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Crazy love in Banaras by Swara Bhaskar

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Crazy love in Banaras by Swara Bhaskar

Post by pollyanna on 2013-07-21, 10:28

Crazy love in Banaras


Is Raanjhanaa the tale of an irrational, impassioned, obsessive lover, or thinly disguised male supremacist storytelling?
All the articulate criticism about the glorification of stalking in Raanjhanaa has led me to some serious introspection and self-doubt. Have I become so corrupted by Bollywood that I’m unable to recognize problematic gender stereotyping and latent misogyny of the films I’m a part of?
Without prejudice to critical reviews, there is another possible reading of the film. Despite its gimmicky, populist and male favouring one-liners, the film may be interpreted within its generic context. Raanjhanaa is the tragedy of an irrational, impassioned, obsessive lover. Depicting such a crazed state-of-mind on-screen requires the lover doing things that go against ordinary and socially accepted expressions of love. Kundan’s wrist slitting is neither intelligent, nor advisable. It is a device that portrays the crazed intensity of his passion. Similarly driving his scooter into the Ganges with Zoya behind is a reflection of his shock and trauma upon discovering that she loves another man, not an attempt to murder.
Kundan is a deeply flawed character. He’s selfish, delusional, mercurial, thoughtless, hugely impulsive, self-destructive and bad tempered! However an easy rejection of him is difficult and he is rendered endearing in his naïve innocence. He actually believes that Zoya will remember and reciprocate his love in spite of differences of geography, religion, class, education and thinking. Writer Himanshu Sharma has created a hero harking back to the literary tradition of the intensely-passionate-deeply- flawed-self-destructive-tragic-male-protagonist, seen in almost every ‘great’ tragedy in literature be it Saratchandra’s Devadas or Shakespeare’s Othello. Sharma’s Raanjhanaa remains consistent with the generic patterns of the tragic form, as we are compelled to sympathise with this problematic male protagonist who mistreats the very women he loves but is redeemed by the author in a noble death.
In my eyes Kundan never becomes a serious figure of threat because Zoya is never shown to be scared of him. Her first response to his overture is a fearless confident taunt and a tight slap. Because Zoya consistently remains unflinching and unafraid, Kundan never fully becomes that sinister, threatening, figure of the dangerous stalker.
Raanjhanaa is an unapologetic celebration of crazy love. A story of how love makes otherwise rational people behave in a stupidly self-damaging manner. Why else would an educated and smart Zoya engineer a bizarre, Tughlaqesque and almost certainly dangerous charade of a having a Muslim boyfriend and marrying him with parental consent in a traditional ceremony? Why would the otherwise shrewd and ever-practical Jasjit play along? They act in sheer desperation to realise their love. Feisty Bindiya’s love is undeterred despite humiliation and beatings and it makes her pray to Gau-mata for Zoya’s death, but also participate the next moment in a plan to rid Zoya of an unwanted suitor. What except deep love for his friend would drive the otherwise eminently sensible and grounded Murari to participate in unrealistic plans to win an evidently unattainable girl. Kundan isn’t the only one eccentric in love.
Zoya’s character has been criticized for being manipulative, cold and heartless. To me Zoya was just a very human, and thus imperfect young girl dealing with confusing, contradictory and eventually very painful matters of the heart. What is so wrong with an adolescent 14-year old being flattered and responsive to the devotion of a young boy, being both curious and nervous about that first kiss, having her anger at Kundan’s lie dissipate into tears at his hysterical wrist-slashing? What is wrong if eight years later she has moved on? In fact Zoya’s character is not calculating but naive in trusting Kundan’s friendship, she’s honest about her lack of love for him, about her boyfriend. She’s perfectly frank and sensible when she asks him if he intends to ruin her life for that one childish mistake she made? And when she lies, it is to save Kundan the pain of realizing that Zoya in fact did not reject him because he was a Hindu, that she simply didn’t love him! With Zoya, Sharma taps another classic literary trope- the unattainable lady love, the mistress-on-a pedestal who the poet will never attain but continually pine for. Zoya is finally redeemed despite all her flaws when she says wretchedly in the climax to Kundan that ‘The world will spit on me if I fall in love with you, but I think I have.’ Zoya’s tragedy is that she must plot murder to prevent herself from falling in love with the very man who ruined her life and accidentally killed her fiancé.
Raanjhanaa, like Sharma’s earlier Tanu Weds Manu is a film generously laced with dialogue that reflects a male-dominated worldview, a stereo-type infested, though not hate-filled, folk wisdom and wry humour regarding gender relations and matters of the heart. Sharma’s characters speak the thoughts and language of the world where they belong- the largely socially conservative, patriarchal world of small town India. And so a 16 year old Bollywood buff Kundan reflecting the Bollywood influence on his generation says, “In UP tire or scare a woman into accepting you.” An unpremeditated inter-textual moment! And Murari similarly laments that doctors and engineers often steal the love of mohalla lads. In Sharma’s world men are indulgently helpless and harmlessly exasperated at women. Whether it is the inability of Manu’s father to check his vulgar ill-behaved wife in Tanu Weds Manu, or Raanjhanaa’s Jasjit lamenting that plans born of women’s minds cannot be trusted; Sharma’s men are bewildered at the ways of women. This may make them conservative but not misogynists. Both of Sharma’s screenplays depict the world as is. If Zoya’s parents are conservative Muslims, they will oppose an inter-religious marriage. If Kundan’s father is the head priest of the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the family will live in a Brahmin ghetto with Brahmin neighbours. If childhood friends share a sibling-like bond they will not shy away from hitting and abusing one another. But Raanjhanaa is not the story of Muslim-Hindu relations in Benaras, nor is it a study of the social relations between the numerous castes that inhabit the city, and it is certainly not the story of some inaccurately and grandiosely imagined quasi-leftist student political movement threatening to sweep Delhi’s assembly elections. Raanjhanaa is the story of a boy who like the Raanjhaa of folklore fell obsessively in love with an unattainable girl. She loved someone else, and he despite initially trying to help the girl unite with her lover, on learning of her lie to him unthinkingly unleashed a tragedy that ruined the lives of everyone involved and found redemption only in death. A male-centric perspective? Yes. Politically incorrect? Indeed! Disturbing? Certainly! Emotionally compelling? Also! Misogynistic? I beg to differ.
(Swara Bhaskar is an actress based in Mumbai and her films include RaanjhanaaListen Amaya, andTanu Weds Manu. She can be reached at @ReallySwara on Twitter)

Credit--The Hindu

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Re: Crazy love in Banaras by Swara Bhaskar

Post by pollyanna on 2013-07-21, 10:31

A halo around male antics

A film from Bollywood paying homage to the frenzy of unrequited male love does not exactly make for breaking news. The scenarios are too familiar: through his terrifying persistence, a ‘romeo’ eventually makes the object of his passion ‘fall’ for him, or in death, a stalker-husband is lauded for his great love by the very man who rescues his wife. Look closely at most such character types, and you find two underlying themes: the height of passion is usually directly proportionate to the sense of inadequacy and inverted ego experienced by the man for reasons extraneous to the woman; and, the love that the film celebrates is male love, be it of the obsessive lover (second lead) or the decent lover (hero), and the male bond between them.
Like a rogue gene, this theme surfaces with alarming regularity in our films. Of course, the treatment of this theme has changed over time. The somewhat slim plots of earlier decades have given way to more richly textured cultural backdrops, including locations and language, as well as detailed characterisations. But the black and white theme of unrequited male love remains undiluted, as evidenced in the recent Dhanush-Sonam Kapoor starrer Raanjhanaa (an allusion to Ranjha, lover of Heer in the epic Punjabi romance of Heer and Ranjha). Directed by Aanand L. Rai, the film is being feted on both sides of the Vindhyas, with many seeing in Dhanush’s portrayal the Tamilisation of Bollywood.
Raanjhanaa is set against the backdrop of Banaras, city of narrow, snaking lanes and a festive celebration a day, where people shift gear from a delectably earthy tongue to A.R Rahman’s tunes in a jiffy. The mundanity of existence is as stifling as the promise of salvation in temples and ghats is expansive. This is the backdrop of boy-man Kundan’s (Dhanush) all-consuming love for child-woman Zoya, with the stunted passion of a ‘roadside romeo’, displaying a level of obsession usually associated with stalkers. He slits his wrist, threatens to slit her wrist, badgers her to marry him, tells the rickshaw puller not to take money from his bhabhi, and grabs her routinely, and so on.
Proceeding in the same vein, Kundan gradually develops shades of greatness, wearing his golden heart on his sleeve. Just as surely, the female protagonist slides from being a childish airhead to an adult airhead not above leaning on him, finally turning into a villain. But even the final moment of vendetta is denied her, for that would turn the spotlight on her. No, it is Kundan, whose brittle self must always prevail.
There are two scenes which form the crux of the film, and they both involve the men who love Zoya. In one scene, Kundan tells her scornfully, “Loving you reflects my ability, not yours. Had it been someone else, I would have loved her with the same passion.” Some love. In another scene, a much injured Jasjit (Abhay Deol), Zoya’s adult interest, tells Kundan that it is love for a girl which has landed him in dire trouble and spoilt his plans for a shining political career (he is a radical student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University). Jasjit looks at Kundan with affection in spite of knowing that Kundan is the cause of his immediate misfortune. A tender bond of love and understanding sprouts between the two men, which is clearly far superior to the love they feel for their colourless beloved.
Of course, the title of the film itself signals that the narrative would uphold the perspective of the male protagonist. What one had not bargained for was the very anti-thesis of the spirit that the name Ranjha brings to mind. Over the past few centuries, the saga of Heer and Ranjha, popularly called ‘Heer’, has been written, recited and sung by countless Punjabi Sufi writers and poets. In these narratives, Heer speaks of becoming Ranjha in the very act of uttering his name, indicating a merging of the self with the beloved.
In Raanjhanaa, there is no beloved except the self. Not only does our Ranjha think of imposition as love; he has no qualms telling his ‘beloved’ that it is his ability to love which is special and not she who is special. In doing so he is only echoing routinely reported scenarios of women traumatised by such a special male ability and sense of entitlement.
It is well known that Bollywood and its counterparts have always been on the side of the male lover, be it the boyish hero with his ‘impish’ pranks verging on hounding, or the obsessive lover. But there was at least a semblance of a moral universe in which the obsessive lover existed. As the negative character he had to pay the price for his misdeeds. He could be the lead but only as an anti-hero, like Shah Rukh Khan in Anjaam and Darr. The viewer felt nothing but an unambiguous emotion of fear and revulsion.
In Raanjhanaa, the director’s sleight of hand lends Kundan’s character a ‘cute’, underdog look to glaze over his suffocating male antics, and ends up creating a halo around him, and that is worrisome. More so, considering that this core aspect is masked by lavish and tactile layers of sets and ambience, an interesting cast of characters, and witty dialogues. Each lush layer invites the viewer to absorb the sensations they like, not necessarily look at the film incisively or in its entirety. The fact that Dhanush essays the role competently is also part of the problem.
However, the film inadvertently makes room for reflection. The narrow lanes shown in the film remind you that across India there are socially prescriptive settings rife with stifled and stifling passions, unburdened by any thoughts of being self-reflexive. In the light of harsh reality, these characters do not have the cutesy touch of a Dhanush bestowed on the character by director Rai. For, there is one thread running through the narrative of so-called individual crimes of passion, socially sanctioned ‘honour’ killings, and a paralysing aesthetic of violence in public space and political domain. It is the notion of release of pent-up feelings – unrequited male emotions — through socially sanctioned, aggressive role models of masculinity. This notion of masculinity is complemented by a patriarchal society’s loud and clear signals sanctioning violence against women — from son preference and female foeticide to the idea of justice demonstrated by many a court in advising women to marry the men who had raped them.
There can be many reasons why Raanjhanaa is a hit, but clearly, none of them can be very comforting.

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Re: Crazy love in Banaras by Swara Bhaskar

Post by pollyanna on 2013-07-21, 10:32

Redeemed by realism


The week following the release of Raanjhana saw a barrage of reviews and analyses, triggered in no small measure by the novelty of a Tamil actor in Bollywood. Most reviewers were quite taken up by the audio-visual brilliance of the film — A.R. Rahman’s re-recording, the riot of colour and the painstakingly composed frames. The formidable talents of Dhanush, the male lead, too, drew much breathless hyperbole.
There was also discussion and debate on the misogynistic/deviant aspects of the story. However, for the most part, these seemed encumbered by a sense of obligation.
The protagonist's stalking, slitting of the wrists, and selfish cruelty towards Bindiya, his female friend, cannot be flippantly explained away, because they form the core of the story, the most explicit views on the character. However, there is a difference between portraying something on film and condoning it outright. If Raanjhanaa devotes reels to Kundan’s antics, it spares no effort in projecting the consequences of his actions.
Part of the hype, quite justified, was that Raanjhanaa’s storyline would evoke the imagery and shock-factor of Selvaraghavan’s work. While the visual artistry and the protagonist’s obsessive intensity are similar, director Anand L. Rai holds on to a redeeming thread of realism. In other words, Raanjhanaa would have been incongruous if Kundan had succeeded. Suspended disbelief on the one hand, we must credit the audience with knowing this too.
Debates on the disturbing aspects of the film come across as addenda that never quite fit in with the overall tone of approval.
If box office numbers are anything to go by, the approval is not isolated. Raanjhanaa crossed Rs. 50 crore at the end of its second week. In a month, it had breached the Rs. 100 crore mark, making it the third-biggest release of 2013.
ANAND VENKATESWARAN

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