Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'Mitty wajaan maardi' -- an underrated modern masterpiece

There are films and there are great films. There are, however, films which transcend all classification and join the canon of masterpieces. Defying even the hardiest of sceptics, they rise and soar above the rest much as an eagle soars above the dusty landscape.

'Mitty wajaan maardi' is one such movie.

Starring a bearded man who wears preposterous shirts, drives around in topless cars and is a funky dude, the movie effectively captures the angst that is prevalent in the nostalgic Punjabi diaspora in the United States of America. The protagonist, named Jasbir Singh, is a fit young man who suddenly decides one day, over the lengthy course of a five-minute song during which the titles roll(quite a marvellously innovative method of showing the titles, I thought), that he has to visit his motherland. Not for him the opulent luxury and skyscraper-lined streets and highways of the States. Not for him the allure of the moolah or appeal of the veela. He decides to pay his father a visit. He seemingly drives home to Punjab(this part, admittedly, is not explained very clearly. He is driving a car in the US. Next moment, he lands up in Punjab in the same car.) and delivers a healthy surprise to his dad. A healthy lecture follows in which the virtues of the two cultures are discussed and debated at great length, to be terminated abruptly by the unexpected, but not altogether unpredictable, appearance of a plate of garma-garam pakode/pakore and closely-related fried items. These are consumed and the discussion is left to deal with its loneliness by itself.

It is then that the character of the heroine is introduced. Here we have, etched in indelible celluloid ink, one of the finest characters ever to tread the Punjabi cinematic landscape. Gurjit Kohli, the leading lady, is Gurjit, the female protagonist of the story and she is immediately made the object of affection of Jasbir, the floral-silky-shirt-wearing hero. It is in situations like these that the screenplay, penned by Mandeep Kaur(adapted from the passionate Partition-era novel 'Mitty-shotty wajaan maardi' by Jaspreet Brar), scores. He wastes no time in the lengthy rituals of courtship and romance. Right away, the hero is shown as a man of purpose and determination, a man who decides, merely upon looking at a woman, that she shall be the love of his life, society and her opinion be damned. Thereafter, he proceeds to pummel this opinion into her by following her around relentlessly and being wherever she is, whenever she's there(sanitary facilies excepted). Over the course of two or three songs, Gurjit relents. They are as one, twobodiesonesoul. This is established during a song when Jasbir sings Dera Sacha Sauda leader Gurmeet Singh's immortal, but controversial lines:-

Random Punjabi words with a lot of huNe and paavaan and jaaNa
(Translation:- You and I are one, just as Guru Gobind Singh and I are one. What the--who the hell are these people with swords?)

Widespread sectarian riots break out soon after these lines are sung by Jasbir, ignorant of their meaning. A small boy, a cousin of Gurjit's and spying on them as they stroll through a garden of roses, hears these lines and, shocked, runs to his father and other elders of Gurjit's household and renders the information. The tender romance is then nipped in the bud, as Gurjit's father, a devout man, demands an apology, which Ramandeep Khanna refuses to give since he is not even connected to the events mentioned and is just a guy who lives on the same street as Jasbir's father and happened to be the first guy Gurjit's father met as he went thundering around, randomly demanding apologies. Gurjit's father misinterprets this as an act of grave disobedience and delivers a powerful speech condemning the controversial singing. It is then that Jasbir's father spots the whole crowd and the commotion near his house. His followers, thirsting for an opportunity to unleash violence, rain down blows on Gurjit's father and his clan, killing innocent passerby Ramandeep in the process. Gurjit is taken away forcibly from the park, from Jasbir, and sold by mistake to a caravan of bedouins travelling to China. Gurjit's father soon realizes his mistake and hires an aeroplane to find her, which it soon does and blows the caravan to bits. Gurjit is nowhere to be found, even among the dead.

Griefstruck by Gurjit's disappearance and presumed death, Jasbir goes mad with agony. Giving up his preposterous shirts and sybaritic lifestyle, he dons the clothes of a simple man, preferring a kurta, jeans and a rather unnecessary jhola. He then embarks on a thrilling and adventurous trek through the Himalayan mountains, making friends with Tenzing the sherpa, before realizing he has come the wrong way. Killing Tenzing for misleading him, Jasbir turns left and heads towards Tajikistan. It is there that he comes upon Gurjit being held captive by a looting, pillaging, plundering mob of bedouins, who look rather out of place in the chilly Hindukush mountains in their thin, white costumes, losing a good twenty men annually to pneumonia and frostbite. Jasbir, amazed by the courteousness with which they treat Gurjit and all other women and also by the wide range of ammunition they possess, begins to understand them and their way of life. What is law, asks the bedouin chief, Balbir Pasha. What is goodness, what is order, what is civilization, he asks. Jasbir nods thoughtfully, appreciating the man's deep questions.

'No, I'm actually asking you. What are these things? I read them in an English book yesterday and want to know their meanings,' he says. Jasbir then teaches the bedouins the English language, kindly and sagely. Overcome by his affection for the bedouins and his love for her, considering how far he had to travel on foot, Gurjit cries out to him, expressing her undying love for him and declaiming her own doubts when he did not appear in the initial days of her captivity. In the words of avant garde Haryanvi poet, Mahavir Nikhanj, she sings:-

"Oh love mine, we shall be one as Buddha and the Lumbini gardens were one."

Widespread sectarian riots break out soon after these lines are sung by Gurjit, ignorant of their meaning. The lovers are forced to flee again. But they are encouraged by the wise words of the bedouin chief and his men, who now, armed with a knowledge of the English language, work as software engineers at a local TCS office. They part ways, the lovers and the nomads, but at heart, they are one.

It is an overwhelming experience, this movie, and though daunting in length(about 400 minutes), is worth every minute of it. The dangerous and senseless nature of communal violence is brought to the fore by the sensitive screenplay by Mandeep Kaur, who transposes the Partition novel by Jaspreet Brar(which was set in strife-torn Calcutta and dealt with the bold theme of female sexuality in a time of much conservatism) into an allegory for the bad effects of globalisation on the agrarian Indian economy and the religious polarisation taking place in the Indian state and the deep schism developing in the secular fabric of the nation. A wake-up call like this is much-needed, in these times when 'even fascists can win polls.' The plot device of having even the peaceful Buddhists taking to guns is quite stunning in its destruction of cinematic status quo. The needless killing of innocent passerby Ramandeep underscores this point. A bold, standout example in the filmic canon, this movie, helmed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi(whose previous venture, Pinjar, was greatly acclaimed critically, but, sadly, did not meet with much box office success), is a landmark in Indian movie history. Jasbir's performance is strong and consistent, with his sincerity coming through in every scene, every frame, every shot. The best performance of the movie, though, is by Gurjit Kohli. She spans the gamut of human female emotion with effortless ease, displaying shades and nuances never even dreamed possible by other heroines of today. Clearly, she is miles ahead of them all and set to be the next occupant of the throne vacated by the great Sridevi. As AIDS-afflicted bedouin chief Balbir Pasha, wicketkeeper Vijay Dahiya delivers a sensitive performance. The rest of the supporting cast is great too, with honourable mention to be made of Tinu Anand as Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Singh and a delightful guest appearance by Tabu as Jasbir's seductive and perpetually lustful neighbour. Technically too, this film stands out heads above the rest. Ravi K Chandran's ace and dynamic cinematography gives a startling, vibrant and shockingly real feel to the movie, especially during the riot scenes, harking back to the days of Ravi's other, low-budget outings such as Mani Ratnam's 'Bombay' and 'Kannatthil mutthamittal.' His sweeping capture of the unspoiled beauty of the Hindukush mountains is spectacular, letting the viewers feel, really feel, the pure, fresh air and the brilliant adrenaline rush of riding through those daunting mountains and wide, sweeping valleys. Gurdass Mann's pulsating background score easily bests most of this year's films, putting viewers in mind of A R Rahman's score for Ratnam's 'Bombay'(particularly the riot scenes). Suresh Urs' editing is slick, except for a minor glitch which reveals Jasbir's ugly chest hair when he is making love to Gurjit. Dr. Dwivedi seems to have adapted a technique from Ratnam here, when he brings in blind cinematographer P C Sreeram for the lighting and Sreeram refuses to shine any light at all on the characters in the scene described above, making for a very awkward moment when the sun rises and Jasbir is shown firmly ensconced in the arms of Gurjit's father. Clearly, this editing glitch could have been avoided. But this could be nitpicking a little, especialy considering the superb slow-motion sequence Urs creates as an homage to Puttanna Kanagal, as the bedouins are riding through the Hindukush mountains.

All said, 'Mitty wajaan maardi' is a superlative movie. The kind of movie which, at the end of six and a half hours of watching it, makes you want to stand and applaud. The director and his crew deserve the money and all the other fine things they get from it, for they have made an honest and brilliant effort here and it shows. Sensitive cineastes will certainly like this movie, with a very human emotion shining through in it. Finer films are rarely made and it would certainly be ill-advised to miss it.

10 comments:

Along came Polly! said...

WTF do you get ideas as preposterous as these?

Arcane Crapper said...

Sounds like the Punjabi version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Hehehe...

Spunky Monkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Along came Polly! said...

Oh yeah! I remember that shit. It was awful. Sounded like someone had a bad case of piles.

P.S. Of courese I am refering to CTHD.

Harish said...

Chennaagittu. Neenoo parvaagilla haasya maaDtya!

Ello ond kaDenamma chalana chitragaLalli namma moulyagaLna....
Sari.

Spunky Monkey said...

Whoa, this film is right up there with Gunda for me.

It is lamentable however that Daali, the starlet of many a Tiger Prabhakar film in which she gave us a fine demonstration of Lower Lip Biting In Rain, is reduced to mother type crektaars.

My own favorite part of the film is the ease with which the hero dewd switches his Angrezi enunciation between chaste Punjabi (seat-balt, phaain) and Yo American (Okhai, awrite, daakter). Very commendable.

Along came Polly! said...

Shit! Two of you have seen it??!! May the Heavens rain mercy on us....

Arjun said...

[along came polly]Jayanagar 4th block.

[Crapper] It does? I haven't watched Crouching tiger, hidden dragon.

It must be noted here that Steve Martin made a hideous joke about this movie:-
"I didn't see any tigers or dragons in this movie. Then I realised, that was because they were all...crouching and hidden."

[along came polly] What, animal piles? Poor creatures, they already have a problem going in public places. You give them piles too...

[Harish] He he, houdu, kaLkotidivi.

[Spunky Monkey] Of course, I never watched the whole of 'Mitty wajaan maardi.' I fell asleep ten minutes into it and woke up only after it was done. But badly wanting to review it, I made up this whole story and praised myself for having made such a wonderful movie. This is the truth.

[along came polly] It's not the real story!! WHo the hell would watch 'Mitty wajaan maardi' ?!

Two of us *could* have watched this movie...

Spunky Monkey said...

Oye. I take offense. I watched Mitti Wajaan Maardi. And liked it very much also. Especially when the hero dances to song that unabashedly proclaims Punjab di shaan is Scotch Whiskey.

Arjun said...

[Spunky monkey] Ayyo nimmajji, actually nodidiyallo movie-na. Yeah, even I remember that song, unfortunately. Olle catchy tunes-u. After that song, we stopped and everybody had cheeps and joos and votijeet. Kmaal hai! PreshaaNi hai! Grentee hai!