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Human beings, in general, have a tendency to romanticise the past. To think of the days gone by as almost perfect. That includes not only the past experiences of places and people but also objects. Why else would we look back with such wonder at a four-poster bed or a vintage car?

Reality, however, mostly disappoints. We go back to the garden or house that we grew up in and suddenly it looks too small or shabby. We wish to recreate the innocence and magic of the past but are served with cold facts. Two things usually happen. Either, we realise that time and age have made the objects of our youthful remembrances fall apart. Like a beautiful village that once had vast green fields and tall, dancing trees but, is a charmless wannabe metropolis now. Or secondly, we understand that it was actually our imagination that had imparted that special something to the memory. Like a favourite book that had once seemed like the epitome of romance, but now seems just sappy and unoriginal.

This is why, I was wary of revisiting a story that had made a deep impression upon me, when I was quite young. A television serial called Farmaan (meaning Edict). I would recall, with misty-eyed pleasure, a few snatches of the dialogues or scenes but something would stop me from making an attempt to find the serial. Or, actually watch it. I was evidently fretful of being disappointed, of perhaps tarnishing a lovely memory.

I would remember a Byronic hero, a beautiful heroine, even the good-natured sidekick. Fragments of chaste Urdu would slowly float into my consciousness. Mostly though, I would remember the kiss. That spine-tingling, passionate, forbidden, purloined touch of the lips. At the time, I was too young and naive to know what that kiss truly implied. Yet, I could sense the trepidation of that stolen, forceful moment.

Now years later, I have managed to watch Farmaan again. Maybe, being cannonaded with images of languishing lovers on Valentine’s Day, sort of put me in the mood for a swooning romance. And, I am so glad I watched it. Farmaan tells such a thoroughly engaging tale. From the moment the lovely Aiman Shahab alights from the train and makes her solitary way to the royal abode of the Hyderabadi nawabs to the scene where love is finally expressed and embraced, it is a joy ride.

The serial is only fourteen episodes long and I cannot help but wish that it was a little longer. So completely immersed was I in the world of sweet Aiman and the intriguing Aazar Nawab. I was moved by the sad history of the gracious Bade Sarkar and the forlorn Waqaar Chand… amused and charmed by the happy-go-lucky Bashaarat Nawab. Even that damsel in distress, Rehana, or the sleazy and opportunistic Mukhtar Ali had qualities that made them real. But, no matter how much I would have liked to extend my emotional involvement with the story, I applaud the makers for having kept the proceedings so succinctly appealing, for having remained true to their vision, for respecting the spirit of Rafia Manzurul Amin‘s novel, Alampannah, that inspired the plot of Farmaan. Impossible to imagine such a thing in the present TRP-dominated telly world.

The other thing that gladdens my heart is the simplicity. The setting is suitably grand but does not look ridiculously opulent, in any way. Everything is real, the tall havelis, the exquisite interiors, the lakes, the forests. This is not a fake, glossy set. Thankfully. This adherence to historical, cultural and geographical accuracy enhances the cinematic quality of the production. And, the actors too look wonderfully genuine. Aiman‘s allure is potent enough without layers of makeup or weirdly showy jewellery. Her clothes showcase her taste and nature. Aazar Nawab is dashing and always well turned out. But the elegance is understated. As befitting one who is truly upper-crust. The author, Rafia Amin, was present during the making of the serial and she was the one who designed the outfits. This fact, I am sure, contributed to the authenticity of the outcome.

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Aazar Nawab has certain qualities of the quintessential Romance hero. He is wealthy and noble, passionate and enigmatic. He is moody and dark but suitably smitten. He is possessive too. Aiman too fits into the mould of the Romance heroine. She has the pluck to challenge Aazar Nawab‘s censures and barbs. But, she also has the hopeful naiveté of a young woman who cannot remain impervious to the flattering gaze of a handsome lord. There is a constant sense of a powerful attraction simmering between the two leads. Aazar sometimes teases Aiman Shahab by calling her ‘khawab’ (dream) and though she protests, she is more stung by his slights than disturbed by his scrutiny. The various romantic tropes in the plot could have turned the serial into a rather cloying mess. But, Lekh Tandon, the director, never allows the subject matter to lose its footing. The atmosphere is always plausible, the treatment is authentic. Honest.

Aiman and Aazar never really cross lines. There is verbal sparring and a few tantalising moments that border on intimacy but the suspense and decorum are always maintained. The restrained dialogues and visuals also keep Farmaan from becoming soap-operatic. At times, Aazar Nawab is likened to a predator. After one of their initial encounters, Aiman, who is perturbed by the nawab’s imposing persona, leafs through a magazine and stops to stare at a picture of a snow-leopard. Another time, while watching tigers at the Dandeli sanctuary, Aiman speaks of man-eaters other than the feral variety. This metaphor could have been misused. But, the point is only hinted at, never driven home relentlessly. This moderation of style and language is maintained throughout and it makes Farmaan so agreeable to watch. And, also to hear. The muted strains of neat Urdu is like music that is soft and perfectly pleasing.

The cast too, is perfect. Kanwaljit Singh makes a superb Aazar Nawab. Apart from being a talented actor, he has the height and persona to impart a certain haughty grandeur to his character. The pipe is maybe a wee bit overdone but it also shows his reserve. The smoke surrounding him is his defence against disclosure. Lest his feelings are exposed and he is made vulnerable. His dark past makes him resent any sort of weakness and hence, he is vexed by his own passion for Aiman. He rages over her friendship with Bashaarat and ends up taunting and tormenting her. But, the moment he knows for certain that there is no other man in Aiman‘s life, he becomes still. There is a subtle shift in the tone, thereon. Aazar‘s actions take on a more purposeful quality. It is as if he knows where exactly he is going.

Aazar Nawab continues to be unpredictable and sharp-tongued but his smiles are easier now. His gaze has more of a quiet strength. A scene that I rather like, shows Aazar standing near a lake and smoking in solitude. And then, he espies Aiman, who is at the spot too, throwing stones despondently into the water. Creating ripples in the stillness. Aazar allows himself to be drawn in by her and when he offers her comfort and, kisses her tenderly, it seems to me that he is completely ready for a change. Ready to accept comfort and love, finally.

Deepika Deshpande is not a flashy beauty. And that is a good thing. It does not take away from the inner qualities that allow Aiman to not only capture Aazar Nawab‘s heart but also win over everyone who meets her. Her honesty, openness, and caring nature attract as much as her golden-eyed comeliness. Raja Bundela, who plays the amiable Bashaarat, is a pleasure to watch. He lights up the screen and infects us with his joy. Bundela‘s high-spirited and carefree Bashaarat is the foil to Kanwaljit‘s brooding and high-minded Aazar.

The other actors too make a mark, despite the limited screen time, and present us with memorable characters. The munshi who speaks the colloquial Hyderabadi tongue and is so fond of old songs. The fiercely devoted maid who follows Bade Sarkar like a mother hen. The funny chef and Bashaarat‘s favourite scapegoat, Abdul Karim. Bade Sarkar, whose benevolence and thoughtfulness is reflected by her son, Aazar, and who is played ably by Vineeta Malik. And, Navin Nischol as the sad and self-sacrificing noble, Waquaar Chand, is quietly effective.

Farmaan may be a bit too unflamboyant and subtle for some. It might even be too straightforward or uncomplicated for the post-modern sensibility perhaps. But for me, it is a fine story for a dreamy, moonlit night. Farmaan possesses a fairytale quality; a lovely girl transforming a ‘beast’ with her love; a handsome lord trying to hide his hurts and his noble spirit behind contemptuous frowns and sarcastic words. And in the end, love and goodness prevailing over all. The story is not without layers. There are nuances of expressions and conversations that benefit from repeat viewings. And, even without such readings, Farmaan still captivates. It is a testimony to the fact that old is indeed gold, that secret treasures can emerge from the past. That there is a reason why oftentimes, we look back to seek joy, innocence, romance and a little magic. That memories can sustain and inspire. Farmaan is an ardent proclamation of love that speaks directly to the heart.

 

Copyright © 2016 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Review-of-Lootera-2013

“How sad and bad and mad it was/ But then, how it was sweet!”

Once in a while, I come across a love story that is so spellbinding that for days I feel consumed by it. My imagination is aroused, my emotions are engaged. I feel dreamy and uplifted and shattered. A strange sense of elation sweeps over me and takes me to a lofty, secret place. Lootera is that kind of story.

Much has been said about this film… but, I just wish to reflect on the aspects that etch themselves in my mind. I want to brood on the simplicity and heartbreaking loveliness of Lootera… on the way it portrays love and complexity in a bittersweet relationship. I wish to remember its earthiness, whimsicality, even its imperfections and dark overtones…….. the moments of transcendence, and its stark beauty. I want to think about some of the possible interpretations of the visual, verbal nuances and gestures in the story.

I have to admit that Lootera is not altogether perfect. Very few films are. And, one that attempts to recreate The Last Leaf by O’Henry is already treading a very difficult terrain. For it requires a great deal of genius to transform that short masterpiece of a story into an equally wonderful and heartwarming piece of cinema. But, Lootera comes pretty close.

The lyrical strains of Sawaar loon and the unfolding scenes of the song…. the poetic ambience of days long past, the quaint style, the sensuous pace… everything takes the viewer to a different, more romantic world. The woman gracefully braiding her hair and admiring herself in the mirror… she casting delicate yet speaking glances at the darkly dashing man… he answering her looks, sphinxlike yet yearning…. fascinating!

He is attractive and mysterious. She is beautiful and pampered. He has a gray past and she has lived a most sheltered life. He has a quietness about him… while her eyes are alight with mischief and life. He is like a powerful gust of wind that shakes her world. And, she is like a trickle of cool water that seeps into his soul, slowly and surely.

The scene where Pakhi meets Varun is such an arresting one. She hesitantly peeps out of the car window, after the accident, and sees him struggling with the fallen bike, before sitting with his back against a tree. She is immediately intrigued by the handsome stranger. Varun’s face is quite inscrutable when he sees the radiant Pakhi, but is obviously struck. That night, Pakhi stands before the light bulb and keeps switching it on and off…. her face a mirror of unadulterated joy. Every soft look, every unsaid word, every small gesture acquires a meaning. Even the poem that they recite together, when Varun visits Pakhi’s home…. underlines the fact that something rare and glorious has happened.

Sonakshi as Pakhi, is beautiful and luminous…. the spark in her eyes, the warmth in her smile, her spirit, her genuineness, even her frailty. At the picnic, when she half reclines on the ground, playing carelessly with her hair… when she just looks at Varun… she resembles an enchanting and enigmatic mermaid… who is waiting for her lover.

Ranveer as Varun, has never been so smart or interesting. The clean-shaven chin and back-brushed hair make him look like a man of the world. He carries with him a whiff of adventure, something unknown and exciting. He is also brooding and brings a certain edgy intensity to the proceedings. Varun is self-serving and yet, when he glances at Pakhi, it is not with indifference or even mild interest alone. The more he tries to disguise his feelings, the more he reveals… the slow burn in his eyes, the hesitation and shyness in his infrequent smiles, his lapses into complete silence… all tell a story.

Despite his better judgment, Varun agrees to become Pakhi’s drawing teacher. Armed with a book, he thinks of teaching… but mainly, he hopes to be near Pakhi. A hope that he conceals from himself too, perhaps. The scene where he tells her that drawing leaves is easy and then proceeds to paint, blithely heedless of his lack of skill… and she looks on amused… is a very endearing one. It shows his vulnerability, an innocence in him.

Varun admits to Pakhi that he does not know painting and becomes her student instead. The time they spend together only draws them closer still and seals the bond between them. They talk of their innermost wishes. She wants to write. He wishes to visit chandrataal and paint a masterpiece that will grant him immortality. He confides his feelings for Pakhi to his friend, Dev, who gently reprimands him and tells him that he does not have the privilege to be in love. Varun rages in silence but accepts the truth of Dev’s words.

Pakhi is, at first, angered and hurt by Varun’s rejection but when she learns about his imminent departure, she cannot help but go to him. The night scene stands out because it is so fraught with emotion and passion. There is also a simplicity or artlessness in the way Pakhi offers herself to her lover and asks him to stay. He is powerless in the presence of such devastating honesty. The soft click of the door closing is more staggering than a sharp gunshot.

The soulful lovemaking scene engenders much hope for the young couple. And yet, Varun is fated to betray Pakhi and everything she holds dear. For a while he is tempted to pursue his own happiness, his love… but soon realizes that his past would catch up with him and she may only be left with loss and loneliness. So, he leaves. Just like that.

They meet again, of course. However, this time the setting is very different. Manikpur was bright and sunny. Dalhousie is gray, with snow all over. This half of Lootera imparts a keen sense of desolation, hopelessness. The once cheerful Pakhi is now sullen and mournful. She dwells on her ill-health and Varun’s betrayal. Anger and hatred consume her, day and night, and she agrees to participate in a police plot to nab the lootera. This in turn leads to the shocking scene where Varun, in the haze and heat of the moment, pulls the trigger on his one and only friend, Dev.

The scene where Pakhi crouches behind a curtained door watching Varun, who is standing outside. He notices the open window and is strangely pulled to it. The way he just stands still and stares at the emptiness…….. as if a powerful force is holding him in a thrall… so compelling! Later, after Dev’s death, Varun storms into the house to confront Pakhi… as if he always knew that she was there.

By this time, Pakhi’s rage has dwindled but she cannot bring herself to forgive or hope. Her mood is as dismal as the weather and she keeps counting the falling leaves of the tree, outside her window, convinced that when the last leaf falls, she will die. She broods on the story that her father had once told her… about a Bhil warrior king whose life was preserved in a special bird. His foes send him a wife, who finds the bird and kills it and thus, slays the king too. Pakhi, in her lonely state, likens herself to the Bhil warrior, who is destroyed by the one he loves.

Anyone who is familiar with The Last Leaf would not be surprised by the ending of Lootera. Varun is consumed by guilt and even though he could escape Dalhousie to save himself, he chooses to stay. The last few scenes of the lovers together are fraught with much emotional violence and upheaval. Varun has to force Pakhi to even take the medicine that will save her life. She fights Varun with all the power of her bruised and beaten soul.

Pakhi is immersed in her dark world but she is concerned about Varun and refuses to give him up to the authorities. Perhaps, she understands his past, even forgives him a little… but, she cannot emerge out of her abyss of hopelessness. Only the falling leaves hold some sort of interest for her. At last, only one leaf remains, wavering in the cold winter landscape. When Varun realizes that the falling of that leaf would spell the end for the downhearted and wasted Pakhi, he acts at once. The leaf that Varun paints looks like it has been hand drawn by an artless child… but as it flutters triumphantly in the morning breeze, it becomes a symbol of his love for Pakhi, his penance for all past betrayals. It becomes his masterpiece.

At the end, Varun lies lifeless on the snow but, he has managed to waken the light of hope in Pakhi’s eyes. She smiles now. Perhaps, she will even write the books that she always wanted to write.

It is clear why Varun leaves. He cannot endanger Pakhi any more. But, why does he court death? Why does he not simply surrender? Is dying the final penance? Or, does he think that there can be no happiness, no future?

It may also be that Varun has finally found peace.

Love has been beautifully depicted in Lootera. It is childlike and strong, playful and enriching. It is flawed, quiet, poignant and passionate. Love is hatred and rage. Rest, understanding and forgiveness. But ultimately, it is the depiction of love as sacrifice that makes this film so magnificent and heartbreakingly sweet.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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Remembrance

It has been almost six years since my father passed away. It has become marginally easier to remember him these days. Tears don’t well up automatically at every thought of him. But a sense of unreality still persists. It is still difficult to think of his absence as a void that will remain forever. It is still impossible to quell the sense of overpowering loss or subdue that feeling of overwhelming regret, at the thought of his untimely death.

At this point of my life, I stand on the threshold of significant changes. I greet new faces and look forward to new beginnings. There are unguarded moments, however, when I sit contemplating the present and weaving dreams of the future…when images of my father and thoughts from the past, flash across my mind. And then the realization dawns on me that he can never be there to smile on my good fortune… or appreciate the wonderful things in my life. He can never be there to give me his all-embracing support and acceptance… or be there to comfort me in moments of sadness.

All that remains of the vibrant man, with that candid and brilliant smile,  are a few photographs, a few belongings, and a whole gamut of memories.

When I cook something and it goes unappreciated, I invariably remember my father. I remember how happy he used to be even when I would serve him something tasteless… just because it was something I had made. If I gave him a small gift, he would cherish it like it was the greatest treasure. After he passed away, I found among his personal belongings…. things that I had given him. Faded greeting cards… a torn wallet or an inexpensive and empty bottle of aftershave. He had kept them all.

Whenever I feel neglected, a bit forsaken or, taken for granted, I unfailingly  remember my father… and I am filled with bittersweet memories. I remember… his excessive pride in me, in my little achievements…  his belief in me, even when I did not live up to general expectations… his great love for me, even when I was following a selfish path.

I remember how alive he was, even during those last days. His mind was sharp and inquiring and he would enthusiastically take part in all my plans…. as much as his weakening health and dwindling strength would allow him. He would want to hear about my activities, my thoughts. Only now, I can fully understand how important it is to have a listener who grants you complete and undivided attention.

How he loved old films and songs! He would hum along with his favorite singers and reminisce about the bygone days. There was a part of him that always dwelt in the past. He had faced disappointments and hardships… that had made him somewhat disillusioned. But he never for a moment ceased to hope or dream for my future.

I look at his photographs and remember how young he was and how handsome. My father was as good looking as a movie star. And no, I am not exaggerating. He had a broad forehead, and an aquiline nose…. his dark eyes would crinkle with laughter, and his hair was always so well-groomed. His black, wavy hair was his secret pride… I can still see him… standing in front of a mirror, bending a little and, meticulously combing his hair. Even when illness took away his health and looks, his hair remained black and beautiful. I would, sometimes, tease him about his swarthy complexion. He would get a serious look on his face and insist that he was not dark but ‘coffee-brown’ and that his European friends really liked his skin tone. How we would all laugh at this little conceit!

My father was a great admirer of Uttam Kumar, the Bengali movie star. He would always want to watch the reruns of Uttam Kumar movies on the telly… so much so that I would get slightly rattled. Because, at the time, I would prefer watching programmes that were more exciting than boring black and white classics. It’s only now that I truly appreciate the craft and thought that would go in the making of those films. It’s only now that I understand what a wonderful performer Uttam Kumar was and how right my father was in admiring him. These days, when ever, the handsome face of the late screen idol flashes across the silver screen, I think of my dad. How I miss watching those lovely Uttam Kumar films with my father, by my side!

I go through my father’s old files and certificates and am repeatedly reminded of his many achievements and talents. In his youth, he lived in a glamorous world and met celebrities and VIPs on an everyday basis. He was used to gourmet food, sumptuous ambience and yet, there was nothing he liked more than the simple pleasure of spending time at home, surrounded by his loved ones. He really loved us, his family and when I look back and think of all the things that he had done for us….. I feel a deep sense of love and gratitude. Not once did he deprive his family of things that truly matter… like good food, books etc. Once in a while, he would make my sister and me wait for a second new outfit or a Walkman but that only taught us about the value of things. My father abhorred wastage of any sort and he would insist that we finished our food properly, before leaving the dining table. He gave us valuable life lessons in his quiet, firm, yet unobtrusive way.

Strangely, even the demise of my father has brought me closer to an understanding of something significant. That death is not just a vague, unfamiliar occurrence but a reality that I need to be prepared for. One day it will come to me. But if, at the other side of the veil…. in the middle of all the darkness and overwhelming terror…… I find the familiar, dear, dear face of my father, then I don’t have anything to fear. Death has, in a way, lost some of its sting. Of course, I fear the idea of loss still but there is a kind of hope too. A hope of meeting my father again.

Now, I see my son, toddling about, busy as a little bird, flitting from one object to another. I see the same broad forehead, the well-defined curve of his upper lips, the determination in his chin, even the same squarish palms…. and I can’t help but think of my father. There are so many similarities. I just know that had my father been alive today, he would have simply doted upon his grandson. Because he was not only loving but also knew how to demonstrate his affection well. He knew how to laugh and make others laugh. My boy would surely have been one pampered little guy! However, these wishful thoughts only make the well of sadness inside me threaten to brim over.

My son will know about his grandfather through photographs, that do speak a thousand words… through a few personal items, that can be so revealing. Also, I hope to tell him stories that will help him build a near-complete picture of his grandfather… stories that will also keep memories of my father burning brightly in my heart.

Copyright © 2013 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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‘ Remain thou, thou art so beautiful.’

… Faust addresses the passing moment, in order to capture the eternal essence of a fragment of time. I use these same words to prevent the disappearance of a vision.

I see you… now… as I write… but my pen does not possess the power to convey the strength of your presence. You stand as a creäture of light… dressed in the many-coloured robes of my fond imagination… but you are real, for I see your radiant face… surrounded by your hair, that shimmers softly like the night sky, dotted with strings of pearly stars.

I see your eyes… sparkling like gems… lustrous and gentle, all at once. Your eyes perform the tasks of the ears, the tongue, and even the heart… Unaverted eyes, that listen quietly… Eloquent eyes that speak to me by transforming themselves into a galaxy of words- Eyes, that live and vivify.

You have the elusive grace of a gazelle and even when you are still, you reflect the serene aura of the autumnal twilight. When you are silent, you are like a cool night in the island of Nepenthe… you make me conscious of restful dreams, of pure experience… of peaceful sensations. Thoughts do not trouble me… but I begin to understand.

Who are you? A mortal? A muse? I do not know, but in your proud form lies the essence of eternity. You are the indestructible human spirit- you are the Ideal.

You are the personification of my highest aspirations… the realization of my fondest dreams. Your genuineness- reaffirms my faith in the best in human nature- in love, exaltation, and ecstasy.

Are you a Laura? a Beatrice?… or are you ‘Intellectual Beauty’? Will you inspire me and guide me?

You are still before me, with a mysterious smile on your lips. Your far-seeing eyes and godlike composure unnerve me and yet you fill me with hope. Why do you smile so?… as if you are thinking of something that we can never know… or imagine.

Make me a part of your dream— a reason for you to smile…

I don’t know… how long you will stay… maybe, you will vanish like the will o’ the wisp… but I am certain of one thing… you will have changed my world for ever. I cannot deny my destiny… I cannot escape my future.

You are a glimpse of what I can be… what I should be.

[Another article that I had written for my college magazine.]

Copyright © 2002 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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