Swara sat in the Starbucks cafe, sipping her coffee and staring out of the window. The blood stained knife lay next to her handbag, covered with her blue silk scarf. Preoccupied with her thoughts, she did not notice that I had reached her table.
As I sat next to her in the Starbucks Cafe adjacent to the INOX theatre at Nariman Point, Swara kept fiddling with the knife lying under her scarf. “What’s the knife for?” I asked.
“Oh! It is a very important prop in the short play that we are putting up at the NCPA next week,” she said.
“I presumed so, however, the red stains on it look quite authentic. What’s the play about?” I asked.
“Though I have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Production House, I can always trust my childhood pal. I play the role of a girl called Prerana. You might find some similarities between the play’s story line and some recent cases but I would like to assure you that it is quite an original,” said Swara.
“I will be greatly pleased if you could cut down on the disclaimers and tell me the story of the play. While we are at it, let me also tell you that I am in no particular hurry today so you might as well narrate the play to me in detail if you would like doing so,” I said.
“Sounds great, in that case let me do my dialogues in front of you, it will be a good rehearsal opportunity for me. Barring my dialogues I will manage the story’s progression through linear narration. As I said, my character is called Prerana and she lives with her parents and an elder brother in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. When the curtains rise the spotlight focuses on me as I stand on the left wing of the Stage wearing a black burqa. I speak to the audience: Today I am going to tell you about my tale of love which goes through fiery trials and tribulations of mistrust, hatred, inhumanity and death. Actually it is not a tale that has mushy Bollywood moments of love. It is actually a gruesome story of love.”
Lights fade and spotlight focuses on centre-stage where a band of boys and girls come on the Stage and perform on a song that is against the spirit of love. They sing satirical lines on politicians and make spoofs of leaders who preach divisive politics. In the meanwhile I have a change of costumes and make an entry in a vivacious avatar with a Raakhi and pooja thaali in my hands.
“What gift have you got for me this Raksha Bandhan bhaiyya? It better be a good one, last year you had managed to get away by gifting me a salwar-kameez piece,” I ask my brother Rahul.
Rahul playfully shows me a small gift making me believe that it contains something really precious. Sibling banter continues till our father makes his entry on the Stage and admonishes us saying that we are grown-ups and should behave accordingly instead of spending hours together in mindless banter. I make an exit from the Stage and my mother gets food for my brother and father while they discuss local politics and developments in the community. My father makes a comment on how the caste and community dynamics were altering in the area. He mentions about love jehaad and says that it is absolutely unacceptable to him that Hindu girls are getting converted and marrying Muslim boys. He says it is a ploy by the Maulvis to diminish the number of Hindus in the country and these boys are specially trained to seduce naïve Hindu girls to trap them into conversion and marriage. The spotlight on the stage again shifts to the left wing and focuses on me and I am shown sitting on a chair reminiscing my recent past.
“Wow! They were such beautiful days. I had first seen him on the first day of our History class in college; Ejaaz was so handsome that my friends and I could hardly keep our eyes off him. He spoke chaste Urdu and Hindi which added to his magnetic personality. However, our first meeting wasn’t exactly a pleasant one. We were supposed to take part in an inter-college cultural contest. It was a group of 6 people, three boys and three girls and we had to sing a song. Ejaaz had commented on my talaffus (pronunciation) urging me to pronounce some Urdu words from the epiglottis. It was so humiliating. I had won so many song contests in my school days and here Ejaaz was trying to teach me how to pronounce. I was completely aghast and did not obey his orders and the outcome was that he decided to change the song. I was amazed at the talent of this young, good-looking poet who composed a song without a single Urdu word so that I did not run the chance of making an error. Though I really admired what he did, that day itself I had decided to learn the language that has the world’s best phonetics and most amazing poetry. I fell in love with Urdu and also with the person who had questioned my knowledge of the language. Slowly but steadily I fell in love with Ejaaz.”
Time passes by; Rahul gets involved in active politics and joins a fringe group with the objective of saving innocent Hindu girls. My father carries on with his mundane life and keeps complaining about inter-community alliances which he considers to be the biggest problem plaguing the country in today’s time. He has a number of fiery consultations on the topic with members of his own community and they plan stern action against all young boys and girls who dare to disrespect their advice. Though being completely aware of the situation that is brewing not only in our vicinity but the entire district, I am unable to stop myself from loving Ejaaz. I re-enter the stage and the spotlight shifts to the right wing where Ejaaz and I are sitting.
“But you know Prerana that our relationship will never be accepted by your family members. It is a precarious situation. Though I love you a lot, I would rather die than be termed a love jehaadi. I think it is in our best interest that we break up to avoid any unpleasant outcome,” says Ejaaz.
We are sitting in the municipal park of Muzaffarnagar and there are a lot of people around us but despite their presence, I start sobbing. To console me, Ejaaz puts his arm around my shoulders when suddenly out of nowhere around eight-ten boys appear with hockey sticks and cricket bats and without any warning start thrashing Ejaaz. I then notice my own brother amongst those goons and plead with him to leave Ejaaz.
“No, bhaiyya, no, he hasn’t done anything wrong. It was me who fell in love with him. Please leave him. Don’t hurt him, please don’t hurt him,” Swara in her dramatic avatar started howling as I kept looking at her. The attendants at Starbucks turned and started looking at what was happening on our table.
“Okay, I get it that you have evolved into a good actress and I congratulate you for your talent for method acting. It really looks like you have got into the skin of Prerana’s character so let’s cut the drama out and you just tell me the story. Also what’s with the important prop, the blood stained knife? ” I said.
Swara’s face fell as she was really enjoying enacting the play. Snubbed by me, Swara, however, continued the story about her play without the dramatic emotions.
Prerana’s brother Rahul and the goons beat up Ejaaz brutally and leave him at the park. Rahul drags her home, locks her up and discusses the matter with their father. He says that they need to keep a watch on Prerana to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Rahul tells him that he would talk to Prerana as her actions may create problems for everyone in the family. After all he has a fledgling political career and his own sister could not jeopardize it through her actions. Their father listens to what Rahul says but looks unconvinced as he is a man for whom his honour means everything.
Two days later Prerana decides to meet Ejaaz, drapes herself in a burqa to conceal her identity and attempts exiting from the house when she confronts her father who makes fanatical statements about the superiority of his race and in a fit of rage stabs her with a knife. His daughter collapses on the floor; however, there is no repentance in him. He calls upon Rahul to help him get rid of Prerana’s lifeless body, who is horrified to see his sister lying in a pool of blood. In a state of indecisiveness he, however, helps his father carry the body out of home.
Post the murder, Rahul starts getting recurring dreams of the entire episode. The dream sequence is created and enhanced on the Stage with the help of audio-visuals. He repeatedly sees the knife with which Prerana was murdered. Rahul starts mistrusting his father and metamorphoses into some kind of a maniac while on the other hand his father continues to propagate his fascist theories. The disturbing visuals of the knife become frequent pushing Rahul on the verge of insanity. His transformation from a young man who believed in his father’s theories to a person who is unable to accept the murder of his sister in cold blood by his own father can be summarized in a sentence: When love is silenced by hatred all you get is despicable emotions.
In his insanity Rahul sees the floor of their house covered with Prerana’s blood, he unsuccessfully tries to mop the floor clean and wipe off the stains from the knife with which his sister was stabbed. He hears Prerana’s voice that their father needs to be killed else he might one day kill Rahul too if he dares to love someone. The symbol of inhumanity, hatred, crime needs to be eliminated… Rahul gets enraged and picks up the blood-stained knife and after a one-minute pause the audience hears scuffling sounds, strangulated grunts and a final shriek of the father.
In the last scene, I come on the stage and take off the burqa revealing my Rakhi-costume while the famous song from Raj Kapoor’s film plays in the background: Kehtaa hai Joker saara zamaana, aadhi haqeeqat aadha fasaanaa, chashma utaaro phir dekho yaaron, duniya wahi hai chehra puraana (Listen to me as I tell you a tale which is half fact and half fiction. If you change the prism of your world view you will know that it is an unchanged world with the same old characters).
Swara stopped her narration and looked at me for my feedback.
“When is the play opening?” I asked her.
“Next Tuesday,” Swara replied.
“I will be obliged if you could tell your team to block two tickets for me. I will surely pay and pick them up from the Box Office.”
In seventeenth century India, close to the city of Paithan, in a small village called Sauviragram, which lay along the banks of the great river Godavari, lived a woman named Ilaa. Being cotton farmers, her family was well to do, but not among the richest in their area. It was the harvest season, and cotton had to be picked from the plants. The wholesalers and traders from Paithan would be arriving in just a few weeks, carrying gold and goods for barter. They would exchange what they carried for the cotton that the farmers grew. The bales of cotton had to be ready in time! Work was at its peak!
But Ilaa was not to be found in the fields. She wasn’t working. Instead, she was sitting by the banks of the great river Godavari.
‘I am sick of this!’ she grunted loudly.
Sitting by her side, Radha did not react to Ilaa’s outburst as she knew that it was her seasonal rant. It was like the tempestuous Godavari during the Monsoons that occasionally scared the villagers with threats of floods by bludgeoning against the shores. However, it had never changed course or caused any problem for the river-bank dwellers. Radha had heard Ilaa’s complaint in the previous harvest seasons too and was almost certain about the statement that Ilaa was about to make.
‘In the name of Bhagwan Munisuvrat Nathji, I swear that the bugger never paid attention at Paathshaala. His attention was always at playing kho-kho. Just because he has been maintaining bahi-khaata, Baba feels that he is smarter than me and can deal better with the businessmen from Paithan. It is simply ridiculous. For the last three years, I have been pointing out mistakes in his book of entries but did not mention about them to Munshiji. Now he will be busy for two days dealing with the traders while you and I will monitor the labourers filling gunny bags with cotton. Today I am going to confront Karan,” Ilaa said. Radha kept munching on chivdaa that she had carried with her. Despite her brother Karan, being termed a ‘bugger’ she knew that Ilaa adored him far too much to point out his errors to anyone, leave aside their father, Munshiji.
Munshiji had been in the service of Ilaa’s father, Raghuveer Sawant, for the past 15 years. He had migrated from a neighbouring village to Sauviragram after he lost his wife to plague. With Karan and Radha, who were then 6-year and 3-year olds, Munshiji had found solace in the company of his employer. Sawant owned substantial agrarian land which bore him three crops per year. He needed someone who could advise him regarding profitable crops for cultivation and also manage the accounts. When Munshiji had first visited Sawant, Ilaa was overjoyed as she had got two playmates. She was especially happy to have Radha’s company as they were of the same age and joined Paathshaala in the same class.
After completing their education at Paathshaala, it was time for them to either pursue higher education or find employment. Ten years of formal education had given them a sound foundation to take on worldly matters and be on their own. It was decided by Sawant that the girls would follow Karan’s footsteps and assist Munshiji in managing the business. Karan had already been assisting Munshiji for three years; however, his attention was always more towards the village kho-kho competition. With regular exercise on the playground he had grown into a handsome young adult. His teammates would often tell him that if he was more regular on the field then they could participate in the Annual kho-kho competition in Paithan under his captainship. The prize money of 60 swarna mudraayein (gold coins) in the presence of Nanasaheb Peshwa was a big attraction, however, as Munshiji was growing old, it was now up to Karan to ensure that the business did not suffer.
Karan was elated when Radha and Ilaa joined him as he could now delegate work to them and spend more time with his teammates on the kho-kho ground. But he soon found out that Ilaa was smart enough and it would be matter of months when she would be at par in her understanding of the business which he had painstakingly learnt over years. Time went by as they continued to work together. Ilaa used to make a number of suggestions on changing crop patterns for better productivity which Karan duly appreciated. Ilaa also took keen interest when he regaled his stories from the kho-kho ground to her and Radha. She found his stories charming and somewhere within her, Ilaa just wanted to take care of the child in Karan who refused to grow up.
It was the morning of Vaishakha Krishna Dashami and there was festive fervour in Sauviragram. Every household was busy making arrangements for the birth anniversary celebration of Bhagwan Munisuvrat Nathji. Though a Jain Saint, celebrations for the anniversary transcended all religious boundaries. It was a ritual for Radha, Karan and Ilaa to walk all the way by the banks of the Godavari to reach the temple. On their way, Ilaa raised the topic of Karan’s indolence regarding business and hyperactivity on the play ground. “This year I will deal with the traders from Paithan. I know your heart is in sports, so it is better that you focus on it while I take care of the business with Radha and Munshiji. I have seen you on the playground and I believe that if you focus on your game, you can take it up professionally. The State supports sportsmen and I don’t see a reason why you should not achieve your full potential when someone, who is better than you at the job that you presently do, is willing to fill in your place,” Ilaa blushed as she spoke the lines which she had prepared over the last three days. To conceal her praise and affection for Karan she had added the statement of her being better than him in business matters. She had expected Karan to contest her but instead of a repartee what she got was two minutes of silence and a teary-eyed Karan.
“No one in my family has ever said what you have just told me Ilaa. I have always known that you are better than me in business matters but I too have some talents, which nobody appreciates. I can work like a bull if needed and it is evident on the playground but all that I am expected to do is tally books of accounts,” said Karan. If Radha hadn’t been around, Ilaa would have surely taken Karan’s hands in her own and assured him that as much as she appreciated his talent, she loved him too and was willing to share all his responsibilities.
But the big question that now arose was regarding sustenance; if Karan was not going to assist Munshiji then what would he do to earn a living. Ilaa decided to broach the topic with her father. In the evening she told Sawant that henceforth she and Radha would assist Munshiji and also engage with the traders from Paithan, while Karan would help the labourers on the field. She was sure of convincing her father but Raghuveer Sawant was a seasoned man, he understood human emotions well. Though he understood that Ilaa was trying to help Karan achieve his true goal in life, he was not going to make it so easy for Karan. He did not agree to Ilaa and feigned that he could not let her deal with strange traders from Paithan, while being fully aware that she was well prepared to deal with the shrewdest of the businessmen. While Ilaa’s suggestions were being refuted, Karan stood like a mute spectator unable to muster the courage to speak about his innate desires. Karan’s silence stung Ilaa like a venomous snake and she got very upset.
Sitting by the banks of Godavari, Ilaa said, “I am sick of this. I had given the bugger a chance to speak up for his own wellbeing but he just kept silent. Had he told Baba that he is not good at book keeping then we could have met the traders from Paithan this season and he could have focused on his game, but the idiot did not speak.” Radha who was still munching on the chivdaa spoke up, “If you are so concerned about my brother’s wellbeing, why don’t you tell it to him?” Ilaa blushed at the suggestion but could not conceal her frustration that Karan had let her down when she needed him. She stood up and started marching towards the village kho-kho ground.
Reaching there she held Karan by the arm and pulled him out of the playground. With Radha by her side, she asked Karan, “Do you like me?”
Karan was dumbstruck but managed to say a feeble yes.
“Do you love me?”
Karan could hear his own heartbeat but managed a louder yes.
“Will you marry me?”
Karan and Radha looked at each other as Karan was silent for almost a minute.
“I need an answer now.”
And it was the loudest of the three ‘yes’ that Karan had managed to speak till now.
On getting the answer that she wanted from Karan, Ilaa started walking towards her home still clutching Karan’s arm and pulling him behind her. On reaching home she went to her father and blurted out in one long breath, “Baba, I want to marry Karan and I want him to focus on his game while I would take care of the business. I need your consent for our marriage.” As Sawant had already sensed a development on these lines a few days back, he was not taken by surprise, however, being an intelligent businessman he laid out a condition for the communion.
“Being a father, I am concerned about my daughter’s future, therefore, I will agree to your proposal only on the condition that before this year’s Navratri, Karan will earn more money than me,” said Sawant.
Ilaa was stumped by her father’s condition. There was no way that hapless Karan could earn so much in such a short amount of time. But what her father said next made Ilaa feel that she was definitely not the incarnation of Parvati standing in front of King Daksha. “I am not an irrational person, I will let Karan and you use half of the land that I possess. In the next six months, you should earn more money than I do from the other half, on which I will continue to grow cotton. You can help Karan in his endeavours, however, I will not be providing you any monetary help to start your business,” said Sawant.
Though a little uncertain, Ilaa and Karan knew that they stood a chance to overcome the hurdle set by her father. They had the combination of Ilaa’s intelligent ideas and Karan’s physical abilities. For the next two days, Ilaa kept strategising about the crop to maximise their earnings against cotton. She was also concerned about the proposition of raising capital to begin the job.
It was the month of April and the festival of Navratri was six months away when Karan came across a State Announcer mentioning about the Annual kho-kho tournament in Paithan. It was just the right opportunity for Karan and his teammates. If they could manage to win, each one of them would get 5 gold coins. Karan could take a loan of another 10 gold coins from his teammates with which Ilaa and he could start their business. With the proposal he gathered his teammates and started practising for the tournament.
In the meanwhile, Ilaa found out that Paithani silk saris were gaining their lost lustre under the patronage of Nanasaheb Peshwa. She learnt that the raw materials of silk and zari came from Yeola, Bangalore and Surat. If she and Karan could manage to produce the raw materials in Sauviragram, they would be able to sell the finished products at a lower cost than competitors as the factors of production were available in the village while they would save on transportation cost.
It was in mid-May that the Annual kho-kho contest was organised. Karan and his teammates started their journey to Paithan on two bullock carts. On their way they came across an old man walking barefoot and humming the songs of Sant Tukaram, he seemed to be on his way to Paithan. Karan had pity on the man as he suffered under the scorching sun. As there was hardly any seat for the man on their cart, Karan asked the old man to take his seat and he chose to walk. When they reached Paithan in the evening, the old man asked them why they had come to the city. When they told the man about their goal, he said, “Jaa jag jinkuya” (go conquer the world). Karan knew that they had just met Santaji Jagnade.
None of the teams in Paithan were a match for Karan and his teammates and they managed an easy victory. Post the win they just wondered why they hadn’t participated in the earlier editions of the contest if it was so easy. From their prize money, Karan took a loan of 1 gold coin from each of his team mates and gave 16 gold coins to Ilaa to start the business.
According to Ilaa’s plans, half of the land allotted to them was converted into a plot for silk worm breeding and the rest was used for processing the cocoons, spinning four charkhas to produce silk yarn, a hearth to produce zari and three handlooms for weaving saris. Within three months, Karan and Ilaa had managed to produce enough yarn to make saris. Ilaa had engaged the services of an artisan who could make gold zari. Two gold coins were put in the hearth and the artisan produced some of the finest zari which could be used in the Paithani saris to be woven on the handlooms. Eight saris were woven from the raw materials that Karan and Ilaa had produced. A small amount of raw material still remained unused. Karan had worked tirelessly with the weavers and in three months he had also learnt the art of weaving.
It was Durga Ashtami when Karan went to meet Sawant, who had by now already known that Karan had not only met but overachieved what was expected of him. Karan presented his earnings from the sale of the saris which Sawant happily acknowledged as being more than his earnings from sale of cotton bales.
When Ilaa asked Karan why he looked so tired, he said that he had been busy weaving for three whole nights, then he presented her a scarf with the motifs of three goddesses with a sentence in bold: Tuhi mazi Durga, Lakshmi aani Saraswati (you are my goddess of strength, wealth and wisdom). Feeling the soft weft of the fabric in her hands, Ilaa felt mellower emotions within her and despite the presence of her Baba, Maa, Munshiji and Radha she could not resist embracing Karan.
Normally the first articles I read in The Times of India’s Saturday edition every week are the movie reviews of the Hindi films that would have released a day before. However, this week was a bit different as Kaabil and Raees (two of the biggest releases this year, and as historical trend has shown over the last seven years — regarding films with quality content — one of these films will emerge to be amongst the biggest grossers of the calendar year) released on a Wednesday to cash in on the big holiday of Republic Day. The critics of national dailies had the privilege of seeing the films before/on their release date and on Thursday I read the reviews in ToI. The reviewer had rated Kaabil 4 stars and Raees had got 3.5 stars out of five.
However, after having watched both the movies now, I can state with conviction that the ratings are misleading. I was not too keen to watch Raees having read the negative reviews, but my life long-long infatuation, like millions of crazy SRK fans pulled me to the multiplex and I must admit that mid-way through the movie I started getting the Dilwale feeling, as like that one, the makers of Raees just wanted to encash on the superstardom of SRK. But alas! SRK is no Salman Khan and all the machismo, maar-dhaad, Robinhoodesque mannerisms and Dabangai didn’t suit him.
Raees has little to offer to the viewers. Most of us have seen it all and this concoction of a mellowed down narrative, a badly written fictionalised account of some facts and a disclaimer that the story is not based on any character living or dead, simply don’t work.
Media had created a lot of buzz that Kaabil and Raees were releasing on the same day and the fortunes of both would suffer because of the clash. It had appeared to me that the makers of Raees were not much worried because they had the power of SRK on their side. Sadly, ToI, which is a huge supporter of SRK did not have enough courage to rate the two films fairly. In my opinion, if Kaabil deserved 4 stars out of five then Raees deserved only 2.5 stars.
P.S: Two of my latest reviews may read like PR pieces for HRX, however, those who have been following my blog, know me better. If you aren’t convinced then please read my 6-year old review of “Kites” which had failed to soar. But today I have to say that Raees did not rise up to the challenge.
Having watched Mohenjo Daro on the day of its release on the insistence of dear Wife I was almost sure to not watch Kaabil and rather “Raees” up to the charm of SRK. But thanks to the persuasive skills of my better half, I ended up watching the Hrithik Roshan starrer today and I must admit that I am indeed bowled over by his skills as an actor. Considering that his earlier outing as an actor failed so miserably, I did not have much hopes from this one, but the plot, the dialogues and the mind blowing acting of HRX (yes, that’s his brand too which he religiously promoted through out the movie) made my Republic Day afternoon.
The revenge drama reminded me of Badlapur (co-incidentally Yami Gautam featured in that film too) but Kaabil is not just about revenge but has interesting and intelligent story angles that help a visually impaired protagonist turn into a killing machine. The film has some plot lines similar to that of some foreign films but who cares when HRX is in such a good form. This film will surely lift the gloom over his personal and professional life which have been at the centre of gossips in tabloids.
Being an SRK fan since my adolescent days, I eagerly wanted to watch his film but I am happy that I didn’t and adhered to my Wife’s choice (surely, I didn’t have a choice there, but anyways). In this film, Hrithik is surely Kaabil of surprising you. Go for it.