Tell me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream
Anurag Kashyap evidently does not share Longfellow’s aversion for ultra-pessimism. Which is why his movies are usually “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hain” and “Pyar bhi jhoota yaar bhi jhoota” monuments to doom, gloom. betrayal and death. A certain demographic worships Kashyap for this fashionable “angsty-ness” as it contrasts sharply with the mainstream “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” everything-will-fall-into-place-as-per-Yash-Chopra’s supreme plan kind of escapism. However what Kashyap’s nihilism does is that it makes him predictable—- you know more or less as to how the story arcs are going to end.
Adding to that thematic predictability is the fact that “Gulaal” has the standard cast of stereotypes for a “gritty student politics” story—the innocent outsider who gets sucked in, the mentor, the manipulator and the traitor; all of whom behave and interact with each other in more-or-less the way you would expect them to in a Anurag Kashyap movie.
Of course even despite this predictability, “Gulaal” could have become a masterpiece.
After all “Dev D” from the same director and based on a plot as old as Saratchandra was quite spectacular.
But where “Dev D” elevated itself to stratospheric levels was through its characterizations—-so rich in texture and detail that you felt the urge to run home, get a DVD, pause each scene, reflect and then pen down your thoughts in a short character-synopsis for each of them.
This is also the point where I find “Gulaal” stumbles. I found not one character fascinatingly etched, not one I would carry in my hearts. Perhaps it was the fast edits in the first hour that inhibited the growth of dramatic tension. Perhaps it was just the way the scenes were layered that poured water on the character development. Perhaps it was the intersection of the theme of wounded national pride and college politics that caused a problem of focus. Whatever the reason be, “Gulaal” to me lost its way.
Now a lot of readers are bristling by now as I am fairly sure most of you loved “Gulaal” to death. Am I blind to the cinematic style of “Gulaal” from its use of shadows cast by fire to its visually spectacular color palette (very distinct from DevD’s)? Was the humor of the John Lennon locket and the pictures of Tabu lost on me ? Or the surreal symbolism of the blue-faced sidekick and of Prithvi Bana and what they stand for? And finally what about Piyush Mishra’s lyrics and his extremely clever and frequently brutal word-play, in the tradition of the best of “people’s theatre”—isn’t that itself worth the price of admission and a place in the history books?
I would say “not by itself”. Style and directorial flourish, even it be as novel as the kind Anurag Kashyap gives us, are all fine as long as the story and the characters are equally interesting allowing every element to combine synergistically to create a totally immersive cinematic experience.
“Gulaal” however, for me, is not that.
Sadly to say.