Thursday, September 6, 2012


Flying high
As if to Bach's Vivace.

Driving slow
Jealous of you and Bach.

- Mahima

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gaduliya Lohars - the countryside craftsmen

Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu. 

All of six Vir Singh in his tattered clothes sits on a pile of concrete bricks outside a construction site at Eraiyur in Villupuram District. He deftly opens a sachet of tobacco, crushes it and puts it inside his mouth, revealing a row of stained teeth. He is surrounded by elders but none of them could care less.
Babulal Bhai, who seems like the eldest of the troupe, has nothing but this to say on Vir Singh’s habit, “He must be eating. What to do?”
These petty issues like a child eating tobacco or a wailing half-naked baby or schooling do not bother the Gaduliya Lohars, the nomadic Rajput iron smiths from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Once the weapon makers for the Rajputs at Chittorgarh, they were reduced to vagabonds after the fall of the Rajputs of Mewar.
At the moment the construction site seems to be their home. With metal trunks hidden behind a sack, soot-covered aluminium vessels lying next to a forge and an anvil, vibrantly coloured skirts, blouses and dupattas hanging on poles, gunny bags laid out as carpets on the side of the road and a few iron implements like spades, hammers and pick axes on display - the space between the construction site and the tarmac road does seem like a dwelling of sorts. This group of forty people – ten of them children – travel for almost seven months in a year selling hand-crafted iron agricultural implements.
Young or old the Lohars hit the road once Raksha Bandhan (August) is over and are back in their villages post Sankranti (January). “Seven months work, five months relaxation,” smiles one of them.
“Only a pregnant women and her husband stay back,” says the twenty year-old Meera Bai, Vir Singh's sister. She is married to her younger brother’s namesake who now travels with her. 
Meera Bai is just in her early twenties. 
She has always lived a nomadic life and has 
never seen the inside of a school. 
One of the kids. 

Vir Singh Sr like all others in the group is proud to be a Lohar when asked if he would ever want to settle down he smirks and says, “We don’t know anything else. We are Lohar’s and we know only that.” He complains that mechanisation of agriculture and urbanisation has ruined their sales in central India and hence they have move south. Factories in Madhya Pradesh, he says, consider the Lohar’s “unskilled”.

The income generated through this is not much but over the years most people have built a house back home, some have vehicles and some even have small land holdings. Vir Singh Sr has a mobile which he charges whenever someone lets him use a plug point.
Their trade route has been the same for decades now. Take a train from Bhopal, alight at Hyderabad and maunder across Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. It has been two years since these Hindi-Marwari speaking wayfarers added Tamil Nadu to their itinerary. But language seems to be the last barrier for them.
Meera Bai explains, “We ask any Muslim person who can fairly converse in Hindi. If we need anything gestures are enough. And when we are selling the goods there is never a problem.” Money is after all a common language throughout the country.
Everyone quickly assembles to demonstrate how they forge iron implements. As one woman lights the embers, another takes hold of a sledge hammer, one of the men places the scrap iron on the anvil and the rhythmic pounding begins.

 Mambai looks on as Vir Singh and other men
 demonstrate their skill and Meera Bai 
busies herself with the packing. 

Mambai with her child in the 
foreground. Next to her is
Gaduliya Lohar teenager, 
and behind them  iron implements 
crafted by the Lohars and a customer. 

All girls are young and strong, and all of them are married. The Lohars prefer not to travel with spinsters. “Girls are married off once they cross their mid teens. It is risky to travel with young girls, they at least have their husbands to keep them safe after their marriage,” Phoolchand explains.
Mambai, a twenty-five year old mother of two has been ill for a week now. She asks, “What do you call kishmish in tamil?” Raisins apparently are a cure to most things according to them. Only if someone is critically ill, they are taken to the nearest hospital of which ever town they are in. 
A tiff breaks out between the kids who have returned with arms full of sugarcane from a nearby field. Just so no one suspects them of stealing, one of the kids declares, “We asked the people there and then took it!” Then he unabashedly adds, “Why don’t you give me some money for sweets and tea? You clicked my pictures right.”
It is difficult to fathom a Gaduliya Lohar’s sense of pride.
Mambai then speaks of cyclone Thane, “everything started falling! We were here, staying at that construction site. Nothing happened to us.”
She says that it is not always certain that they would get a roof over their heads, but most of the time it is not difficult. She then joins the other women who are washing vessels with coal. It turns out that it is pack up time. Their business at Eraiyur is done. They are moving base to another village.
“I am not sure of its name,” Vir Singh Sr says, explaining that he does know that it’s just a few kilometres away.
In half-hour everything is packed into trunks which are loaded onto tempos, kids – still naked – cling on to their mother’s arms and an older woman argues with a final customer. She gets furious when the man, hiding the crumpled notes in his fist, refuses to pay the desired price. The woman swiftly grabs the man’s hand and retrieves the notes, leaving him speechless. Clearly, Gaduliya Lohars are not to be messed with. Even as they demand some money for a final time the tempo driver, who has charged them three hundred rupees, starts the engine and the Lohars vanish.
 Only to re appear in Villupuram town the next day.
Around the peninsula in 7 months:
A customer and Gaduliya Lohar's bargain with each other,
just as they are about to leave the town for a new destination. 

Photographs and article by Mahima A Jain

I came across the Gaduliya Lohar's in Jan 2012 at Villupuram, Tamil Nadu. The trip was a part of my Postgraduate programme at ACJ, Chennai. 

Read Gaduliya Lohar on National Geographic by John Lancaster

Friday, March 23, 2012

Anand (1971)

A brief analysis of Anand (1971)

"Anand" is one of my favorite films, but I absolutely hate watching it. This analysis is to analyse what makes this film special and why it is an agonizing watch.

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Ramesh Deo

Somewhere in the middle of the film Lalita Pawar as Mrs. D’Sa, who considers the titular character her son, says, “I don’t want to see Anand because I can’t take it. I get uncomfortable around him.”
That is precisely the same reason I hate watching Anand. I hate it is because it is so perfect and so real.

Anand is about about the last days of a man who knows that his days are numbered, but not once does it become a melodrama. For most parts it is funny, and it treads such a thin line between fun and dark humor that it is uncomfortable. It poses as a simple drama, but deep down it isn’t.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s penchant for making simple films on relationships set in an urban literate milieu sans any villainous character is popular. But he brings the most unlikely actors come together as seen in Anand.

Casting – destroying archetypes, pitching antipodal characters
I think Mukherjee loved the challenge of casting actors who were typecast in roles which were no-where near their archetype image. Lalita Pawar, whose name has become synonymous with malevolence, was cast as the stern yet genteel Sister D’Sa. Similarly Ramesh Deo one of the most famous actors to play negative characters was cast as the warm and friendly Dr. Kulkarni, a Robin Hood in the medical profession. Deo, a Marathi actor, popular as the bad boy in hindi cinema, was for the first time cast as a Maharashtrian.
It is only in Mukherjee’s films that I have seen Amitabh Bachchan not as an “angry young man” but a depressed man – like most normal people who expect too much from life. Bachchan’s portrayal of the idealist and altruist Bhaskar reminds me of the misguided and disillusioned zeal with which one enters the public sphere.
Rajesh Khanna’s most acclaimed performance is often cited as his portrayal of Anand. And there is no denial that no one but Mukherjee, a true auteur, could dare to cast “India’s first superstar”, who romanced the best actresses of the sixties and seventies, without a love interest but just as a jovial dying man with a mission to spread happiness. Khanna has played a dying man in several films, but none of his other performances like the ones in Aradhna(1969) or Safar (1970), are so realistic.
The way Mukherjee pits Bhaskar (Amitabh) as a paradox of his friend Dr. Prakash Kulkarni (Ramesh Deo) and of Anand Sehgal (Rajesh Khanna) is obvious. But these paradoxes merge and melt through the film with Anand as a catalyst. If Bhaskar is a doctor with altruist and socialist ideals of growth and change, Kulkarni is portrayed as an opportunist, a businessman in medical profession cashing in on all rich hypochondriacs. Similarly if Anand is mellifluous, candid and happy-go-lucky, Bhaskar is like Anand’s alter-ego.

Reading Anand

Just before the director comes to the central plot of the film we see three men – unessential to the narrative – talking about the change in the literary scenario and how writers have graduated from cycles to cars, and it is these little social and philosophical insights which Mukherjee forcefully makes us see. Then there is the Urdu book which Anand possesses, the drama troupe rehearsing for Mughal-e-azam, the Mughal-e-azam reference which Anand makes while trying to hook up Bhaskar and Renu, using film terms ( X-Ray becomes his film, middle age becomes “interval”, death is “early exit”, death is also “end of dialogues”) and many more such incidental references. These not only answer questions of social setting but also give a rich and cultured texture to the story.
No character is without an identity. As Anand points out, ‘ “Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Utkal, Bangal” are all in Mumbai,” they are there in Mukherjee’s Anand as well. Anand shows the metropolitan as microcosm of the nation, and while all characters have distinct qualities and personality traits, conversing in their mother tongue too comes naturally to them. The Kulkarni’s in Marathi, Anand in Bengali, the drama troupe in Gujarati, the wrestler (cameo by Dara Singh) in Punjabi, and Bhaskar, Prakash and Anand’s casual use of English, speak of the director’s brilliance in portraying the Urban reality.
The reason why Anand constantly keeps assigning roles of kinship to everyone cannot be brushed away as superficial melodrama. He seeks for familial relationships because he is deprived of them in his actual life. A Bengali who moved to Delhi to live with distant relatives in post-partition India, Anand has probably had a dismal childhood devoid of love and care. This deep psychological and oedipal need for being loved like a son makes him call Sister D’Sa, his mother. In the same manner Bhaskar’s fiancé Renu’s mother becomes his mother as well. He makes Suman (Kulkarni’s wife played by Seema Deo) his sister and Bhaskar his brother. Thus using all characters, who are strangers, in the film to stage a “family drama”.
Anand has probably repressed his childhood memories, but he opens up only to Suman (whom he considers his sister) and only after enough camaraderie. The sublimation of his pain and sorrow by putting up a genuine veneer of warm humor and affection comes easily to him. In the latter half when the mystery of the dried flower in the Urdu book, which is never prominently featured but treated as an inconsequential prop, is revealed we realize that the façade is not just to keep him sane by avoiding the matter of his own death but also to defend himself from lapsing into the misfortunes of a lost love-life.
The pleasure Anand gets from looking at passers-by and people around him, is always taken to another level when he “receives signals” from some souls around him. Such importance on the inconsequential’s function in an ordinary life is interspersed in the film.
Mukherjee’s love for the normal and accidental is proven when one of Anand’s mischievous “Muralilal” stints reap unusual benefits by gaining him a friend, which he is always on the lookout for.
The way Mukherjee structures Anand’s encounters with his various characters in the film are almost the same throughout. Anand would enter and strike a note with the people around – be it (in order of encounter with Anand) Bhaskar, Sister D’Sa, Raghu Kaka, Suman, Renu, Isah Bhai – and leave without revealing his condition. And it would be either Bhaskar or Kulkarni who would have to burst their bubble. This routine exercise of humor and news of death is agonizing and just when you think you were smiling, you begin to cry.
Not once does Mukherjee make Anand, the character or the film, morbid. But it is never saccharine either. Anand makes you laugh and cry at the same time. The syncretism of sad and happy, life and death, positive and negative, jocular and grave works wonders on the unsuspecting audience who view the film with the preconception that Anand is simple.
Anand seems like a mockery of life itself. Like the ghost of a life laughing at the reality of death. And this suspicion is confirmed with the way Mukherjee has concluded Anand.