Damsel in Distress (10-11)

Time Week 10-11

12/03/20, 19/03/20

My group members and I used the mentioned duration to watch the films assigned to us.Following is my deconstruction and analysis of every film.

Babul

The very first I watched was Babul. I would like to start off by saying that I never thought I would receive a cultural shock by my culture. I think out of all 5 movies, Babul will always have a special place in my heart since it is the first one I watched. Also, because it is the one I watched at my leisure, as a movie, and not an assignment.

STORY: The story has a simple plot. It involves a young village postmaster (Ashok), a simpleton village girl (Bela), and the wealthy daughter of a zamindar (Usha). The movie is a love triangle between the three. 3We see it from the perspective of all three characters, but mostly involves how Bela tries to win Ashok over and fails, while showing a parallel with Usha and Ashok’s love story.

PLOT: It starts off with Bela falling in love with Ashok at first sight. Ashok is fond of Bela and wants to help her out of poverty by helping her father get her married. Bela misunderstands this as Ashok wanting to marry her and is completely smitten by him. Meanwhile, Ashok falls for Usha, the zamindar’s daughter. She likes him back, and they both use the excuse of singing classes to spend time together. Bela realizes that Ashok has fallen for someone else, and then tries to convince Usha to leave him, since Bela was the one he truly loved (a lie) and someone like Usha could find a thousand men, but Ashok was Bela’s only way out of poverty. And thus Usha stops meeting Ashok, who meets with an accident amidst his heartbreak. Usha’s father plans her marriage to someone else, and a melancholic Ashok attends the wedding. Right before getting married off, Usha tells him to complete her only wish, and get married to Bela. Bela overhears this and watches the wedding procession with overwhelming joy from a distance.She accidentally trips and falls from the tree branch, hitting her head. The last scene is Bela lying on her deathbed, motionless and barely breathing as Ashok puts the sindhoor on her head, and sings lines from the title track of Babul.

SUBPLOTS: The subplots include some comic relief, in form of the Munshi working at the Zamindar’s house, and trying to get his daughter Tuntun married. It also includes the loving relationship between Bela and her father. Last, it includes the interaction between Bela and her friends, and how decisions made with them propel the story.

CHARACTERS: The characters are stereotypical of what you would find in a romantic Bollywood movie. I mean, if you change the time and some characteristics, you get the 3 protagonists of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

THEMES: Romance, Ill fated Love, Tragedy, Social Disparity, Contrast, Innocence, Charm, Sacrifice, Forgiveness, Jealousy, Assumption, Disillusionment, Rivalry, Modernity versus Tradition.

METAPHORS:

  1. Natural elements like change of weather, rain ,lightning,sunny days representing varying emotions of the characters.
  2. The cupid’s bow pin. Usha giving it to Ashok was a metaphor for her telling him she loves her. Bela stealing it represents her disrupting their love and trying to steal Usha’s love.
  3. The changing city. Throughout the movie, there is a miniature city that keeps being shown. Sometimes this city has green lush grass, freshly watered, moist soil, and a sunny sky. Then it is barren and also lit on fire. This imagery is used to show the turmoil in the character’s minds.
  4. Bela’s dream. Bela says in the middle of the movie that a dream makes her feel uneasy. It features a black-veiled knight on a horse, descending from the sky, and telling her to come and mount the horse, and that her lover is waiting at the door to take her away. While in the beginning this dream talks about Bela’s destiny to get married to Ashok as everything goes according to Bela’s plan, it is not so. As Bela breathes her last; she sees the same vision again, and this time allows the man to take her away into the night sky. The veiled man represents death/a grim reaper, and the recurring nightmares are a way to foreshadow Bela’s sealed fate.
  5. Extinguishing of a candle. A metaphor used even today, the small shot of a candle extinguishing as Bela dies represents the spirit leaving the body.

DIRECTION: The direction is very slow and heavily relies on songs to convey emotions. It uses natural phenomena to show transition in emotions and time.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: The film almost looks like a theatre musical. The set and the lighting also give the same effect. The filmmaker cleverly pulls a Pavlov on us using the sound of Usha’s car horn. Every time the horn tune plays, we know Bela will come running out to watch, Ashok will come meet Usha, and Ashok and Usha will drive away, leaving behind a distressed Bela. Kudos to the cinematographer for experimenting with effects that looked WAY ahead of its time. I still don’t understand how they could show flashback overlays and a person and their soul (AKA their translucent version) separately while shooting with no digital technology, and on a roll of film in the 1950s. Pretty neat.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: The film covers topics like Dowry, patriarchy, ‘an ideal wife’ and literacy for the privileged. The target audience for this movie would usually be people who could afford to watch it, and thus would be affluent. And so the lead couple has western mannerisms, with Ashok being a true Renaissance man who enjoys reading, painting and singing, and Usha being a highly educated woman, who takes an interest in foreign antique items and also likes to sing and paint. There is a subtle hint to a comparison between the West and India, in form of the two female characters. The difference hits when Bela dresses up the way Usha does, with her hair pinned, and asks, “Do you like me better now?”. And thus would begin a long history of idealizing the West and their standards of beauty, which continues haunting us till present day.

Mela

If you could Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V one cast to another, Babul’s cast would give Mela.Not only does it have a similar cast but also the same production house, director, cinematographer, and song composer. But this is a slightly different story, albeit the same ending.

STORY: Manju and Mohan are childhood friend-turned lovebirds. Mathu is a villain of sorts, who keeps wanting to tear the two lovers apart. And so he gets Manju married off to a man she does not know, and Mohan engaged to Manju’s best friend. In the couple’s last meeting, a storm takes away Manju’s life. Mohan accepts the blame of having killed her, since he prefers jail to marrying someone other than his beloved. In his old age, he gets a vision of Manju calling him, and thus kills himself jumping off the same cliff where she died, hoping to reunite with her in heaven.

PLOT: The main plot revolves around Manju and Mohan’s love story. They are true lovers, but alas, star-struck. After asking for Manju’s hand in marriage, Mohan sets out to get her wedding jewelry but meets with an accident. When he is in the hospital for 5 days, Mathu convinces everyone that he has cheated on Manju and ran off with another woman. He manipulates everyone into believing that Manju needed a new groom, and he will be the hero who will find her one and save the day. Mathu makes a business out of finding a groom and a bride, taking money from Manju’s evil stepmother and sister of Manju’s to-be husband. What Manju did not know was that she was getting married to a man old enough to get constant heart attacks and be her father. The man is very considerate, clarifying that he only wanted to give his young children the love of a mother that they could never have, and did not even know that he was getting married to someone so young. A depressed Manju tries to forget her lover and tries to keep herself busy with the children. A chance occurrence makes Mohan save Manju’s old husband from a heart attack, leading to the lovers realizing that they were both still alive and around the same town. Manju’s husband dies, and his sister wants Manju out of the house. Around the same time Manju’s best friend comes to inform her she’s getting engaged to Mohan and wanted to invite Manju. A very distressed Manju meets Mohan with the same song that she’s been using since they were kids, and the lovers confront each other, Manju finally deciding that they must go their separate ways and that she “must go”. The storm hits, she dies, and Mohan goes to to jail, accused of killing her.20 years later, he revisits that cliff, and he sees Manju calling out to him, seeing which, he takes his own life.

SUBPLOTS: Mathu’s antics, him trying to hit on Basanti. Manju’s relationship with her parents, Mohan’s relationship with his father. Manju’s life after marriage.

CHARACTERS: Manju and Mohan represent the star-crossed lovers. Mathu is the troublemaker/villain, along with Manju’s evil stepmother and Manju’s husband’s sister. The characters try to show the contrast between good and evil.

THEMES: Love, Tragedy, Kindness, Ill-fated Love,Drama, Good versus Evil,Sacrifice, Patriarchy, Herd Mentality, Social Disparity, Innocence, Going full circle,Village life, Social Norms.

METAPHORS

  1. Mela. The most obvious and important metaphor is the title itself. It says life is a journey resembling a fun fair. Just like a merry-go-round, things come full circle, and like the rides, it has its ups and downs. A fair is also usually a temporary once in a year thing in villages, which probably represents the fleeting nature of life.
  2. The dolls and their doll houses. In the beginning of the movie, the two kids make a mud house and place a male and female doll inside of them. The houses represent their home life, and the dolls are their own selves. The building of these mud houses represents their wish to build a household together. And the next scene is Mathu taking his aim and destroying both houses with a single stone. This is foreshadowing exactly what he does to their real life, killing two birds with one stone and destroying both of their family lives at the same time.In another scene, Mohan is back from the hospital when he finds out that Manju is married already and he is too late. Here he says, “Then what is the point of these houses? I’ll break that too”. Soon enough, Manju’s husband dies, and it leaves her widowed.
  3. Title song. The title song of Mela, “Dharti ko aakash pukare” translates to “The sky is calling the earth, come my beloved. You have to come.” While they use this as a calling cue for each other through the movie, it again foreshadows the ending of the film. The end shows a vision of a deceased Manju inviting Mohan to join her, thus becoming the ‘sky’ that calls the ‘earth’. The next few lines of the song say that he must forget the world and break all illusionary ties with everyone to come join her. All these lines suggest him taking his life to join her, which he eventually does.

Since the production house is the same, this film employs the same direction and cinematography techniques as Babul.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: This movie differs from Babul because it is all based on village life. It shows the panchayat system used in villages to decide things, and how everyone came to a consensus which had to be followed. It also shows the narrow-minded nature of village society, and how women had practically no say in their own lives and future. Another important aspect shown is younger girls being married off to men that are much older. This would probably mean that he was marrying again, or that he was a widower. Either way, it was unfair to women since being a widow meant you were completely shunned from society and live a life of isolation, again shown in the movie. One interesting point was Mathu repeatedly saying he was an army man, and he’d survived a war. Judging from the time, it would not be wrong to assume that he represents a soldier in the Indian unit sent to fight for the British during WWII. He also keeps trying to talk in English, something he must’ve learnt overseas, and says gibberish in English to sound more knowledgeable to make people believe him.

Achhut Kannya

Achhut Kannya is the oldest film assigned to us from our generation. I was curious to see what the film would look like, because it is the oldest Bollywood movie I’ve ever seen. And I dived right in, doing no research beforehand.

STORY: The film revolves around the romance between Kasturi and Pratap, childhood friends whose friendship birthed because of Kasturi’s father saving Pratap’s father from a venomous snakebite.What separates them distinctly is their castes and their lifestyles, Pratap being the brahmin healer’s son and Kasturi being the daughter of the stationmaster, belonging to the untouchable caste. As friendship turns to love, everyone around them panics. And thus they are married off around the same time to different people, whom they aren’t able to give their hearts to. Kasturi’s husband has a first wife, who’s jealous of his relations with Kasturi. Her and Pratap’s wife conspire to ‘expose’ Kasturi’s ‘tyrannic’ ways and punish her for ruining everyone’s life. They do this by leaving Kasturi alone at the fair, and she has no option to return other than travel in Pratap’s cart, Kasturi’s husband, enraged, believes what his eyes see, and drags Pratap off the cart. A fist fight ensues, right on the train tracks. Kasturi sees the train coming, and to stop it and save everyone’s life, she gives up her own.

PLOT: The main plot is the lead couple’s romance. It is a very innocent kind of love, displayed mostly through songs and actions rather than declarations out loud.

SUBPLOT: Friendship between Pratap and Kasturi’s fathers, Father-daughter relationship, Mohanlal and Babulal’s rivalry, The lead couple with their spouses, Pratap’s mother showing hostility towards Kasturi, Difference in approach towards medicine and caste, Meera and Kajri’s conspiracy.

CHARACTERS: Pratap represents a young, playful and passionate lover.We can see his devotion towards Kasturi when he asks her in desperation whether they should forget everyone and run away. When Kasturi denies, he says a statement that would probably make people in the 1930s gasp:” I wish that I, too, was an untouchable.” Kasturi has to be a lot more careful about what she says where. Although she shares everything with her father at first, she stops sharing her emotions when she realizes she’s fallen in love with the wrong man for her. And while Pratap comes clear that he could not give Meera his love, Kasturi can’t tell her husband a thing, knowing that the consequences will fall upon her later on.

THEMES: Caste difference, Untouchability, Romance, Star-crossed love, compromise, humanity, herd mentality, friendship, polygamy, modernity versus tradition, selflessness, sacrifice.

METAPHORS: There aren’t a lot of significant metaphors used in the film. I’d imagine this happening because the filmmaker might consider it a lot more important to convey the plot itself, considering the period they made it in. (As seen when the introduction of the movie is excessively narrated for no reason).

CONTEXT: The film was released just after the shift from silent films to talkies took place. It is also the very beginning of social films, since films before these were usually mythology based. The film is very radical and forward for it’s time, since upper class Indians indulging in cinema would usually not comment on a social issue like this, still very much prevalent in the 1930s.At this time, Indian filmmakers had only begun learning about techniques that go behind making a film, and thus collaborated with a lot of German and British filmmakers.Everyone considered the film industry to be a lowly business. This film results from the collaboration between Himanshu Rai and Franz Osten. These movies were also of an escapist nature, away from the violence that Indians had to get involved in thanks to colonialization and being a part of Britain’s Allied forces in the War. The War led to several German technicians working on these movies being arrested. This affected the production of a lot of films that would follow Achhut Kannya. This is also the birth of what would be later known as ‘Bombay Talkies’, a production house birthing some of the greatest Bollywood superstars of its time, the likes of Madhubala, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar himself, and the legend who still lives to tell the tale, Dilip Kumar.

Sikander

This movie feels like it’s far ahead, for it’s time. Definitely something refreshing after watching three emotional romantic tragedies in a row.Sikander encompasses the showdown between Alexander the Great and King Porus, and the Battle of the Hydaspes.

STORY: The story strictly follows historical records of the events occurring in 300 BC for the most part, showing Alexander’s attempts at conquest in India.

PLOT: The movie shows Alexander and his personality, and his romance with Rukhsana, or as he liked to call, Roxanne (all for the ‘gram.) It shows the patriotic fervour among King Porus and his allies, and his subjects. Alexander conquers Persia and the Kabul valley and approaches the Indian border at Jhelum. Sohrab Modi plays the Indian King Puru (Porus to the Greeks). Puru requests neighbouring kingdoms to unite against a common foreign enemy. This leads to Alexander crossing the Jhelum/Hydaspes, and then a final grand battle scene showing the Battle of Hydaspes.

The story goes that when Sikander defeated Porus and imprisoned him; he asked Porus how would he like to be treated. Porus replied: “the same way a king is treated by another king”. Alexander was impressed by his answer and set him free.

SUBPLOTS: Aristotle’s learnings, Alexander and Rukhsana’s romance, Brother-sister relationship between Rukhsana and King Puru, Prarthana’s romance with Puru’s son, Alexander’s army and their thoughts, the emotions of the subjects/villagers.

CHARACTERS: Prithviraj Kapoor definitely steals the show every time he appears on screen as Alexander. His curly hair, built physique, straight nose and light eyes definitely help him embody the character with that much accuracy, supported by his show of pride, honour and eccentricity. A striking contrast is Sohrab Modi, portraying the valiant and honourable King Purushottam/Puru or Porus as Alexander would say. The two can fight on screen with their words and their weapons, which was a joy to watch. King Puru has some powerful dialogues which he executes with a degree of firmness and determination, enough to stir patriotic fervor in the audience watching the film.

THEMES: Action, Patriotism, Honour, Vengeance, Historical, Romance, Philosophy, Strategy

METAPHORS:

  1. The Battle. The entire movie and the dialogues are structured around the final battle sequence. Keeping in mind the release date and the period in history, the battle is a symbol of the country’s own fight against independence, and defeating a foreign invader.
  2. Song sung by the villagers. A village woman sings a song about a garden and how it would soon get destroyed. This garden is our country, destroyed by foreign invaders.
  3. The Rakhi. Rukhsana ties a rakhi on Puru’s wrist. The king symbolises this not only as a brother and sister relationship, but a bond between India and Iran.
  4. Alexander’s behaviour. Although historically accurate, I think that Alexander’s behaviour and decisions in the film were used to symbolise the behaviour of our own colonizers, right from taking Indian kingdoms as allies and breaking the rules of war.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT: The most important aspect of the film is the historical context, both in the original turn of events taking place in 300 BCE and the time the film was released. First, the movie sticks to the records written about the battle and the emperors. The battle scene is probably one of the best I’ve seen, considering the time of its creation. It is better than the entire season 8 of Game of Thrones, and that’s saying something. The reason it appealed to me is that it looks very convincing and real. There’s dust flying around everywhere, real elephants, thousands of real extras picked for the scene. Coincidentally, the scene also interested me because of my Objects as History project. I’d chosen chariots as my object, so I ended up learning a lot about war strategies and how they were deployed in war. Because of this, I also knew that in 300 BC there was no chance that a chariot could stand up against a cavalry, and that the Indian King would definitely lose, which is exactly what happened. The film also uses a very famous move by Alexander. In the Battle of Gaugamela against Darius III, Alexander defeats the Persian scythed chariots by allowing his infantry lines to open for the vehicles to pass through, surround them, and then attack from all sides. This is the exact thing he says in the movie, as he completely annihilates the force sent by Puru, led by Puru’s son.

In terms of when the film was released, it stirred a patriotic response. The release of the film coincided with World War II and the quest for Swaraj or Quit India at its peak. In India, the political atmosphere was tense, following Gandhi’s call to civil disobedience. Sikander further aroused the nationalistic sentiment. Thus, though Sikander was approved by the Bombay censor board, it was later banned from some theatres serving British Indian Army cantonments.

Miss Frontier Mail

Probably the most unique film out of all the 5! Also the most interesting in terms of its entertainment value and story.

STORY,PLOT: The story revolves around Savita’s adventure stunts and how she saves the day. The deputy station master at a railway station is murdered by a man in a mask. In the scuffle, his mask comes off and one of his gang members sees his face. They escape from there just before the station master Maganlal arrives who handles the knife which has been used to kill the deputy. The police appear and arrest him for the murder. His daughter Savita and son Jayant get the news by a wire sent by their uncle, Shyamlal. Nadia, a. k. a. Frontier Mail is fond of hunting, playing tennis and racing fast cars, while Jayant is an amateur filmmaker. Soon Jayant and his friend get involved in the villain’s antics as they film him and his gang readying to blow up a bridge. The masked man dynamites the bridge as he’s been contracted to do so by a man who wants to promote his airline business. There is also Gulab, who is romantically linked first with Shyamlal and then with Kishore. Gulab later reforms and sides with Nadia and her brother in hunting down the masked man. Sunder is the son of the head of the railways authority. He becomes infatuated with Savita and rushes to help her. It involves them in several chases culminating in a fight scene on top of a speeding train, where Savita fist-fights the gang alongside Sundar. She lifts some men and hurls them down on the tracks. It’s finally revealed that the masked man who calls himself Signal X is none other than Savita’s uncle Shyamlal.

CHARACTERS: Savita is definitely the leading lady. It was amazing to see a woman in such a powerful role. Even till date, Bollywood has a comparatively low number of films with a strong female action lead. This one breaks all the stereotypes and showcases the truly ‘Fearless’ Nadia. She can hurl bandits and climb trains in a blink, and she intimidates everyone.”Nadia is presented in scenes ‘exercising in her home gym, with a halo of blonde curls, bulging white thighs and the briefest of gym vests’, styles unlikely to be adorned by a non-Anglo Indian woman in Indian cinema at the time.”(Full article here.) I truly loved her personality. Signal X is a very stereotypical villain name, and he appears annoying more than fearsome. I think all the other male characters are feeble and dainty on purpose, just to keep Savita in focus. If she were to punch her lover, he would go flying across the room.

THEMES: Action, Adventure, Vengeance, Female Empowerment, Thriller, Comedy.

METAPHORS: The main metaphor in the film is the title itself. Savita is compared to the Frontier Mail train that ran at that time, because of her quick thinking, agility and wit. “Nadia’s filmic nickname also signifies the ambivalence of both the railways, as a modern colonial network, and India’s northwest frontier, as the supplement to its modern cities and the site at which colonial armies defended their territory.”(Full article here.)The film lacks any symbolism or metaphors in my opinion. It is mostly straightforward action with some comedy in between, which leaves very little space for emotions and symbolism.

CONTEXT: This film is something that would probably appeal to everyone, but it looks like a Chaplin-style movie made to appeal to the British.Miss Frontier Mail incorporates techniques from silent cinema, such as an absence of dialogue in the opening seven minutes, music and costumes to signify character, and title pages throughout. The movie was an expensive production but a huge success Wadia Movietone was known for quickly learning and adopting Hollywood action techniques in their films. Homi Wadia conveniently cast his wife, Nadia, for the lead roles as she was well versed with action and achieved a lot of fame for her sequences. This is not the first director-actor couple we see, actually. The first one is Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani, and similar to them, these two produced several films in collaboration with each other.

And that concludes my deconstruction and thoughts of all of the movies I watched. Overall,my main learning from the activity is the fact that I got a glimpse of an era worlds different from my own. I learnt a lot about how films were traditionally made, and the birth of the film industry in India. The movies also intrigued me enough to look into the personal lives of some of the main actors in them. At first I only did this because of my general habit to look up the cast after every movie or show I watch, but it also helped me understand how these movies aided to their career and what each of these actors did to act as a pioneer for Indian Cinema. Lastly, it gave me a fresh perspective on the political and social events occurring in the country at the time, and how these films intertwined with them.

Below is the drive link to the mind maps:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s