Warning: Long review ( But spoilers protected) .
I can’t claim I have seen many serious movies made on political background by contemporary Indian Directors. Or may be I have seen, but they are not worth remembering because they were not serious or engrossing enough. (I am not counting Gangajaal or Pratighat in that category) Gulal, directed by Anurag Kashyap is a regional political drama film set on Rajasthan of our times.
Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a story of love triangle intermingled during the trying times of post-Independence emergency, had a deep impact on me. Gulaal is the definite next. After I returned carrying the movie from the Saturday night show at 12:30 am, I discovered I couldn’t sleep, unless
(a) I write a review on it or
(b) Do something distracting.
So, I saw another movie (Brian De Palma’s Cartilo’s Way to be precise) and downed couple of large OMs before retiring around 3 am. But to my shock, I woke up with the same feeling; Gulaal was still on my head.
I had to let it out here.
Background, Plot and Characterization
Gulaal is reportedly inspired by the song from Piyasa ” Yeh Duniya Agar mil bhi jaye to kya hai” written by Sahir Ludhianvi and the film is dedicated to him and other visionary poets of the Independence era, as expressed by Anurag Kashyap. That particular line is captured in the song Duniya in the movie as well. The movie was conceptualized while release of Paanch and took long time to complete and it was painful seven years for Anurag Kashyap..
A bland human salad Dileep Singh (Raja Chowdhury), a Rajput comes to study law at a college in Rajasthan. In absence of immediate availability of hostel rooms, his brother arranges his stay in a redundant bar named ’69’, owned by his highness, the Maharaja. Salad finds his room mate Rajput Rananjay Singh aka Ransa (Abhimanyu Shekhar Singh) to be an upfront, arrogant, powerful tiger like personality and it doesn’t take much time for him to get under his influence. Ransa sports a handlebar moustache, various head gears ranging from cowboy hats to soldier helmet and a sarcastic smile on his kohled eyes. He defies all rules and traditions and has the mettle everyone wishes to possess.
The other inhabitants of the makeshift guest house are Bhanwar Singh (Mukesh Bhatt), the caretaker & cook and the octogenarian white bearded Sardarji bansuriwala.
Tiger Rajput takes salad Rajput to the local mujra joint Laka, where most of the characters in the movie are introduced (by the camerawork).
Dukey Bana (Kay Kay Menon) – The local hereditary rich stalwart who has a vision to free Rajputana from the deceit in the name of Indian democracy. He is a cold and ruthless leader who is ready to obliterate any obstacle, which comes in his way. He has a wife and kid, sports a moustache and has relationships with other women.
Madhuri (Mahie Gill– debuted in Dev D) the seductive, nachnewali and local beauty parlour owner. Also, the kept of Dukey Bana. Once acted on a TV serial to become a heroine, but serial gets dumped so she now plays the DVD. Though she is credited as special appearance, she has an impressive screen presence with two song-dance numbers and plays a pivotal role in the screenplay.
Bhatti (Deepak Dobriyal– Omkara, Maqbool, 13B) – impassive sidekick of Dukey Bana, he is an extraordinarily omnipresent guy. He sports a kurta, baseball cap, beard & moustache.
Karan (Aditya Srivastava– Satya, Black Friday, Ek Hasina Thi)- Stone-faced stern illegitimate son of the his highness, game for power play at any cost. Obviously, mustached.
Prithvi Bana (Piyush Mishra– Dil Se, the famous kaka in Maqbool)- The disillusioned poet and lyricist, the symbol of contemporary pain & frustration who vents out through his songs. Noticeably, the only clean shaven guy in the movie (not counting another symbolic ardha-narishwar with the dhol).
Jadhwal (Pankaj Jha) – A student gang leader and a toxic political pawn. Cruel, filthy and devoid of any moralities. He is made of mustache, arrogance and a team of motley followers.
The plot starts with the conflict between Jadhwal & Ransa, on the context of Jadhwal conducting a nude ragging on Dileep and the lady professor Anuja (Jesse Randhawa) and eventually humiliating Ransa. The tale of revenge starts with hocky-stick and Enfeild Bullet, which is exploited as political agenda by Dukey Bana, by making Ransa stand in the student election. On the opposite front Kiran (Ayesha Mohan), sister of Karan contests with support from Jadhwal and gang. The plot thickens as the characters open up layer by layer, dark and pungent fumes from the suppressed anger scorches the minds of the characters. Sanity and morality gets distorted as personal vendetta dominates the pretext to justify a nebulous political agenda. The tale continues with cold blooded murders, lust, exploitation, fear, greed, anger, deceit and blind love resulting excruciating agony and frustration to the characters. As the protagonists try to achieve their individual aspirations, the age old idiom of ‘Matsya Nyay’ prevails; the fire of hatred annihilates the faces smeared with Gulaal to a bloody end.
Anurag Kashyap has already created his own genre of ‘arrogant cinema’ with candid depiction of emotions- anger, arrogance, frustration, love and agony on which his characters delve in. His characters walk the dark side, speaks language that challenges convention and brutally revolts against the system. Usage of unconventional music, profanity, power packed screenplay, cryptic symbolism (in this case Prithvi and the painted ardha-narishwar) performance actors, intricate detailing, meticulous and meaningful camerawork, rustic locations, use of colours and lights, sharp dialogues with sarcasm and twisted humour gives an unusual blend which hitherto Indian audience were yet to savor from Hindi movies. Gulaal is AK’s most angry film, as he claims and I agree without doubt..
What tops is definitely Abhimanyu Shekhar Singh‘s outstanding performance as Ransa. In my view his is the best character performance in the movie. As a lesser known actor, sharing screen presence with heavyweights like Kay Kay Menon and Aditya Srivastava, he puts life into Ransa. If Amjad Khan is remembered as Gabbar, Abhimanyu makes Ransa immortal. His sarcasm, dialogue delivery, attire (shorts & cowboy hat, leather jacket, Enfield & soldier helmet) and attitude is top class character play.
Kay Kay Menon expectedly delivers an explosive performance as an obsessed ruthless leader. The superiority of his character in the film is portrayed with his piercing stares, frail rigid frame and astute body language. One of the outstanding shots was his scream, out of frustration at his house.
Deepak Dobriyal became my favourite after Omkara. Bhatti is probably the longest role he has ever played on cinema. Another outstanding performance, at places he doesn’t even needed dialogue to convey his expressions. You must not miss his expressions at the pan shop where Jadhwal comes to buy a cigarette. Priceless. Though he comes from a theatre background, his subtle hints to build one of the strongest characters in the movie, is superbly captured in cinematic medium.
The female roles played by Jessie Randhawa and Ayesha Mohan substitute each other as love, lust and exploitation in Dileep’s life. Jessie, a pot smoking modern woman ends up being a morbid leftover, dumped by Dileep under the evil influence of Kiran. Mahi Gill uncannily resembles Taboo (Chandni bar) and even mentions the same.
Piyush Mishra had played multiple roles: as Music Director, Lyricist (with Swanand Kirkire) and as Prithvi. His songs are primarily poetry and captures contemporary events juxtaposed with traditional tune. One of the most meaningful lyrics I have heard in recent movies.
Example the contemporary sarcasm in Ranaji–
Jaise Harek Baat Pe Democracy Me Lagane Lag Gayo Ban// Jaise Door Des Ke Tower Me Ghus Jaaye Re Aeroplane//Jaise Sareaam Iraaq Me Jaake Jam Gaye Uncle Sam//Jaise Bina Baat Ke Afgaanistaan Ka Baj Gaya Band
Much darker and deeper verses in Arambh as a war song –
Jeet ki hawas nahi// Kisi pe koi vash nahi//Kya zindagi hai thokaron pe maar do// Maut ant hai nahi//To maut se bhi kyun darein// Ye jaake aasmaano mein dahaad do
Softer, poetic and sad wordings of Duniya
Wo kahein hain ki duniya ye itni nahi hai// Sitaaron se aage jahaan aur bhi hain//Ye hum hi nahi hain wahaan aur bhi hain// Hamaari har ek baat hoti wahin hai
Rusticly seductive Beedo–
Beedo duji thaali ka lage bada masaledaar//Mann bole chakmak haye chakmak haye chakmak chakmak chakmak….(damn good, I tell you)
- There’s an awesome spoof of the famous ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’, watch the video above and listen to the lyrics.
- Like Dev D, the music of the movie is mostly played in background except for the two dance numbers Beedo & Ranaji.
- Gulaal at places reminded me strongly of Wong Kar Wai’s way of using lights & colours. I remember AK mentioning his admiration of Chunking Express. The shots inside the 69 bar, neon signs, dimly lit streets are all superb composition with light and sound.
- The language includes profanity to a large extent which might remind men’s of their hostel days. The Hindi C*utiya word appears at least thrice. Soon we may need our own profanity counters like Hollywood. The humour is boy’s hostel type and the dialogues raunchy (minus two- ghate do to bache kya?)
- The movie has few disturbing scenes including a bunch of adult males only in their underwear sporting different hairstyles sharing a bed (for women audience) and too much clothing on Madhuri as dancer (for men).
Drawback or Intention?
- Though the narrative is based on students, not a single book or studying scene is shown on the movie. Similarly the college was grossly ignored and except for a blackboard/ canteen scene there is no mention whatsoever.
- The time-span of the narrative is unclear, though it can be guessed that the events occur within few months.
- Law and order is shown to be practically absent. Even a police inspector’s murder doesn’t create any ripple. Too much too digest.
- Raja Chowdhury seems a bit artificial at places, notably when he confronts Kiran with the gun in his hand. Similarly Kiran, shown just as a pawn to move at her brother’s signal, contradicts her otherwise strong character.
- Style and characterization overshadows the story.
- Overdose of masculinity (mustache).
To summarize Gulaal is a dark, stark and deep work of serious cinema which reminds the sensitive viewer’s that a feature film is also a work of art and a Director’s medium of expression, not just mere entertainment on the silver screen. A must watch for those who are fond of dark-violent genre like Omkara, Maqbool, Shool, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Ek Haseena Thi.
Trivia- out of the numerous detailing, I could capture few on the first viewing.
- ‘Nihilism’- is the word written on the classroom board before Anuja wipes it off. (Hence, the word in the review title)
- The tune played by Kiran on guitar in the meeting room is Goodbye Blue Sky from Pink Floyd’s legendery album ‘The Wall’.
- The black and white still to show as Prithvi Bana’s childhood, shows a poster of Jim Morrison, though he carried John Lenon’s picture on his locket.
- Ransa pours whisky on his glass during his first meeting with Dileep on the bar, but when he enters his bedroom, glass of beer with beer bottles are shown to be kept on the table.
- There’s a close-up of an Old Monk bottle on the bar of 69.
- Drinks named as Democracy and Republic Beer is shown, to suit thepolitical theme of the movie.
- ‘Hello There’ neon signage on the bar blinks erratically to read ‘ Hell* *here’ beside Democracy Beer.
- The song ‘ Ruk ruk ruk are baba ruk’ from Vijaypath is played by Madhu on stereo to tease Dukey Bana at the beauty parlour. The song is sung by Alisha Chinoy in her signature seductive voice. The song was picturized on Tabu, whom incidentally Mahi Gill resembles a lot 🙂