Punjab 1984 – The story of a mother

If I had to encapsulate the theme and emotional power of Punjab 1984 in a few words, I’d never be able to ace these couplets from the movie’s soundtrack :

Haadh Diyaan Paindeyan Ch Vichchdi Hai Chaan Bann Ke Bedard Haakma Tu V Vekh Kade Maa Bann Ke Mudh Aa Ve Laadleya Ghare Ammi Udeekdi

Mere Pind Di Oh Paun Nu Suneha De Dyo Mainu Lorriyan Sunaave Kitte Maa Banke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga ‪‎Swaah‬ Bann Ke Ni Main Kujhe Wich Aunga ‪‎Swaah‬ Bann Ke

That’s all Anurag Singh’s Punjab 1984 is, and all it had to be, a story about a mother looking for her son. The film opens with a brilliant scene during the attack on Golden Temple, a scene so poignant, I’d have to look long and hard to find anything which matches its simplicity and sincerity while depicting such an important and sensitive event for millions of Sikhs around the world.

The movie then movies to a year and a half later, with Kirron Kher as the main character of a mother looking for her son. Like she says, she used to be worried that he returns home in time, and she still is. The opening credits carry a serene sense of  her morose life, her daily routine, as she visits the police station daily, and waits for news about her son. This is of course not a unique or isolated case. It is the story of upheaval in the lives of countless families in Punjab during the period of the Khalistan movement. It is the true story of thousands of mothers, whose sons went out on a day as ordinary as any, never to be seen or heard from again.

The methods used by the police to suppress insurgents during this period, and politics of the situation is well documented and well known(Click here & here to read more). Family feuds, and personal grudges intertwined into the political war that was underway. Many policemen misused the sanctioned power. As the general sentiment goes, who watches the watchmen?. Our protagonist’s story is one such incident, with a land hungry neighbour, and a power hungry policeman. The mother’s powerlessness in the situation is reflective of our own impotency in face of political power even today, especially today.

The backstory moves briskly, with the serviceable blend of a happy go luck protagonist, loving mother, strict father, ‘love at first sight’ song and dream sequence before getting to the actual meat of the plot. Of course the mother is portrayed as righteous as any can be found in the breadth of the hindi or punjabi film industry, without any flaws or intricacies of a human. She is perfect, kind to any and all, even to those who have wronger her. The only humanizing characteristic she possesses is her loss, and her resolve to find out what happened to her son. But Kirron Kher’s acting truly liberated the character and saved it from crossing over to the territory of melodrama.

The moments chosen to elucidate the mother’s situation are a step away from the cliche’d moments we’re used to witness in movies. Here, they’ve used small moments, dialogues, to evoke the sense of loss and frustration. A moment that particularly stood out for me was when she has to go through the pictures of boys recently killed in Police encounters and shootings. The camera lingers on her face as she is handed the album, and it is kept steady, as we feel her hesitation. She slowly starts to look at the album. The camera still lingers but zooms in a little, as we feel along with the mother, the fear before the turn of each page, and the small respite before gathering enough courage to turn the page again. The scene transitions to reveal a few glimpse of some of the victims. As the mother reaches the end of the album, she hides a smile of relief behind her chunni. The acting by Kirron Kher is top notch in this scene. The direction and photography is particularly masterful. Frankly, I was surprised with this level of finesse in a punjabi movie.The film is so engaging that when the words ‘intermission’ appear on the screen, I had to check my watch to confirm that 90 minutes had indeed slipped by.

The second half starts strong with an incident inspired from real life, and a terrific scene, where the mother learns that her son might have died. Her son’s friend informs her that her son might not be bound anymore, he is finally free. The agony and restlessness is brilliantly depicted using the mother’s reaction. The director might have overstayed to milk the scene for some extra tears, nevertheless, it’s a very powerful scene. Why couldn’t it have stayed that way? The movie changes gears and the story starts to falter, like the writers were unsure where they should go from here. Then scenes start to fall flat, emotions and melodramatic dialogues start to fly high and it completely derails in the last thirty minutes.

Spoilers

The plot shifts to the going ons of the present day as the drama and body count starts to rise. There’s some unnecessary resolution of the land acquisition plot. Granted, it did set the whole plot in motion, but the follow up and resolution fell flat, and frankly, felt unnecessary. Also, the romantic sub plot overstays its welcome and acts as a distraction sometimes. But it still adds to the realness of the movie, and works to a certain extent. The depiction of the ‘movement’ is cheapened to cheap ploys of a couple of power hungry politicos. But of course, our hero saves the day, and how.

After this point, the movie goes from being a grounded representation of the reality of Punjab to generic masala fare. The last thirty minutes might be inspired by any number of the mainstream ‘100 crore club’ bollywood movies. I literally cringed at the Salman Khanesque moment when the ‘hero’ challenges the arresting officer (the villain in this case) and throws away his gun to have a hand to hand fight.

At first, I balked at the writer’s poor choice to go this route, but then it occurred to me, that perhaps the writer had was so deeply emotionally invested in these stories and so frustrated with the powerlessness of the common man, or even his helplessness as a writer, that it was a chance for him to let off some steam, to exact some revenge. It was a masturbatory exercise by the writer, where he was literally bashing the shit out of such policemen and the system and the movement who were responsible for such mishaps. Whatever the reasons were, in my opinion it nullified all the respects and dedications it wanted to pay off to the victims and their families, a message so explicitly stated at the end. It was almost an insult, that those boys weren’t strong enough to change their fate, or fight to survive… only if they’d been heroes. Anyway.

The film climaxes when our protagonist finally returns home with his head and chest held high, just as he had envisioned it. It should have been a touching and a much needed emotional payoff, but I was still barfing from the last fight scene. The movie ends with such a weak and tailored scene, that it seemed like they cobbled it together at the last minute when the writer finally gave up on the story. The only saving grace of the climax was the acting of Diljit Dosanjh and Kirron Kher, which supplied some much needed emotionality, and grounded it to a certain extent. The haunting lyrics of the song ‘Swah bann ke’ also help.

Apart from the acting, the cinematography and editing are considerable well done. The movie has a bleached look with a yellowish tinge used effectively to illustrate this bleak period in Punjab’s history. The frames, shots, and length of scenes are mostly perfect with the camera lingering just long enough to leave an impact. The music of the film is very strong, especially the songs ‘Sawah bann ke’ and ‘Ammi udeek di’. It’s the first time I’ve seen music so well used in a Punjabi movie. Here it’s not a distraction, but helps further the story forward and acts as a beautiful supplement to help effectively portray the emotions of the characters. Overall, I would say that it’s a must watch, even if for the beautiful first half.

P.S. If you want to listen to the songs, click here.

P.P.S. For a political analysis/review of the movie, read this.

Therapy

Sometimes, writing is therapeutic, sometimes I write to calm myself, to see the truth, to not be lead astray…

Dil chodd de ye zidd inn dilkash lamho ki,

Inke Haq mukammal ho chuke zamaano ki baat hai

Inn aahton ki dhoop ki chahatein naa kar

Inmein jalke zinda rehna parwaano ki baat hai

 

And then sometimes, it just flows out of me.. like a stream I have no hopes of controlling, I can only wait for it to pass.. and hope that I can hold on, keep my feet on the ground and keep moving

Sab jod k ab chodd de, Iss waqt ka pahiya tod de

Dil dil ka chakkar chod de, Iss mod se ab muh mod le

Kuch dil k tukde baant de, Iss gum ka rasta chodd de

Gumm jaa hadd k galiyaaro se, Ab sharm ka ghunghat oddh le

 

Par maan le kaise baat ye, Iss dil ka dard prakop hai

Lad lein iss duniya se bhi ab, Iss zid ka koi naa tod hai

Ladna mushkil sa hai par ab, Uss nadaani si soch se

Uski baato ki nok se, Usske dil ki uss chot se

 

Anjaan bane baithe hain bass, Ikk  darr se naata jod k

Hain choron ki hum basti mein, aur dil bhi humse chor hai

Lutt kar baithe hain kabse hum, ikk parde ka afsos hai

 

Inn bikhri tooti yaadon ka, kuch mol nhi unn nazro mein

Inn lamho aur tasweero ko anmol banaye baithe hain

Dil se ladne ka zor nhi, Kya haal banaye baithe hain

Random thoughts of a kukoo heart

I had a horrible dream.. it was very sweet and enjoyable actually.. but it left me disturbed when I woke up, at the thought of my inner screwed up sense of love and relationship even if I’m outwardly very enlightened and intelligent about dealing with these matters now.. Anyway, I calmed myself by writing couplets and these are the choice couple out of half a dozen.. halfway decent I’d say 😛

Chahat ke bazaar mein roz ek nayi chahat se dil behlaate hain..

Mohobbat ke deewano ka yaha koi kaam nahi

Perhaps not self explanatory, cuz I had to actually explain it to the couple of people who read it.. here chah carries its literal meaning ‘want’. So what it’s trying to say is that the heart is a jitterbug.. chanchal you know.. it gets attracted to something new everyday.. it gets obsessed with something new everyday.. and it’s very selfish.. the heart wants what the heart wants.. and these wants change everyday as old attractions fade and new ones develop..

Mohobbat here refers to love, which is eternal, not limited to lovers, flowing in all directions, maybe more concentrated towards some people, but it’s not selfish.. it’s a positive feeling.. how can it be negative when there are no expectations.. there are expectations in relationships.. not in love.. it’s boundless..

Anyway.. here’s another one.. self explanatory

Shamaa ke bazaar mein parwaano ka sauda kar aye..

Iss khel ko yaaro hum uski chaukhat par khatm kar aye..

Boht laanat di dil k saudagro ne..

Hum dil k tukdo ka ikk aur taufa kubool kar aye

More on relationships.. and their perceived importance

Relationships can’t really be defined. Sure, we put labels on them, like friends, family, partner, lover, but there is no line that defines each of them separately. I mean is the difference between friends and lovers only sex? but don’t people have sex with strangers? Let’s just say they have different meanings for different people at different points of time. I always defined them as any form emotional connect between two people.

Maybe because of this simplistic interpretation, I’ve always been aloof about relationships. My rationale is pretty full proof too :P. I mean, we have not seen or experienced life without our parents, there is no version of reality where we existed without them. Still when we lose them, life doesn’t stop. We still go on, we learn to live without them. So we must be able to live without anybody. Sure, it might take us time to get over them, but no matter how important they were to us, no matter how dependent we were on them, life doesn’t stop and we learn to cope.

But what about those relationships that we lose along the way. The friends we haven’t called for years who were our other halves, the lovers we thought we couldn’t live without, the acquaintances we lost touch with. What makes these relationships different? Why is it that some relationships leave gashes of despair when they are broken, and some end without so much as a whimper. It’s not like they weren’t deep connections, it’s not like you weren’t dependent on those people, it’s not like you hadn’t shared secrets with them, or hadn’t spent countless hours contemplating the stupidest bullshit, and yet you don’t even feel their absence, you don’t feel that connection slipping from your heart.

So where does the difference lie? I don’t have the slightest idea.

I know it happens, I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. And I do have a theory. I think it’s because of the fact that human beings are selfish assholes. I think the reason we don’t feel the loss of some relationships, is we don’t perceive the importance of the relationship based on the person, but on the role that relationship plays in our life right now.We need certain people to play certain roles in our life at different times, and we value them for that. But, as soon as that role is no longer important, the person loses importance as well.

Maybe that’s how relationships deteriorate. People change, and their needs change, and maybe you are just not needed anymore. Your emotional needs are more like baggage, and there is always a breaking point for how much someone’s willing to carry. Maybe that’s why some relationships sustain, when people change together, you know, “You have gaps, I have gaps, together, we fill gaps”.  I think that’s why it’s a little easier later in your life, to cope with your parent’s death as well. You don’t have that strong a need for that role of a guardian and guide anymore.

Maybe.. but your guess is just as good as mine..

Ramblings about relationships

I used to mock this one friend, whose girl(friend) was kind of moody, got angry frequently, yelled a lot. And although admittedly she’s a fun person when she isn’t being all that, I always advised him.. dude is she worth it for you? Is the drama worth the good times?

These days, I feel I was being a complete idiot 😛

I mean relationships form themselves, you don’t really work actively to develop a relationship with somebody. Even if you do, if there isn’t some genuine feeling behind the action, you both know it. ‘Salesman’ class of people can fool you for some time, but some cracks start to emerge.. eventually. If a relationship is developing, even by conscious effort, beyond a certain point, it’s out of your control.. it’ll keep it’s own pace.. it’ll grow or not grow naturally.. you can’t force it beyond.

And when  a relationship has formed, this is it. It’s a part of you now. There’s no fear or at least there shouldn’t be. You don’t fear your best friend’s gonna choose another friend and then he’s not gonna be a part of your life. Even if that happens, you don’t fear it, or at least you shouldn’t, because it’s out of your hands now, the relationship will charter it’s own course. It’s alive, actively affected by other’s thoughts and actions.

And why I feel like a fool for saying what I said? Because relationships aren’t business transactions, they’re not logical.. they’re random. You can choose to rip it out of your life,sure, but it’s gonna leave scars.. it’s gonna take a part of you with itself. You’ll feel the suffering of the relationship as it rots. And the relationship truly isn’t worth it when it’s being yanked on and pulled because of your actions, or the other person’s actions or the society’s actions. And you’re willing to suffer the pain of cutting a part of yourself because the pain of that thread slowly pulling apart is just too much to bear.

Maybe my opinion will change. Maybe I’ll realize that you can manage relationships logically without feeling you’re putting on an act. Maybe it’ll not feel so fake. Maybe.. it does come naturally to some people.. maybe sociopaths are the ones who really have it all figured out.

Anand

Kayi duniya ke maare mein

Kuch shayad kismet se bechaare hain

Sabko bhar bhar milta hai

Ismein koi jaat paat ka sawaal nahi

Kuch mann kho kar mol chukate hain

Kuch muft mein hi batorte jaate hain

Kuch khelon ki tadbeer sahi,

Kuch apni hi taqdeer sahi..

Tohfe mein sabko milte hain,

Duniya ki ikk reet sahi..

Kuch mantar phoonk chalate hain

Kuch zehr ka zor apnaate hain

Kuch doob jaate hain terne ki firaak mein

Kuch paniyo mein ghul jaate hain

Kuch ikk nayi si baat bhi bataate hain

Jaante hain k ise lauta nahi sakte kahin

Mita nahi sakte naa bhasm hote hain ye,

Haar gaye kayi gehraaiyaan dhoondte dhoondte,

jahan inhe abhi bhi poori tarah dabaa nahi sakte

Samet te hain pal.. bade shaunk se ye

Inn gehre kaale paniyo mein motiyo ki talaash karte hain..

Kuch hassne hasaane ki baat kiya karte hain shayad

Kehte hain, dukh apne liye rakh, Anand sabke liye

Rant alert : The year I witnessed two cremations

This has not been a good year so far.. In fact I might go so far as to say that this has been the worst year of my life.. I’ve witnessed two deaths in my own home, didn’t get selected for any good college and had to take some pretty major and devastatingly painful decisions.

I guess this is a warning of sorts.. this is not going to be a happy post.

The first death I witnessed was my maternal grandmother’s. I’ll be lying if I say I had any sort of attachment or bond with her. But, anyway, I cared about her in a humanitarian sort of way. I must seem horrible but we didn’t have much interaction despite living in the same house. I dreaded having to witness her death. When she got sick, I was just praying that I don’t wanna be there to see her die. Of course I was very afraid, having never seen death before. But life is funny I guess.. cuz I was right there in the hospital, two steps away from her room, when she took her last breath, and I had to take care of my mom till dad got there. What happened after that changed me in ways I could never have imagined.

Since  my mother has no brothers or sisters, and I have no brother, I had to perform all the rituals. I can’t explain the scene that I saw, but I never imagined that the human body is so fragile until that very moment. The fire, which was uncomfortable to us, standing five feet away.. and a person was lying right in the middle of it.. The shabad “ikk ghadi vi kise nahi tainu rakhna, jadon tere swaas muk gaye” kept ringing in my ears. The person, my family was so desperately trying to save was burned mere hours after her demise..

Obviously, I slept very uneasily that night.. I suffered from nightmares and cold shivers, but finally the morning came..  But the morning held worst surprises.. turned out now I had to collect her bones from the pyre. I swear to god ki jitni tab fati naa.. aaj tak kabhi nahi fati hogi..

Anyway, the raakh was floated in a nearby river and the poojas were done and it was all over. I was normal in a couple of days.. more important decisions awaited.. my EEE result had come out and I got sidetracked…

Then, September came. The day we were all dreading had finally come.. my aunt (my father’s sister in law), whom we had lived with all our lives.. she was at the verge of death. Of course, it was inevitable.. and with 3 long years of fight with cancer behind her, I couldn’t help but feel in a tiny corner of my mind that it was her release, that she needed it. I came back home, saw her for the last time and the next morning she expired, after having been off the ventilator for a mere half an hour.

I witnessed scenes I had never imagined in my wildest dreams. My mom, my sister, my sister in law.. they weren’t crying… they were wailing, shouting..

I didn’t know what to do.. I was shocked, confused, sleep deprived. A few hours later, her cremation took place. I can never forget that scene. A body catching on fire.. 100s of doctors.. 100s of babaas.. millions of prayers and an end like this?

I stood in front of that pyre for a long time.. thinking hard..  and I couldn’t understand what we were doing.. and then it hit me.. it was all a show. it was all a show and we were all actors.. acting out for society, for each other and for ourselves. It was all closure.. mann ki tassalli. What does it matter to a dead person whether we applied the sindoor right or not.. whether the fruits were at the right place or not.. it was all for our own benefit.. to drive it in our minds.. that yes, she really is gone.. accept it and let her go.. I realized for the first time the things I really care about in life.. the people.. the work.. what I want.. what I need.. It all came as a wave of enlightenment and I absorbed it like a dry sponge. You may call me selfish.. but well that’s what you think!

We all came home.. I went to take a bath and came back to see everyone busy in talking and reminiscing..  but I don’t know why.. I was feeling very bad.. afraid I guess.. I didn’t wanna talk about it.. about her.. or anything related to her..

Tried to contact a friend.. another friend.. but I guess everyone’s busy in their own lives.. Mind you, I’m not blaming them.. just jo baat dimaag mein thi wo bol raha hun..

Anyway.. I guess I just wanted to get all this out.. cleanse my mind or something.. I don’t know.. So here I am.. writing.. cuz what else can I do?

I hope the times get better.. for my family.. and for me.. hell.. I’ve hardly got anything going for me.. but that’s another post… bye for now..