Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life is when dreams are surrendered to reality.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Smoking thrills

Welcome to the new age of cinema.

No Smoking is a self indulgent journey into the mind of the artist thru' his work. This is Anurag Kashyap making the kind of movie he wants... for himself, without pandering to the expectations of an audience. He doesn't give you what you expect and he certainly is not apologetic about it either. Like all good movies, it demands audience involvement and doesn't provide you with easy answers...if it provides any answers at all. True it is not perfect and one can find a lot of faults with it, especially the second half, which tends to plod a little bit, but rest assured, this is a surreal, claustrophobic, metaphysical journey that eschews everything movie making is supposed to be in today's world of candy floss entertainment. For all those interested in movies as an experience to discuss and debate…No Smoking is your kind of movie.

The plot for whatever that can be gathered, revolves around K a self centered, successful and arrogant protagonist working in one of those anonymous swanky jobs. He is a compulsive smoker who is persuaded by one of his friends to approach Baba Bengali, who runs something like a de-addiction center, to get rid of the nicotine habit. After being forced to sign a contract, K finds that Baba Bengali uses rather unconventional methods to persuade K to give up smoking. Anurag Kashyap essentially uses the plot point of one of the short stories by Stephen King as a jumping off point and uses smoking as a plot device (ostensibly to get past the censors?) and a metaphor to address issues of 'choice', 'free will', individualism' and more while channelizing Kafka, Goethe and Ayn Rand among others. There are a host of other subplots that can probably only be best answered by Anurag himself. The narrative is linear enough, but linearity itself doesn't mean it is easy to understand. Using visual imagery Anurag conjures up a world that evokes visions of hell and nightmares, alternating between reality and dreams. The main theme is about how the individual spirit is always waging a war against a system of conformity...K stands for all those who are fighting to be an individual in a world that demands conformity. Even as K repeats to himself, 'No one tells me what to do'..we all know that for him there will be no redemption in any conventional sense...'cause in the end we have to sell our soul to follow to be a part of the system - Goethe?

In a movie that is chiefly a vehicle for the director to showcase himself, acting was always going to take a backseat, but most of the major actors acquit themselves favourably. I was impressed by John Abraham in the role of K. The protagonist, K, is not a wholly developed character...he is just an idea of a particular kind of person and John pitches it very well.

Visually the movie is stunning and an achievement by itself. This is one of Rajeev Ravi’s better works yet and arguably among the top this year in Indian cinemas. Among the highlights are K's descend to the prayogshala which is eerie and spooky and the beautiful yet mysterious imagery generated by the nightmare sequence in Siberia.

It is debatable if smoking was the right choice as a metaphor...but it works in a warped way, 'cause smoking is always associated with something that is bad and wrong and treading a path that is different has also being frowned upon. I guess No Smoking is Anurag's way of saying go fuck yourselves...this is the kind of movie I make and whether you like it or not is not my problem - though deep inside he will be hoping to find an audience for it too. Some may argue that the business of making movies is exactly that, a business and that involves commercial considerations too. But if a director finds a producer who understands the commercial (un)viability of the enterprise and is yet willing to back his vision to bring out a particular representation of art out...who are we to criticize. For too long we have been fed trite, expensive and vapid features as movies, I guess it is time we start acquiring taste for better cinemas and though movies like No Smoking may not be perfect, it is a step in the right direction towards meaningful cinemas.

Though a lot of questions will remain unanswered after the end of the screening, ultimately, No Smoking will lend itself to more discussions and dissections and will attain the status of a cult movie.


Blogger redwaterstew said...

saw the movie. will need a couple of viewings to digest it though. But indeed a great a effort. it is very layered and will need to couple of viewings.

But i had a surreal experience immediately after it. I had parked my car in the level 1 of the basement. but i was searching for it in level 2. somehow i was very sure that it was in level 2. i almost fought with the guard there and was getting to accept that it might have been stolen till i decided to check in level 1. Suffice to say that the movie had hit me. it is difficult to understand Kafka except through a dreamy haze.

missed the credits & didn't know Rajeev was on the camera till i checked some reviews. great work but i am not sure if this is his best. My favorite is his work with Lenin Rajendran though this indeed is technically brilliant.

October 31, 2007 4:05 AM  
Blogger ReadnRyte said...

Salil: Very true about it requiring multiple viewing...'n yes I need to watch it a couple of more times. I liked the effort cz for once a movie demanded audience involvement and I always believe that any work of art is just a jumping off point...for the audience to dissect it the way he/she wants to.

Can identify your experience with the car parking...:)

I though Lenin Rajendran's movie was handled by Madhu Ambat and Rajeev took over it at a later point in time...

October 31, 2007 9:09 AM  
Blogger Id it is said...

"a movie demanded audience involvement and I always believe that any work of art is just a jumping off point" I am in complete agreement with you on this however I'm not sure the latter half of your ststement would be a direct follow through from the aforementioned "...for the audience to dissect it the way he/she wants to." To make a work of art a springboard for creativity is one thing but to do an analysis of a piece would be unfair to the original composition, wouldn't you agree?

November 12, 2007 3:09 PM  
Blogger ReadnRyte said...

id it is: Quite thoughtful observation. To clarify the second part, I meant 'any ambiguous and open ended work' that can give you an opportunity to stretch a line of thought. It might be at variance with what it originally meant...but don't you think it is more intellectually challenging that way. But, I agree it might be kind of unfair to the original composition, but I would think the artist/creator would perhaps might want it that way...allowing the audience to think it thru rather than be handheld to make a certain kind of observation.
With respect to No Smoking...I thought quite a few strands were pretty loose ended and could be open to interpretation, though Anurag Kashyap might have meant it in a certain way.
Rather than shed light on your comment, I guess I have obfuscated it further...sorry :)
Thanks for your comment though.

November 12, 2007 6:07 PM  
Blogger thinkwithme said...

Nice review. Lots of depth in your writing Rahul. One day you gotta write a book.

Also it made me want to see the movie. Maybe in India next month.

BTW are you in touch with Rajeev or is he in a different league now?

November 13, 2007 1:18 AM  
Blogger Id it is said...

I googled for the movie, and it's not available where I live; also, it's not in English! I'm sure there'll be sub titles.

Thanks for giving my comment so much thought. Not an artist mysel, and neither do I subscribe to the Art-for-arts-sake philosophy; yet, I believe there is a certain sanctity in a work of art that cannot/must not be violated.

November 13, 2007 11:53 PM  
Blogger Head Hunter said...

Well Written Review
Couldnt watch the movie yet..
Coimbatore is a lousy place for movies man!

November 17, 2007 1:07 PM  
Blogger Id it is said...

Season's Greetings!

December 30, 2007 9:09 PM  

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