role? And what is negative anyway? The winner of this award was Pankaj Kapoor for The Blue Umbrella. His was a negative character? Just because he stole a poor kid’s umbrella in the film for purely selfish reasons? Then what was Guru Kant Desai of Guru… he was not only selfish, but largely unrepentant till the end. Yet Abhishek Bachchan, who played Guru, got nominated for the Best Actor Category and Pankaj Kapoor, whose was the best lead performance of the year, had to settle for the less prestigious 'Negative' Category. If you want to have a separate category for 'negative' roles, at least have some consistency!

Ditto for the Best Actor in a Comic Role category. You get witty one-liners to mouth, and lo, you're relegated to the Comic Role category! Who in his right mind would call Irrfan Khan's role in Life in a Metro 'comic'? Is it more 'comic' than Arshad Warsi's role in Lage Raho Munnabhai, for which he got the Supporting Actor (not Actor in a Comic Role) nod last year?

Now I'm looking forward to the nominations for the mother of all awards – Filmfare, which was once considered very prestigious but over the years has become the fiefdom of a few! Will they have the guts to deny SRK an award this year? I doubt. When they couldn't do so when he didn’t deserve it, how can do it this year when he at least deserves to be nominated among the best? But wonders never cease. Who knows….?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Favourite Hindi Films in 2007 - Part II

In Part I of this post I had talked about my Top 10 favourite Hindi Films in 2007. The overall quality of films in 2007 was so good that I really have to talk beyond Number 10.

11. Guru: At the surface, Mani Ratnam’s Guru is nothing but a typical rags-to-riches tale that we have seen countless number of times on the silver screen. Its underlying message is obvious - Follow your Dream. What made it stand out was its focussed narrative, unmistakable period feel, Mani’s masterly touch that was evident in almost every frame, and, most importantly, strong acting performances. And of course, the deadly Gulzar-Rahman combo.

12. Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local: With Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local Hindi film audiences got to see the first true blue tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s brand of filmmaking. Unlike his namesake Gupta, Sanjay Khanduri seems to know the difference between inspiration and plagiarism. His film has all the elements of a QT film - stylized violence, wonderfully weird situations, loads of black humor, lot of emphasis on ‘normal’ conversations, etc. - but the entire premise of the story and the way the director chooses to unfold the story is entirely his own.

13. Jab We Met: This was one film that worked mostly because of some inspired writing. Just when you thought a DDLJ style love story was passé, Imtiaz Ali came up with his unique take on it. There’s nothing new in the story, but the film is such a pleasure to watch because its screenplay brims with interesting situations and the sheer ingenuity with which the dialogue is written – very conversational and natural. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but Kareena Kapoor’s performance is among the best female performances of the year. Interestingly, a film that relies solely on conversations has no spoken word in the first 5 minutes.

14. Bheja Fry: Plagiarism or inspiration, call it whatever you want, Bheja Fry is hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. It’s not the kind of movie where you get impressed by technical virtuosity on display or ‘cool’ directorial touches. It’s not meant to be. Most of the film takes place in the living room, giving it a stage-play kind of feel, and there’s no room for flashy cinematography or glitzy editing. It’s by sheer power of the written word that this film succeeds; and how! A lot of why the film works is due to Vinay Pathak. Who would’ve thought that by his sheer comic talent, he could carry a film entirely on his shoulders?

15. Cheeni Kum: For a film thus titled, Cheeni Kum isactually quite ‘sweet’. The quirky romance between a 64 year old man and a woman 30 years his junior was brought alive by some inspired writing from adman turned director, R. Balki, and perfect performances by Amitabh Bachchan and Tabu. Though the film succumbs to a very ‘filmy’ and melodramatic second half, the witty repartees and acerbic humour in the first half more than make up for it. And, Illaiyaraja recycles some of his delightful Tamil tunes to remind Hindi filmgoers that it was to their misfortune that the maestro never got his due in Hindi films.

16. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: I might be one of the very few people who actually liked this film, but this one worked big time for me. The reason I liked Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was that it never takes itself too seriously. The humour, though corny at times, comes across quite effortlessly. This plotless, have-fun-while-it-lasts flick actually elevates thematic vacuousness to the level of a virtue. It was the non-existent storyline and an absence of ‘dramatic conflict’ that made Jhoom Barabar Jhoom such fun to watch.

17. Nishabd: In my opinion, Nishabd is a fairly well-made film. RGV tackled an unconventional theme - I won’t call it bold, at least not bold enough - with remarkable ease. I also felt that this was one of Amitabh Bachchan’s most under-rated performances ever. My biggest grouse with the film, however, was that, awed by his lead actor’s demigod status, RGV clearly developed cold feet and refrained from showing lust as the trigger for the unusual relationship and adding any dirty thoughts into his male protagonist’s mind; yet his unashamedly voyeuristic camera was not quite convinced and continued to explore the baser emotions.

18. Saawariya: Universally rejected by critics and audiences alike, I didn’t think this film was that bad. I look at a SLB film as a musical composition. The story that SLB chose for Saawariya did not have the breadth where he could demonstrate his virtuosity as a ‘composer’. He could have easily gone his usual way and provided multiple dramatic twists to the plot, but he resisted the temptation and created a composition that uses the most basic notes of the mandra saptak (lowest octave) and pretty much remains at the alaap all through. That was something that worked well for me. The story demanded a slow and static feel, which SLB provided it with. The film did have some great cinematography and eye-catching visual opulence. I must admit that I have changed my opinion about the seemingly bizarre art direction and think it was the most unique, stand-out feature of the film.

19. Dil, Dosti, etc.: Manish Tiwary’s debut film was an honest attempt at depicting the contrasts within the present generation of youth. Idealism vs. Aimlessness, Middle-class vs. the affluent, Conservatism vs. modernism – the film depicted these contrasts through its protagonists – a Bihari student leader, Sanjay Mishra (Shreyas Talpade) and a fresher in college, Apurv (Imaduddin Shah). Though it was difficult to digest Shreyas in the role of a Bihari, the film had its moments.

20. Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.: It is a cute film - reasonably short in duration, populated with a plethora of characters who in their own sweet way show you (even though intermittently) something that makes you go, “yeah, that happened to someone I know”, but largely stop short of making you care for them. This was a film where you got some nice, funny moments sprinkled in an uneven fashion across duration of the film, but that was just about it. At times one longed for some further insight into a few aspects, but a few minutes into the film, the director made clear what she wanted you to expect.