Anger gets a lot done, they say. The impotent, helpless kind, especially. When it reaches its threshold, it is supposed to overthrow the status quo, burn the corruption to a crisp and roll out a fiery red carpet for all that is just and sane. But one cannot depend on supposed to’s as much as the olden days. These days, helpless rage is just sound and fury signifying nothing. At its worst, it breeds despair. At its best, it gives birth to a film like Gulaal. Never before a film born out of white-hot anger of a director so successfully..
Anger gets a lot done, they say. The impotent, helpless kind, especially. When it reaches its threshold, it is supposed to overthrow the status quo, burn the corruption to a crisp and roll out a fiery red carpet for all that is just and sane. But one cannot depend on supposed to’s as much as one could in the olden days. These days, helpless rage is just sound and fury signifying nothing.
At its worst, it breeds despair. The Defence Minister is assassinated in Rang De Basanti yet the world doesn’t become a better place. It makes cynicism our best friend. The Anti-26/11 youth rally at Gateway of India turns out to be a one-night-stand with sloganmongering. It strengthens our belief in apathy. Despite all the task forces and wars on terror, terrorism continues having a field day.
At its best, it gives birth to a film like Gulaal. Never before a film, born out of white-hot anger of a director, so successfully takes the pants off anger in public. Gulaal, India’s ‘vivid chronicler of nightmares’ tells us in no uncertain terms that rage might make awesome material for film, but in the real deal, it creates a huge, bloody mess.
Once upon a time Anurag Kashyap was much angrier than he used to be. The Government of India refused the release of Paanch yet again on account of the negativity it portrayed, but found nothing wrong with releasing three brand-new states: Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh.The world, especially India was witnessing the rise and rise of Hindu extremism and moral policing with no hope in sight. The anger inside him joined forces with a chance encounter with a short story (written by part-time model Raj Singh Chaudhary), a coincidental visit from the multitalented Piyush Mishra, a trip to Jaipur, eight years of frantic rewritings, soaking up the poetry of classic Hindi poets and multiple producer back-outs. And finally, Gulaal was ready to be thrown on our faces.
Set in the fictional town of Rajpur in Rajasthan, a land trapped between the past and the present, Gulaal lets loose a menagerieful of ruthless, opportunist characters of every shape, size and colour to play havoc. Dukey Bana, an erstwhile feudal lord, (Kay Kay Menon) is on a warpath to create the new country of Rajputana. But the hidden agenda behind his polemics is a desire to play king. His choice of warpaint is gulaal in the colour of blood, which his followers are willing to shed and draw, for the cause. Dukey’s reluctant pawn in this game is at first Ransa (Abhimanyu Singh), a self-exiled, headstrong prince and then a repressed, goody-two-shoes law student Dilip (Raj Singh Chaudhary, the story writer) who has been brutally ragged by local goon Jadhwal (Pankaj Jha) and wants his pound of flesh. Meanwhile, Karan Singh (Aditya Srivastava), one of the many illegitimate children of the king, is playing his own little game towards the top and the deadly ace up his sleeve is his sister Kiran (Ayesha Mohan), who can laugh, cry, act coy and sleep with men on cue. Anuja (Jessie Randhwa), Dilip’s fellow ragging victim and Prithvi Bana (Piyush Mishra), Dukey’s bitter, peacenik brother are the only characters who have some tatters of humanity left in them.
Great performances from actors like Kay Kay Menon (plays Dukey Bana), Deepak Dobriyal (plays Bhatti, Dukey’s chief henchman, almost as brilliantly as he played Rajoh Tiwari in Omkara), Piyush Mishra (plays Prithvi Bana) and Aditya Srivastava (plays Karan Singh) are expected. But relative newcomers like Ayesha Mohan (plays Kiran), Abhimanyu Singh (plays Ransa), Mahie Gill (plays Madhuri, failed actress cum Dukey’s mistress cum Mujrawali) shine with caustic brilliance. Lady Macbeth of Rajpur, Kiran is all guileless charm and wide-eyed innocence till it’s time to bring out the iron claws out of her velvet gloves. Ransa earns our respect for amputating himself from his stagnant descendence and pity for playing a pawn so willingly and getting bumped off in the process. Madhuri is desperate for attention and both heartbreaking and despicable in her passive aggression. Anuja didn’t have much to play but we can always do with more of her testy yet vulnerable indie girl act. But if you are looking for the screen-scorcher in Gulaal, the award goes to Piyush Mishra’s Prithvi Bana. He is the lone voice of conscience in this land of Gomorrah and has been reduced to a court jester as a punishment. The only forms of protest he is allowed are writing subversive songs and sarcasm and lone time for tinkering with his toys. Prithvi Bana is any man-in-the-street’s powerless anger at the system, personified.
Never before a Film Noir (French for Black Film) has looked so colourful. We didn’t know hues of the rainbow could be so suffocating till Rajeev Ravi, the cinematographer showed us. Green here doesn’t stand for fertility but poison. Red reminds us not of vigour but of bloodbath. Yellow doesn’t bring us any joy but brings up jaundice. He shot the key characters in filters of particular saturated colours: red for Dukey Bana, yellow for Ransa and black for Karan. Saturated colours, neon hues and shooting the film on 35 mm in a widescreen format, make the audience at once feel claustrophobic and erotically strangled. The fascination in creating strange inner worlds that is shared by the director and cinematographer definitely shows.
The music is as dark and thundering as any Indian OST has ever got. The lyrics are littered with off-kilter digs at 9/11 and the war on terror. The political songs of the Indian People’s Theatre Association are rewritten to fit the present-day lawlessness and opportunism. The work of all the poets who’ve ever had high hopes for this country: Sahir Ludhianvi, Guru Dutt, Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Verma and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala are called upon in the lyrics as if to watch over the burning pyres of their murdered great Indian dream. Masterfully envisioned, brilliantly written and breathtakingly performed, these pieces deserve nothing less than a standing ovation for Piyush Mishra and Anurag Kashyap for putting the ‘O’ in OSTs.
And in the end comes the statutory warning. If you haven’t watched Gulaal yet, you might do well to watch it after the general elections. It is powerful enough to take you off Indian democracy for a while.