No Smoking – A Review November 5, 2007Posted by astralwicks in Anurag Kashyap, art, Blogging, Bollywood, Cinema, Culture, Entertainment, film, india, Movies, No Smoking, Personal, Reviews, Thoughts, Writing.
Finally saw No Smoking. It was a late night show that had 60 – 70 viewers. Some of them walked off during the interval. Some stuck around till the end. I was one of them.
Bad press has dogged the film and its director, Anurag Kashyap. Directors, critics, actors, distributors and the audience too to a certain extent dislike him. For various reasons – Anurag is an outspoken outsider who with his sheer writing skills has made a name for himself in the incestuous world of Hindi cinema. He has fought with his mentors, with his producers, actors, financiers, distributors.
He is the enfant terrible and nobody likes them ‘E.T’s’until and unless they become legends. Anurag’s is a strange case. He first came to everybody’s attention after Satya. Then because of his fall out with his mentor Ram Gopal Varma. The fallout was a classic case of two strong personalities not being able to see eye to eye on creative issues. Then Anurag branched out on his own. Paanch was the result. A bloody tale of friends betraying each other. The film is still to see the light of the day.
But it is a cult favourite. Largely because of the sadly unseen performance of Kay Kay. Otherwise the story is an oft repeated one. It is only Kay Kay’s performance that holds the film together. But Paanch gave birth to a legacy; to a persona that represented the lone outsider’s struggle to make it in the film industry; Anurag became a symbol. Of the uncorrupted idealist who pitted against insurmountable odds ranges gallantly and almost wins. It was in the failing that he became a successful icon.
He tried Gulal. And failed. He announced Alvin Kallicharan. Didn’t happen.
And then Black Friday happened. One of the best films to come out of India it again died a premature and tragic death – this time by the courts. Based on the Bombay blasts after the Babri demolition, Black Friday was cinema, documentary, history, analysis and to some a creative catharsis. It never saw the darkness of the theater. Tragic.
Fate has not been kind to Kashyap.
Meanwhile he earned his bread and butter and a penthouse writing good and indifferent films. In the meantime the legend grew. Of a maverick film maker who brooks no interference, takes on the high and mighty, tackles controversial stories, a maestro who while battling his personal demons was maneouvering the big bad world of Bollywood.
And then No Smoking was announced. About a nicotine addict who comes in touch with an underground rehabilitation centre…and things go wrong. I was kicked when I heard the one line. Right up his alley and who better than K to handle it.
And then one day in the month of feb-march 2007, I was surfing and came across ‘Cats Eye’ and things have been a bit different since then. I immediately realized that K’s No Smoking is a rip off of Cats Eye. But then I came down from the high horse and looked around…everybody was copying…Martin S did it with his ‘The Departed’ (paid for the rights) and so why not Mr. K, I reasoned. He might be better at it and spin it in his unique way, I consoled myself. And since then I have waited for the release of the film.
Initially I was aghast at John’s casting. But then I didn’t mind John A’s casting also. Good directors can do anything with a story, actor. So the weight of tradition, myth, legend, anticipation and Bad Press weighing heavy on my soul I entered the theater and watched No Smoking.
K is an inveterate smoker and his life is never the same again after he meets the head honcho of The Lab. Things go horribly wrong for K. And for Anurag K, the Box Office, the producers and well nigh cinema itself.
Here are the WHY’S of that.
Critics love to hate Anurag. They have ripped No Somking. Self – obsessed film maker, too arty, not for the common man, no message, hero smoking all the time, why didn’t it end half an hour after the film began!!! etc etc.
Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that such films should not be made!
They are people who don’t want such film makers or stories to be attempted. That way the status quo on the stories told, the actors signed and the cultural stagnation will continue and they can celebrate. By making ‘NS’ Anurag has axed his own foot. But films can go wrong.
There are also another kind of critics who have praised the film. They have bestowed on the film’s hero and it’s director the kind of praise that you prepare much in advance, in anticipation of your favourite hero because you couldn’t become one yourself. So K, in this case, both Kashyap and the films hero become ‘the narciccist who ends up losing himself in his self – love, the descent into hell, purgatory, the Faustian exchange, the existential dilemma of a modern man who has to fight for the very thing that kills him, the allegory, the symbolism, the decaying city and its effect on the moral fibre etc etc.’
So in between unreserved praise and unbridled criticism lies the truth of the film No Smoking.
No Smoking’s premise is set, explained and plays itself out in the first 30 mins. After that what?…is a question that Anurag K should have asked right at the outset. We travel into the labyrinthine nightmare of K but John A is not accomplished as an actor to portray grief, helplesness, rage, desire…abs don’t act… is a fact. But Anurag like most men and women faltered…at the very first step. You take a non-actor in your film because that person guarantees the one thing that you have not been able to do so far…make a film and RELEASE it. John guaranteed the release.
So what about the other arty stuff that even the art house crazy fans have not understood. Symbolism, allegory, modern archetypes of decay, stagnation and death a la Baudelaire and Eliot and others. Where does Anurag’s descent in hell go wrong?
It goes wrong I think in the fact that Anurag has also become a victim of his own legend and myth. Just like countless others before him Anurag has also thought himself invincible. He made his kind of films – just like Yash Raj makes ‘their’ kind and Ghai makes his ‘kind’. Anurag also seems convinced of his own infallibility. I can and will make the films I want to make and anyways the audience is illiterate so who cares for them? It happens to the high and mighty and Anurag is the high priest of the Bollywood strugglers.
Is No Smoking a venture borne out of an over-confidence that borders on arrogance and apathy? I think it is. It is revenge film making…I can show you what I am capable of kind of bravado. An interesting premise that never had the material to last 120 pages deliberately force-fitted to an incompetent actor and the desire to see one’s film in the darkened four walls.
Brevity is the soul of wit…something that Anurag was good at is never to be seen in the film…in dialogues or in its length. What you witness is a smart – alec director busy with inside jokes that only he and his cronies know (common to Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom) and understand. Pretentious symbolism that Kashyap uses to pay homage to his own intelligence and literate self. And the conviction of a man sure of his own genius; sure footed in his complexity; complacent in his creativity.
There are others who will now suffer. Interestng scripts, concepts and directors will now be shoved aside because of K’s failure. That’s definitely tragic. For Kashyap and for others this time round.