Friday, April 05, 2013

Subhanallah, Chashme BUDDOOR (1981)

It's the freshest thing I've seen all year. And I'd seen it at least three times before and maybe a couple more times in bits and parts. But so far, I'd only caught the film on cable TV, and I had never seen the first ten minutes.

This time I was milling around, eating too much cheese. Impatient for Chasme Buddoor (the 1981 Chashme Buddoor, the funny one, the original one, the one that could pull off both, unself-conscious and self-conscious humour, and romance, and still stay watchable) on the big screen.

And then I was in my seat, sitting through the trailer of Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 and glad, sort of, because any poor iota of curiosity you may have felt was successfully squelched (although I did think that this was a less annoying trailer than the trailer of Chashme Baddoor, the new version, where the only novelty hinted at was shorter skirts).

Once the film began, I was surprised at how much I was laughing. Surprised that, despite the huge potential for feminist discomfort in this sort of story, I was not made uncomfortable by the jokes. Watching the film with grown-up eyes, I was noticing more and more cleverness in the script and the vision of director Sai Paranjpe.

For instance, two of the male characters, Jomo and Omi (Ravi Vaswani and Rakesh Bedi), are always chasing women in overt, slightly offensive ways but they never succeed in wooing anyone. They chhedo-fy any woman they see, not discriminating on the basis of class or colour or body shape. And it is obvious to the viewer that the reason they never succeed is that their approach to women is all wrong. Following, whistling, passing comments, showing up without an invitation, offering lacy kerchiefs as bait – such 'woo-ing' is not just annoying, it is doomed to failure.

The writer-director makes it clear that women are not likely to be won over this way and she is able to do so with a sense of fun. The boys don't always get slapped. They also get taken for a ride by some of the women.

However, given the right circumstances, romance does blossom. A chance encounter is important but equally important is behaviour. And mutual attraction. For instance, when Neha (Deepti Naval) meets Siddharth (Farooq Sheikh), he comes across as a decent chap. He is a bit awkward, but not unduly shy. He's educated, hard-working, and considerate about her feelings. He will not let her touch a dirty towel even if it is only so that she might wash it. And he's not pompous or dishonest.

In turn, she gives him a chance. She trusts him enough to give him an opportunity to meet her again (I will not describe how, because you MUST go watch the film). She acknowledges her desire too, when they both meet again and it is now evident that both parties are actually interested. Their mutual interest is key to the film. Everything hinges on this – that they like and trust each other.

This is one of the major reasons why I adore the film. The filmmaker is neither placing the burden of coyness on the woman, nor placing women in general on some pedestal of infallibility. Just like men, some are shy and some are 'chaalu' and some are neither.

I also wonder if there was a subtle point made about 'gaze' as well. Whenever Jomo and Omi are following girls, the women are often walking away with hips swinging wildly, exaggeratedly. This does not happen with Siddharth or Neha.

Another thing I love is the deliberate spoofiness of the scenes invoking Hindi film references. Most often, this is during Jomo/Omi-Neha scenes. The filmmaker is perfectly aware of how stereotypical (or just silly) Bollywood characters can be, and she exploits every one of those stereotypes for laughs. Through songs, through costumes, through dialogue. But when she is not being spoofy, she is also capable of using filmi tropes in a tender way. For instance, when showing how Neha is upset, whilst she is singing a sad song with her music guru.

The other things I love about the original Chasme Buddoor is the attention to detail, and when detail is deemed important. For instance, at one point, Omi and Neha are seated in a boat. She is wearing a gleaming white garaara (and it is a garaara, not a sharaara, as it should be in the Lucknavi poetic imagination), and the dupatta is kept in place on her head with the help of a hair clip. An ordinary black hair clip that shows up clearly on the white fabric.

I noticed that hair clip with a little shock. Then I realised that I have NEVER seen a black hair clip on the head of any Hindi film actress on any big-screen outing. Their dupattas appear to be super-glued to their heads. This small detail is unimportant, especially since the whole song is meant to be spoofy. But it totally distracted me because I began to think of how the mirage of perfection has become super important in modern films. The women's clothes are just so, their bodies just so, their breasts of a particular size and if not just so naturally, then silicon-ed up to that particular just-so size.

Neha wears her clothes the way an ordinary middle/upper class girl might. She dresses well, in both western and Indian outfits. She wears heels. And when she steps out, after her music lessons, she actually puts her sandals on again! This is an important detail. It deepens the scene – a hint of tradition executed wordlessly; in a blink of an eye, it adds to Neha's character and allows a better sense of 'place' within a film. But this is a director's detail. It's not a costume detail.

Similarly, the boys are all in towels when they are alone, or lungis with t-shirts (the same t-shirts they might wear outdoors). And they share clothes. But no dialogue is wasted, with one character asking to borrow the other's shirt. It's just done, more or less the way young flat-mates do in real life.

Another example – Omi is shown vigorously exercising in one scene, and that tells us how he feels about being plumper than the other two. He never says a word about wanting to lose weight. It is just suggested, which is enough to deepen his character for the viewer.

Yet another example – All the boys talk often to Lallan Miyan (Saeed Jaffrey), the neighbourhood paan-wala to whom they owe money for cigarettes. This includes Siddharth. But what's touching is that he actually talks to the elder man. He confides in him because he's a student in a new town and probably doesn't have anyone else to share his feelings with.

These details are signs of accomplished filmmaking, of course - embedded gently and absorbed intuitively. I was noticing them only because I have watched the film at least three times and also because it is so rare in Hindi film 'comedies' these days.

I could go on and on. There are a dozen things to say about why this film still feels so modern, so honest, so delicately balanced. But I should actually stop and allow you – whoever is reading this – to go and catch a show on the big screen. It's totally worth the money. Probably one of the cleanest romcom+buddy films you're likely to watch this year.

Just remember to watch the one with 'u' in the Buddoor. Book here.


Spirited seeker said...

Hey Annie! It was great meeting you at the book reading of your Love Stories...

I remember commenting on Smriti's fb post which had a link to this piece of yours.

I share your thoughts on this beautiful film. One of my favourite scenes is when they are eating tooty frooty icecream. Such a normal thing that couples do but most Hindi films don't show it.

Hope to get my hands on the dvd!

Best wishes,

Annie Zaidi said...

hey anjali
nice meeting you too. :)

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