Padmaavat: A Retelling

IMG_0625

“Disclaimer – All characters, places and events mentioned in this retelling are fictitious and bear resemblance only to persons in the movie Padmaavat. The purpose of this piece is not to discourage or censor art of any form, but rather to remind the artist of the impact of their creation. The purpose of this piece is not to tarnish or malign the traditions, cultures or feelings of any community or Sena in the past, present or future; but condemns Jauhar, Sati and other acts of burning people or arson of any nature.”

Karni Sena District Headquarters, Bangalore –

The two men glowered down at the black purple website; ‘BookmyShow.com’ waiting for the seat selection screen to load. A giant orange symbol with curved crossed swords bent over them, orange flags insipid on either side, watching with them.

“Bhaiyya, 8’o clock show, housefull, 10pm housefull. Garuda, Lido, PVR all housefull. Rex is also filling fast. Ab kya?? Book karoon??”

Loki Singh sighed leaning back clicking his lips in irritation. His grey hair peeking out from under his brown turban, a merry moustache dancing across his face, he looked more like a genial, slightly overfed Chacha Choudhary rather than the leader of the feared Karni Sena.

“Saalon paisa bana rahe hai… Rani Padmini ke apmaan se… Book kar, book it, I want to see it and then burn the theatre down.”

“Two tickets booked, 545 rupees with one combo caramel popcorn and Coke”

A Liberal’s House, Bangalore

“Did you book it? Did you book it?”

“It’s all full yaar, no seats anywhere…only in Rex, that too only front row.”

“It’s ok, book it, I want to watch it. Ranveer looks good and Deepika is so hot. Book fast.”

“Ok Ok…”

“Done… Rex 9.30pm show, Happy?”

She strutted out with practised steps, leaving me sitting on the sofa unsure of how the night would go. On one hand Bhansali’s films were grand spectacles lofted on epic scales with actors pushing the boundaries; on the other first day shows ran the risk of Karni Sena protests and loud-mouthed idiots in the first rows. And lastly, even worse, it could turn out to be an overlong snooze fest like Saawariya.

No spoilers were in the offing, the Karni Sena, CBFC, even the Supreme Court had ruined it for all of us. Rajputs (Shahid Kapoor) were good, Khilji (Ranveer Singh) Bad, Padmini (Deepika Padukone) gorgeous, virtuous, chaste; dies in a fiery mass suicide in the end. The Supreme Court had watched it and spoiled it for the nation, that alone warranted a watch. Just to see what all the fuss was about.

Rex Theatre, 9.30 pm

“Please stand for the National Anthem…” the voice intoned monotonous, emotionless.

“Look how far we’ve come, 71 years and people still object to works of art, no hope for this country man…” I grumbled sitting down in the surprising plush first row of the Rex, prepping for the crick in my neck over the next 164 minutes.

“Relax, see no Karni Sena people atleast, calm down.”

“Loki, here, idhar, 9 and 10 B row.”

“Anthem miss kar di yaar.”

“Shhh, its starting…”

“Disclaimers are there, see… They had to bow down to our Rajput orders”

“Hah… forced to put so many disclaimers, culture, tradition, value, everything literally”

“Shhh…”

Padmaavat is precisely what one expects it to be. An overlong glamourous retelling of an epic we didn’t need. We begin with a CGI ostrich and Ranveer Singh introducing him as villainous nephew newly wed to Muted woman of the year – Aditi Rao. Moving swiftly forward we’re introduced to a warrior Deepika and a doe footed Shahid who manages to get himself shot by love’s arrow in the jungles of Sri Lanka. A rapid wedding and a teleportation later, we’re in Chittorgarh, an ill-defined dusty land in the middle of the desert, that just has Shahid, Deepika, a sullen ex-wife and multitudes of ghagra clad women and their spouses; moustachioed burly men. An evil priest, a conspiracy and an over-the-top Ranveer Singh later, we have Khilji at the threshold of Chittoorgarh bent on making Padmaavati his own.

The stalwart Rajputs, aware of the threat, feel the best defence and offence is a good festival and celebrate, Holi, Diwali and many more mind-numbingly boring festivals in the wake of the disturbingly slow danger. Ranveer having killed his uncle meanwhile is busy exploring his sexuality with the only slightly bright star in the film, Jim Sarbh, standing out as his slave/bedfellow/chaddhi buddy.

Weakened by Bhansali’s circular nauseous camera movement and the sandstorms of Rajasthan, Khilji feigns peace and sneaks a glimpse of Deepika’s Tanishq jewellery and handcrafted costumes spurring his infatuation further. He invites and tricks, the infallible Rajput ideals in the form of Shahid Kapoor into his tent and teleports him back to Delhi threatening decapitation if Padmaavati doesn’t travel to meet him. After some punchy lines about Rajput/Tanishq bangles Padmaavati decides to go against the wishes of her shocked, intra-palanquin residing companions. And somewhere, there, my memory fails me to recall the precise, non-cliff-hanger moment, the interval arrives.

Rex Theatre – Interval

As we stretched and yawned, our eyes caught the reaction of a 20 something man two seats to our left; he closed his eyes, burrowing his head between his knees, defeated, traumatised and fore lone.

“Man, worst war ever, dumbest rivals ever, no wonder Rajputs didn’t get Rajputana…”

“Shhh…”, Krithika silenced me with a voice of caution.

Two rows behind, unbeknownst Loki was furious, “What, how can they do this?”, he fumed, “How dare, Padmaavati agree to go to Delhi, Rani Padmini would never have gone…”

“Calm, bhaiyya, calm… I’ve called the Head office and they are bringing petrol cans and matches. Don’t worry, these liberal drohis will all burn.”

“Bhansali head, Deepika’s Nose, all shall fall, in the coming days. And as for Ranveer, we’ll make him roam naked for this.”

“Shhh… It’s starting…”

The second half droned on, without need and reason, Padmaavati succeeds in a half-assed escape, aided by Stifled Woman of the Year recipient; Aditi Rao. Khilji enraged that woman can think teleports back to Chittorgarh with elephants, catapults and army. Walls defeated by catapults and resolve defeated by the urgent need to let his women commit Jauhar, Shahid and Deepika spend their last night together posing in the moonlight. The usual “Main laut aaunga chaand ke saath” dialogues are spoken and chin kisses of the 90s are exchanged.

Deepika asks for permission to die, you know, like how any dutiful wife should; and Husband of the Year award winner, Shahid agrees.

“What the fuck…” I hissed to Krithika, my brains fried and boiling.

Shahid, never learning from his errors, engages in single combat with Khilji, resulting in the five most engaging minutes of the film. Bhansali finally puts his single shots to good use and choreographs a good sword fight, at the end of which Shahid disarms Khilji and moves in for the kill. Only for the loyal Jim Sarbh to shoot 5 arrows into his back, killing him Bhisma style. No gasps, no reaction broke the silence in the theatre, everyone could have been asleep.

A short battle later, Khilji gallops towards the fort, to claim his prize. Deepika in the interim is pitching Jauhar to her fellow women Rajputnis and prepping a massive pyre, with no information if all their husbands are dead or just her’s. Nonetheless Bhansali ensures he includes a couple of child brides in red ghagras and a pregnant woman to drive home the moral victory of the moment.

A crazed Khilji, apparently unable to find the entrance of the fort, runs from pillar to post searching for his prize as the Rajputni women much like a PT practice session at school march uniformly towards the burning pyre. Khilji finding the door finally is flummoxed by burning coals in a Mirch Masala-esque moment that has neither the mirch nor masala and watches in vain as hundred red ghagras led by Deepika, the young, the old, the spinsters, all alike dive into the flames in a moment of glory and salvation.

“What bullshit…” Krithika swore under her breath. She had finally had it, had it with the stifled women, the jauhar glorification, the chauvinism of it all. “The Karni Sena should bloody burn it, at least no one will see this crap.”

“Shh…” I cautioned. She was having none of it.

“What Shhh, what crap is this, and he has the audacity to say the purpose is not to glorify Sati”

“Jauhar, you mean”

“Yeah, same thing” she glared at me. (Mental note to self –  Shut it and don’t correct her.)

“Why do people even agree to make this stuff, there are so many other epics. So many other stories. Why choose one that glorifies the worst from our past? As though women don’t go through enough” She continued as we moved towards the Exit. We were the last to leave the theatre, it was half past twelve.

As we walked out into the cold night, we saw Loki Singh and his aides running into the theatre petrol cans ablaze, faces sweaty glowing in the light of Rajput pride.

“Burn it down, Bhansali, Deepika Hai Hai, Rajputana Zindabad.” The cries rang out as we sat on my bike and quickly moved across the road.

“Shit, shit” I said, beginning to accelerate.

“No, Wait, I want to watch”

“What…”

“Stop… I want to watch”

In front of us, the flames leapt into the sky in a moment of glorious irony. The Karni Sena victorious burnt down the theatre. The liberal victorious watched a film that needn’t have been made burn.

Advertisements

Circle

Inspired by –

“…And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding
The poem across the tracks rebounding
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night…”

                                                                            The Poem on the Underground Wall

                                                                            Artist – Simon and Garfunkel

He sat in the corner shrouded in the bright light that draped the station, the digital clock above reading 10.45pm. “The last train to Mysuru Road will arrive on Platform 2 in 2 minutes.”, the announcement droned multilingually. He leant back, his hand fidgeting within his pocket, feeling around for it, through loose change, keys, crumpled tickets finally finding the flat circular token.

The platform before him was busier than usual, the last commuters, tired IT executives, heavy crosses of ID tags hanging from their necks, stood in single columns like wriggling worms returning to the giant snake worming through the city.

From within the stony gloom, the caravan of coffins rattled forward to swallow its prey, headlights ablaze. He fidgeted further, fingers digging through his pocket scratching, pinching his skin. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he ran his fingers in regular circular motions on the token over and over, faster now.

Its harsh metallic screech drowning out the final announcement, the station reached into the train. Writhing masses crossed thresholds moving away from the light. Hissing shut the snake in front of him grew, swelled in size, dwarfing the platform and him; his palm closing on the circle pressed down. The station enveloped in darkness, disappeared.

Shadowed by the exit sign, he bound up the stairs, lost to the night. The platform empty for the day.

He unlocked his room, nervous fingers scratching the keyhole. Within the small one bedroom studio there was hardly place to walk. A crackling TV flickered in the corner… “…One more Metro train disappeared today, this is the third such occurrence in the last week. Twenty two people have been reported missing…”

Clicking it off, a soft smile playing on his face, he jingled past the change and wrapped his hand around the miniature chain of carriages and placed it softly on the circular track in the centre of the room. Sitting back on his chair, he gazed through the small windows at the frozen faces some bent into phones, some lost in routine; tied down now forever in a different loop.

Round and round he rolled his fingers over the token, loops within loops, in perpetual motion, in permanent pause.

 

 

 

When the Mind is without Fear

IMG_6092
Photograph of Painting at Chitrasanthe 2016 – Artist Prakash K

The screen stares at me, glowing in anticipation; I open tab after tab drawing blue boxes on the screen. My mind, blank, wonders what if Medicine had never happened, what if Christmas didn’t find me sitting here in this rank Emergency, sitting here at 2 at night waiting for that CT report, that other idiot’s X-ray and the mild fever hypochondriac’s blood counts.

I would probably be having some tea now, wrapped up in my favourite comforter, my mind numbed by my delectable combo of Netflix, food and warmth. Krithika by my side, complaining of my choice of film; bored out of her skull; unappreciative of the cuts, the editing, the dialogue, the direction and more.

“God, this is so depressing”, she would’ve said.

What then; would I have turned it off; we would’ve had gotten cosy then, probably. Man, I could have been having tea, comforter, sex and maybe with some luck, even a movie.

People call me movie crazy, but honestly, there’s just something enjoyable about soaking in your own mediocrity, watching someone else’s art take your breath away. There’s also a joy in choking and gagging at it when their art sucks. It’s as good a guilty pleasure as any. Watching their little lives play out on my screen pausing when I want, rewinding when I will it so, reliving their best, their deaths, their cheating wives, their deadbeat dads, their boring sons. Watching their stories makes my own real, my own interesting, even worthy.

I used to have this fantasy as a kid that my life was a movie, that someone somewhere was sitting in a plush theatre eating a version of popcorn and nachos watching my life play out, admiring my boring life, my deadbeat dad, my cheating wife, my worst and my best.

Man, maybe I am Movie Crazy.

The screen continues to glow in front of me, the last few days have been quite mundane; the ED has been calm, no deaths, no intubations, nothing, not even a VVIP connected patient to put in his place, just an unearthly calm.

I open the Guardian’s website and begin to solve the Quick Crossword, the cryptic is to snooty, the editor’s high handed, so the Quick it is.

4 Across ————- Believes in (6) ———- Trusts

16 Down ————- Cheap Wine from the Rhine (9) —————– Don’t know

24 a ——————-Cleaning Device (7,7) ——————-Umm… Vacuum Cleaner

18 a ——————- Actor from Gandhi (8) —— Kingsley

What a combination of words is the crossword. Letters, words, clues smushed together on a drunk chessboard, forced into union for eternity regardless of choice, of need, desire.

Aren’t we all in a way, crosswords forced into being, living in the spaces between the black and white, forced into being with, around people we don’t want, doing what we don’t need, falling down our own rabbit holes, falling, falling, waiting to land, waiting for life, or is it waiting for death, to begin.

Epilogue – The mind is an amazing place, will it out of structure and it searches for patterns and formats; will it to write in scheme and it struggles to force words together.

The above piece was a part of fifteen minute freewriting exercise at Write-Club Bangalore. The mind flows if forced to, force yours to flow and fly everyday.