Jaideep Varma’s documentary Baavra Mann is yet to get a release in India. Karan Singh Tyagi saw it at New York Indian Film Festival earlier this year and wrote this post for us. Read on.
(We suggest you play the song in the background while reading the post)
“Duplicate nahi hai bhaiyya. Iska naam Nirmal Pandey hai. Kya acting kari thi isne ‘Is raat ki subah nahin’ me”, was my prompt reply, as my cousin and I stood in line with a dozen others, scanning movie posters outside Gaiety (Bandra) and booking our tickets for ‘Auzar’. As an 11 year old, I couldn’t contain my excitement, at having recognized Nirmal Pandey in the ‘Auzar’ poster, and went on this long rant about ‘Is raat ki subah nahin’. Much to my cousin’s chagrin, I told him everything about the movie – how it was violent and funny at the same time, how all the actors spoke a very different language, how the story finished in one night, and importantly, how Papa and I were lucky to see the movie on the big screen, as it had a single show in Bombay.
This innocuous little incident came back to me while watching Jaideep Varma’s documentary, ‘Bavra Mann and other Indian Realities’, in New York. For those who haven’t seen it yet, Jaideep’s movie traverses through the life and films of Sudhir Mishra, and somewhere in the middle of the movie, Mishra laments how ‘Is raat ki subah nahin’ was confined to a single show in Bombay and how many people didn’t get to see it. On hearing this, I silently smiled as my mind went back to watching the movie with Papa in the same show that Mishra was referring to. How I wanted to thank my father at that very instant! Not just for taking me to ‘Is raat ki subah nahin’, but for giving me the hereditary gift of love for movies and being the best companion I could have had while I nurtured it.
There were numerous such nostalgia trips throughout Jaideep’s movie. The portions dealing with ‘Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi’ left me mesmerized. Listening to ‘Bavra mann dekhne chala ek sapna’ on the big screen again did my soul so much good; it stirred something deep within me, something in desperate need of stirring. My mind went back to when I first saw ‘Hazaaron..’ I remember crying tears of joy and sadness, laughing gleefully, feeling melancholic and empty, while ‘Bavra Mann’ played on loop and images from the movie interposed with flashes of my life didn’t leave me for days at end. Probably, this is a uniform reaction that ‘Hazaaron..’ elicits. The movie strikes a deep chord somewhere, and makes one confront broken promises, failed dreams, and all those bittersweet memories, that we carry with ourselves. Right after watching Jaideep’s ‘Bavra Mann’, a friend who had accompanied me to the screening in New York forwarded me this by Avijit Ghosh who captures this sentiment beautifully:
“There are a thousand reasons to watch Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. But enjoy it as a last anthem for a generation who knew how to believe. Watch it holding the hand of a woman you have loved and lost. And it would be nice if you have drunk some rotten whisky before.”
As must be painfully evident by now, I am easily susceptible to bouts of nostalgia. However, these glorious nostalgia-filled moments were not the only reason why I enjoyed Bavra Mann. I have often wondered what drives filmmakers to make the kind of movies that they do. For example, at the risk of doing a Baradwaj Rangan here, I have been fascinated by two particular scenes from Black Friday and Gangs of Wasseypur.
Sample these dialogues:
Black Friday – “Jiske paas kuch nahi hai karne ke liye, dharam ke naam par chutiya banta rahega”. GOW2 – “Jab tak cinema hai log chutiye bante rahenge”
I have often wanted to argue that we can discern in these dialogues a kind of master narrative, a collection of meanings, and, perhaps, a powerful leitmotif that runs through all of Kashyap’s movies, a kind of slavishness and hive mentality – towards religion in Black Friday, towards cinema and everything that one acquires from it in Gangs of Wasseypur. To take the analogy further, slavishness towards power in Gulal, towards self and personal ego in DevD and No Smoking. Therefore, Kashyap’s movies are magic on celluloid, because he lets characters with such aggressive spirit and slavish devotion face their internal conflicts and external surroundings. What we see on screen is the result of a bundle of contradictory aspects and motivations, a certain kind of dualism that everyone and everything in life has. I have repeatedly asked myself, what are the questions that Kashyap is trying to answer through his work? Has he found any answers yet?
Bavra Mann poses similar questions to someone whom Vikramaditya Motwane calls the “original Anurag Kashyap”. Despite the frequent and frenzied analysis of cinematic moves of all current directors’, I feel there is a strong lack of literature that provides us with enough resources to examine and study their work. This is where Bavra Mann triumphs. It gives enough resources to the audience to interpret Sudhir Mishra and his movies in a new light. Bavra Mann is a fascinating exercise in self-revelation and film lovers will revel in the personal anecdotes and casually delivered remarks that reveal layers and layers of information about Mishra and his body of work. The movie has a series of interviews with Mishra and people close to him, covering the length of Mishra’s career, beginning with his childhood, continuing through his education, his failed marriage with his first wife, his relationship with renowned film editor, Renu Saluja, his early film work, his breakthrough success with Dharavi, and his daring work in Hazaaron.., his most autobiographical Khoya Khoya Chand, and finally his recent movies. There is a treasure trove of diamonds in the movie. After all, who wouldn’t want to eavesdrop on Mishra and Shantanu Moitra’s recounting of how they got Swanand Kirkire to sing ‘Bavra Mann.’
A criticism often peddled against movies like Bavra Mann is that the director holds back, and is reverential towards his subject. Here, Jaideep is never in awe of Sudhir Mishra. His questions are probing and the discussions on films themselves are less about why they’re great and more about how they were put together. Jaideep knows that directors are not good at explaining motives behind making particular films. Movies, like many things else, begin with something very vague and abstract. Jaideep, therefore, never tries to look for definite answers and actual motives behind Mishra’s work. His aim is to allow the viewers the freedom to interpret the scene in the way they want, and depending on how their cinematic education (and earlier experiences of Mishra’s movies) has prepared them. Bavra Mann succeeds in bringing before us the greatest number of possibilities to reinterpret Mishra’s movies. After watching Bavra Mann, I realized that Sudhir Mishra’s movies (especially the earlier ones) resonated with me because they were being truthful about life – the movies expressed some deeper emotional experiences that Sudhir Mishra recognized in his own existence. This in and of itself was a reason for me to love Bavra Mann.
However, for me, the biggest strength of Bavra Mann is that it never wavers from admitting that Sudhir Mishra continues to be plagued with what is an inconsistent body of work. It subtly engages in criticism of some of Sudhir Mishra’s recent movies (the likes of Inkar, Calcutta Mail) to reflect on the present-day infertility of thought in India. By using Sudhir Mishra’s example, Jaideep exposes the dangers inherent in adopting a conformist and consensus-driven career. According to me, it is in this context that the movie makes a brutally frank attempt to unravel the intellectual decline of India and Indian movies (using Sudhir Mishra as a metaphor). The movie, therefore, is an elegy of intellectual life not only of Sudhir Mishra but of us all. In a way, the movie tries to jolt us (Sudhir Mishra included) out of the dark recesses that we have allowed ourselves to fall in.
I do not know if Bavra Mann is getting a theatrical release anytime soon. However, I strongly hope that everyone gets a chance to see it. Watch it to revisit old times, to go back to your personal stories intertwined with Sudhir’s films, watch it to hear “Bavra Mann” on the big screen again, watch it as a student and lover of cinema, and most importantly, watch it because it is a powerful statement on the times that we live in.
Naseerudin Shah says the single most perceptive thing in the movie: “Mishra’s best work is yet to come.” Even though, I love ‘Hazaaron…’, I wouldn’t want it to be Mishra’s best work. I earnestly wish that it turns out to be just a teaser of what he (and by association) Indian cinema goes on to achieve and that no one is ever required to come to the rescue of this long-haired maverick director, like I had to once come to the rescue of his similarly long-haired leading man outside Gaiety.
– Karan Singh Tyagi
(Karan was born in Meerut, lived and studied in Bombay and Harvard, and after a brief stop in Paris, now finds himself in New York. He strongly feels that Ramadhir Singh was directly referring to him while saying, “Sab ke dimaag me apni apni picture chal rahi hai aur sab saale hero banna chah rahe hain apni picture me..” When he is not day-dreaming about movies or Real Madrid, he also works as a lawyer. You can find him on twitter here: @karanstyagi)