Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Dangal

There is a scene in Dangal where Sakshi Tanwar’s Daya Phogat wonders aloud to her husband that she is unable to understand his methods to drive their daughters towards a career in the sport of wrestling. Aamir Khan’s Mahavir Phogat replies that he is in a situation where he can either be a Teacher (Guru) or a father, but not both. The line is intended towards the audience lest they end up thinking what a cruel father Phogat was. Towards the later part of the movie we get a brilliant scene where Phogat’s elder daughter Geeta calls home and asks to speak to her father. This scene is preceded by an ego-cum-wrestling clash between the teacher Phogat and the student Geeta. As Daya hands over the phone to her husband, we get to see the Teacher Phogat say a brusque ‘Haan’ intended to the student Geeta. But what he hears is sobbing at the other end, from the daughter Geeta. At that instant, the Teacher Phogat and the Father Phogat fight an internal battle and merge into one. Aamir Khan aces this scene in a way only he can and succeeds in making the audience buy this metamorphosis. I found this scene to be the most significant one in this brilliantly made sports drama.
 
While there have been many discussions as to whether Dangal is feminist or patriarchal, I personally found the cusp of the movie to be this metamorphosis of the Teacher and the Father. Of course, the movie had an engaging screenplay with some of the best casting one could see in a Hindi movie. Aamir Khan is easily the most assured star of Indian cinema. He doesn’t need all 161 minutes of screen time to enhance his stardom. He lets the new girls hog the limelight for most part of the movie while coming up with frequent scene-stealing performances. The Girls, be it Zaira and Suhani as the younger versions of the Phogat sisters or Fatima and Sana as the elder versions, are pitch perfect in casting as well as performance. It is hard to believe they are young actors and not actual wrestlers. While credit for this must go to the girls, a significant part of it must also go to the wrestling choreographer Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. The wrestling sequences were absolutely nail biting and never once felt staged. The second half is packed with so much of wrestling action that if there had been a slight misstep in the action choreography, it would have impacted the whole movie. But the sequences end up saving even the otherwise clich├ęd jingoistic climax.

As Geeta stands on the podium with her medal and the national anthem plays out, we see Phogat reacting like the true blue nationalist sportsman who has helped his country win an international gold medal. It is ironic that Phogat was played to perfection by the very same actor who was called out for being ‘anti-national’ and asked to leave the country if he found it ‘intolerant’. If Aamir Khan can give us a movie like Dangal every year, I personally wouldn’t give two hoots as to whether he is a chest-thumping patriot or not.


Friday, November 25, 2016

One Ticket to Bhayander

“How was your day?’ Sudeshna asked as her son made his way into his room.

He gave an almost imperceptible upward nod of his head to indicate nothing out of the ordinary happened, grabbed a towel and went into the washroom. Sudeshna waited carefully till she heard the bolt of the bathroom door and the sound of running water. With one eye on the bathroom door, she quickly went through his bag. She heaved a sigh of relief as she found nothing which she was afraid she would find. But that didn’t mean she would stop this routine of searching his belongings or keeping an eye on him.

She remembered the day vividly. She had just sat down after lunch to catch up on the series of Marathi soap operas on television when the landline had started to ring. The Principal of NMCC, the college where her son studied, had been on the other end of the line.

“This is regarding your son, Mrs. Kale. He seems to be permanently in a trance and least bothered about courses or exams. He already has very poor attendance and hasn’t come to the college today also, despite knowing there is a cycle test which has 30% weightage for the semester grades”, he had said.

Not knowing how to react, she had assured the principal that she would talk about this to her son and make him understand. She had been puzzled. Just as she had been about to call her son on his mobile, the landline had rang again. This time the voice on the other end was that of a stranger.

“Are you related to Mr. Pramod Kale?”

“Yes I am his mother. Who is this?”

“Sorry to say this madam. Your son attempted to kill himself by lying down on the railway track. One of our constables saw him and has brought him to the police station. Can you please come down to Parel Police Station?”

She had found out a whole new side to her Son that day. She had seen a vacant frozen look on his face that sent a chill down her spine. Her attempts at drawing him out and finding a reason for his depression were futile and she had no choice but to resort to professional medical help. She had lost count of the number of psychologists and psychiatrists she had taken Pramod to, after that day. While most of them were quick in their diagnosis of depression, none of them could give any clarity on the reason for the same.

It had been three years since that fateful day. The paranoia of checking her son’s belongings and following his movements in and out of the house had started since then and had not stopped. Pramod hardly talked to anyone anymore. Though he had scraped through college and started working in a local digital media company in the Kamla Mills compound, Sudeshna lived in constant fear. The only reason she had been fine with Pramod going to work was due to the fact that the company was situated at a walking distance from their house.  

But, over the last week or so, she had noticed an ever so slight change in her son’s demeanor. While he continued to converse in monosyllables with Sudeshna, she definitely found a positive change in him. She noticed it for the first time a week ago when he had a slight smile on his face when he had come out after a shower. Today, she was pleasantly taken aback by his off-tune whistling of the song Yad Lagle from the famous Marathi movie Sairat as he came out of the washroom. As he made his way into the hall, she went into the washroom. Nothing seemed to be out of place. Just as she turned to move out, her eyes fell on the box of detergent on the shelf. It seemed to be precariously balanced on something. She went across and lifted the box. Under it was a bunch of local train tickets. There were about eight of them, each bought over the past eight days. They were all tickets to the same destination – Bhayander.

Questions started flooding her mind. Pramod’s office was in Parel. Why were there eight tickets to Bhayander lying in the bathroom? And why were there only one way tickets and not a single return ticket to be found among them? Sudeshna was perplexed. She had been following Pramod to his office ever since he had started working there and he had always gone straight from their home to office every day, including these past eight days. Then it struck her! She raced back to the bathroom and grabbed the tickets again. Her eyes scanned the top right hand corner of each ticket – the time on all of them were between 13:10 and 13:15 – lunch hour at office.

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The next day, Sudeshna was outside his office by12:45 pm. He came out exactly at 1:00 pm and started walking towards Lower Parel station. There was an unusual spring in his step. She followed him at a safe distance. He climbed the stairs and stood in line at the ticket counter. She stood a few feet behind him. He approached the counter and said “One ticket to Bhayander”.

She was surprised to find the sudden softness in his voice. It was as though his voice contained a smile of its own. As he took the ticket and walked back, she turned away, careful not to reveal herself. She could notice the same slight smile on his lips. As he moved towards the staircase, he started to whistle Yad lagle in his off-tuned style. As she leaned backward to get a better view, she could see him heading out of the station. The line in front of her was now non-existent and she found herself at the ticket counter. That was when she noticed the girl at the counter. She seemed to be in her early twenties, with curly hair, a pleasant smiling face and dusky complexion. The oval-shaped sandalwood bindi´ on her forehead enhanced her beauty manifold. Sudeshna noticed how crisp her salwar looked despite being old. There emanated from her a quiet sense of confidence and dignity. Sudeshna quickly got a ticket and made her way back home.

That evening she did not ask Pramod the usual question about his work. Nor, did she carry out her usual check of his bag. He finished his bath, came to the hall and sat on the sofa. She came by and sat next to him.

“You should tell her that you like her, Pramod’ she said.

Pramod did not respond. She could see that his mind was struggling to come up with questions and more importantly, reasons. She put a hand gently on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you tell her when you buy the ticket tomorrow?’ she asked.

Pramod slowly looked at her. He consciously smiled for the first time in a few years.

“I saw her a few days ago when I came out of the office during lunch. I followed her and found out that she worked in the Lower parel ticket counter. But I didn’t know how to approach her. So I went and stood at the counter. When my turn came I just asked for a ticket to the first station I noticed on the map”, he blurted.

This was the most he had talked in a few years. Sudeshna could barely hide her happiness as she listened to her son elaborate on his first love.

“I have been repeating this since then. I just feel happy whenever I think of those few seconds I spend with her. Those few seconds drive the remainder of my day”, he continued.

“Then imagine if those few seconds can transform to a lifetime”, Sudeshna said.

“But how do I ask her Aaiyee?”

Sudeshna couldn’t control her tears. Pramod acknowledged her relation to him by calling her Aaiyee after so many years. It was in high school that she remembered him lovingly call her Aaiyee. She wiped her tears and looked at him.

“Take a leaf out of her book. Be simple and straight”, she said.

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The next day as he stood at the ticket counter, he could feel his heart thumping. He smiled at her as his turn came. She recognized him and returned the smile.

“Two tickets to Bhayander”, He said.

“Oh! So you have a companion today for your travel”, she said as she punched the tickets.

“I will, if you say yes”, he said.

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They got married three months later.

The first local train journey they took after marriage was from Lower Parel to Bhayander.