Thursday, 18 October 2007

'Shei Shomoy' (Those days) by Sunil Gangopadhyay

I finished 'Shei Shomoy' (or 'Those Days', which I guess you have already read and enjoyed!) finally-- was a rather long, but equally enjoyable,read! I rate it as one of the best novels ever written in the historical fiction genre. To start with, the blend of real-life stars of yesteryears with fictional characters was awesome, to say the least. Vidyasagar, not really the protagonist in the book, strangely left the most lasting impression in my mind. In fact, now I have placed Vidyasagar up there in my list of the greatest men to have graced India-- along with Tagore, and my idol Gandhiji. Nabinkumar, and more importantly Ganganarayan, his elder brother, come just behind Vidyasagar. I literally wept when Ganganarayan's love, Bindubaashini died, ending her miserable life-- not only did she have to stay away from the man she loved, but she was already a widow; and then she had to stand the humiliation of being someone's hired prostitute in Benaras. And still she found enough reason to continue living after having a child!

And then when Ganga returned to fulfill his incomplete duties towards the farmers whom he once ruled, I couldn't help but idolise the man for his extreme sense of responsibility. It was somewhat good that Ganga learnt to love again-- his marriage to Kusumkumari was blissful.While Kusumkumari found a new lease of life, after her hellish marriage with a madman, Ganga found a reason to continue living. And given the useless and dreamy romantic that I am, I was of course quite happy for the two. It was also touching to note how Ganga remembers Bindu, saying that while he once again found life and love, she had to die a sad woman.

Nabinkumar (who is, I guess, based on Kaliprasanna Singha) is an altogether different story. The extremely whimsical, and yet superbly talented and kind-hearted, Nabin is torn between two different worlds. He leaves the world in a turmoil-- with lots of unfinished duties, dreams and ambitions. Nabin, is in my eyes, the best of Bengali multi-millionaires we've heard of. Not only is he extremely sensible and humane, he is always in search of something good and noble. And while all the others babus are busy engaging in wine and women, Nabin writes extensively, and tries to rid the society of evils. A rather nice thing about Nabin is that he likes people who speak frankly, and not sycophants and flatterers. One of the more subtle points in the whole book is the love triangle of Nabin, Ganga and Kusum. Nabin seems to love his wife, Sarojini, and yet he has very deep emotions for Kusumkumari. Nabin avoids talking much to Kusum, because he doesn't want to affect his brother's and his wife's lives. The more intriguing question is that: does Kusum love Nabin? Certainly seems so. After Nabin's death, Kusum is silently mourning. And yet Kusum actually still loves her husband Ganga. Isn't love a strange, and yet very beautiful, thing? Seems so to me!

Harish Mukherjee and Chandranath (the son of the prostitute 'Heera Bulbul') leave their footprints on my mind too. Harish is a tireless fighter, waging wars against oppression (and ultimately dying, leaving the whole thinking world in sorrow), while Chandranath has to fight society all his life long. Chandranath, an extremely intelligent and sensitive boy, is thrown out of school, and later hurt badly, only because he is the son of a prostitute. This makes me question: are we to blame the prostitutes for the sex trade? Don't the two-faced babus themselves go to the sex-workers, and later treat the same people as scum? Isn't the world a hypocrite's paradise? Determined to fight on, Chandranath returns as a gentleman, to eradicate blind-belief in sadhus, yogis and other crooks. It's quite funny to see how Chandranath turns the 'faithful' crowd of devotees against the very babas they worship. Ironically, Chandranath still has to fight society-- babus burn his house down and hurt him very badly, because he saves a prostitute from the hungry and violent claws of the rich and the famous. It's a cruel decision of fate by which Chandranath and Nabin never get to become good friends-- something that has saddened me quite a lot. The other figures whom I shall distinctly and fondly remember are Raimohan (I believe each society needs a master whistle-blower like him), 'Young Bengal', and of course, Michael Madhusudhan Dutta.

The hate-figures finally! Barring the usual plethora of disgusting babus and orthodox Hindus, I hated Bidhushekhar the most. Strange, isn't it? Let me explain. Bidhu never looked at Bimbabati with respect-- all he had for her was lust. What was most disgusting was the way Bidhu forgave his lust all by himself-- all the while saying that Ganga was wrong to desire his daughter, Bindu. That is damned hypocrisy! Also worth mention is the attitude with which Bidhu treated the Singhas-- he kept repeating in his mind that he could destroy the Singhas if he wished too, and the only reason why he didn't do so was his love for his late friend Ramkamal Singha. I believe no true friend ever thinks such about a "dear friend's" family! Also in the list of hate-figures is Thaakomoni, the widowed woman who went onto become a servant, and then the boss of them, in the Singha mansion. One can say that fate had forced her to become the way she was-- I say that if we don't allow fate to take control of us, we can always be free.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Film review: Black Friday

Image: The Interrogation.

Anurag Kashyap's docu-style enactment of the '93 Bombay Blasts case, the biggest criminal case in Indian legal history, is earth-shattering (pun intended!) to be quite frank. The film starts with Gandhiji's immortal words: "An eye for an eye wil make the Earth blind." (and hey, it ends with the same) And what follows is some ten minutes or so of pure gore, bloodspill, death, pandemonium of titanic proportions. The very look on a scorched man's face says more than a thousand words of mine can ever express about the impact that those blasts had. What is quite ironical about the blasts is that even though a petty criminal had revealed some crucial details of the blasts before they occured, the police were too confident to believe those: dismissing that man's words as mere foolery.

Kashyap superbly shows each and every minute detail of the planning and execution of the blasts. Kashyap follows the police as it tracks each and every criminal involved in the blasts. And like a house of cards, the whole hierarchy of underworld gangsters starts falling down. The ruthless, tactful and efficient style of interrogation adopted by the Mumbai police often borders on bloody torture. To get the correct facts out, the police leave no stone unturned: even going as far as publicly humiliating the kindred, women included, of the suspects. Kay Kay Menon plays the role of a touch cop with elan: adding a tangible reality to the role, which makes it all the more credible. When Kay Kay, himself quite disturbed due to the the inhuman methods his subordinates and himself have to resort, thrusts his head into a bucket full of water; it strikes me as one of the most sublime moments in the whole movie (of course, the blast scenes are the most mind-bogglingly filmed!). In the second half, the film proceeds mostly through the narrative of one Badshah Khan, himself a suspect-turned-police-witness: Badshah reveals how he gets to meet the wily Tiger, who convinces him that killing hindus (or what is put under the misnomer of 'Jihad') is the only way one can seek vengeance for the horrible Babri Masjid issue, and the following religious riots in Mumbai. Badhshah then narrates how the whole plan of planting bombs is laid out and effectively executed. What is most remarkable is the way the flight of Badshah from the police is filmed. The hapless guy has to travel from one town to another, one city to another, living in filthy conditions quite often; promised that he'll be taken to Dubai soon, and then left to die in the hands of the police by Tiger Memon and the higher ranks in the Mumbai Underworld. Incidentally, it's the heaped-up tension and frustation that spurs Badshah to turn into a police-witness. There's a certain flashback towards the end of the film which shows how Tiger Memon, his associates and agents of ISI plan to execute a grand show of 'Jihad' to terrify Hindu hearts, and seek revenge for the injustice lent out to the Muslims-- which is absolutely fabulously shot.

The dialogue in the film is very commendable. There's a certain line where Kay Kay answers a group of reporters on the allegation that the police are violating human rights when brutally interrogating suspects: (I am presenting just a mere translation of what Kay Kay says in Hindi) "When we interrogate cruel murderers cruelly, you enquire about violation of human rights. Why don't you ask us about violation of human rights when hundreds of innocent people die in the blasts? The guys in lockup we are interrogating aren't innocent people, they are hardcore terrorists; and we'd be quite happy to hand over the interrogation to all of you! Unless you humiliate these guys and their family-members, you can't get a word out of their mouths!"
In a conversation with Badhshah, Kay Kay says: "You, who kills in the name of religion, are a bastard. And so is the hindu who kills you and your people in the name of religion." I can't agree more. No religion ever promotes or justifies unjust warfare, and people who kill in the name of 'religion' are the biggest hypocrites in the world. "You think that your Tiger Memon is a Jihaadi. Why is he sitting in Dubai with his family now, while you people are rotting here in our jails?" Kay Kay continues, "You think that Allah was with you all the while, when you took revenge for the damage inflicted on you. Allah always blesses the one who seeks truth, and if we had not been seekers of the just truth, you would'nt be standing before us here!"

The film however scores the most in technique, camera, direction and acting: every little detail in the film is as credible as real (even the guy who plays Dawood Ibrahim). Just watch the film to understand why I speak so highly of it: it's something you should never miss.