Gulaal— The Review

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.

62 thoughts on “Gulaal— The Review

  1. Okay! whre is my Uzi?

  2. thanks for obliging 🙂

  3. Somehow feel Anurag is a great director when it comes to borrowed material. But when it comes to being a story teller, falters in the 2 hr space. Paanch, No Smoking, Gulal and even Dev D are testimony how the 2nd half kinda doesn’t work. In contrast look at Black Friday. he just placed hsi perspective, read screenplay, and out came his best work. Though originally meant to be a telefilm.

  4. GB…for once i disagree with you…i loved every bit of the drama…and the reasons…well you have yourself mentioned them all in the second last para…about characters…most had clear motives and fit well in moving the story forward…but then to each one his own…

  5. come’on…its an amazing movie..a masterpiece

  6. I dont know whether those of you who liked the movie have seen it once or more than once. I thought it was one of the best when I first watched it, but with repeat viewing some faults came in view…most prominently, the slow 2nd half…however I can still watch the movie at least 10 more times just to see the brilliant flamboyance of abhimanyu singh and subtelity of deepak dobriyal. and i dont know whether all of u will agree with me but i think piyush mishra has given the best lyrics in the history of hindi films. can anybody tell me whats the name of the guy who plays Jarwal? i thought the ragging scene was very neatly written and performed very naturally by jarwal and co.

    but i disagree with GB on one point and that is about characterization, i dont think kashyap faulted there, on the contrary he did it more swiftly and crisply. Apart from Kiran definitely, her change is really abrupt. But for the other characters you never find difficulty to explain their actions by their past data.

    also, the 2 plotlines of reional politics and college politics are merged quite smoothly and they never seem to be entangled in a messy way.

    and as a final observation, hardly would u see a movie use its music so well (can only think of dev d).

    final verdict ? i am crazy abt the movie in spite of all its faults.

  7. Can anyone explain for what that Blue Chap stood for? I didn’t get it…
    I found him extremely annoying and clapped and whistled when he is shot by Ranaji 🙂

  8. may be it didnt appeal to u because you have never lived in Rajsthan.. then u might have seen all the characters ex. Dukey bana(K K menon), Bhaati(Dobriyal), Ransaa(abhimanyu singh) live and then you wud have found it easy to connect and relate.The dialogues, their meanings, hidden meanings at times get so colloquial that it gets tough to understand for someone who has never been to rajshtan or lived there(note that i am not talking about the language here).i think Kashyap has done a great job by putting all these characters on celluloid and entwining them in a reasonable story….though u can call a couple of roles undercooked or unreasonable like , Anuja and Kiran…but thats it..

  9. Clearly Gulaal is not an easy cinema to understand, not for everyone.
    There’s little point on arguing on something subjective like cinema, which like any other art is guided by intangible fondness and intelligence.

    You disliked it, you wrote about it. I liked it, I wrote my review.

    But as the title says ‘The review”, I beg to differ on the comparison with Dev D. The cinematic parlance of DevD and Gulaal is completely different, so comparing two movies, just because it’s created the same Director, won’t seem logical to me. I mean can No Smoking be compared with Hanuman returns?

    Gulaal took seven long years to make, long before Dev D was even conceptualized (by Abahay Deol, not Anurag Kashyap). Thus Dev D was made when AK matured his skills as a Director over the years (No Smoking, Black Friday, Paanch).

    Please read what AK has to say on Gulaal.

    Had Gulaal been released in 2001-02, history would have been different.


  10. I luvd Gulaal and the reasons would be the following:

    1. The story and the direction it takes; I do get it that some people might not like the “starkness” or the negativity portrayed but considering the actual world around us, it is as real as it gets. I absolutely loved the climax and when it all got over, I could not applaud because I was just too stunned! I cant remember the last time a Hindi film made me react that way!

    2. Never before in Hindi films have I seen ‘love’ dealt this way, the fact the “girls” can actually take the “guy” for a ride and not give a damn could not have been better shown.
    3. The take on Karan and his “final victory” was also a highlight and the way Karan in Gulaal ends up exactly the opposite way the “real” Karan did in Mahabharat.

    4. I get your issue with characters not being developed [or rather not being allowed to develop] but that is very intentional by AK. This is also precisely the reason the track between Anuja and Dileep.

    5. And lastly there are the sheer brilliant performances even in the miniscule of roles; the songs are plain genius and I hope Piyush Mishra gives us more in the years to come.

    AK take a bow! I am waiting for Paanch and I hope GB thinks differently then! 🙂

  11. @Optician: Jadhwal played by Pankaj Jha. I have expressed my own views on the characters of Gulaal. How can one miss Abhimanyu Sekhar Singh and Deepak Dobriyal in the movie ? Especially that Panwaala scene ?


  12. @udtahaathi
    Panwaala scene is a sheer masterclass from DD, I mean just looing at him in that scene I was telling my gf that this guy is genius, next day I read raja sen review in rediff and saw him mentioning it and today its u. good that it has not got unnoticed.

  13. @udtahaathi and optician
    I agree with u guys bout the paan shop scene … to the core…

  14. I agree with divyanshu. Having never been to Rajasthan, i couldn’t relate to the plot of the movie the way a Rajput could have – especially after 60 yrs of Independence. But despite my shortcomings (not the director’s), i really loved the movie. After watching the movie, i spoke to a few Rajasthani friends of mine and found that the plot was not all that irrelevant. The symbolisms used in the movie – the lyrics of the songs were outstanding. I think this movie could never have had a right time. If this were released in 2002, the audience wouldn’t have been ready for such kind of cinema. And now, in the times of ‘globalisation of India’ many may not be able to relate to it. What i really likes about the movie was the way the reality was portrayed – the horrors of ragging, the college politics, the hunger for power. All-in-all – it was an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G movie

  15. @ Divyanshu, Optician: I think it takes a different eye to catch those fine detailing. That panwaala scene has developed a cult following. Most of the critics have mentioned it. I also liked the morbid guitar tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘Good Bye Blue Sky’ played by Kiran on the meeting room.
    Also it was noticeable how the neon lights changed from ‘Hello There’ to Hell* *here.
    Anyway, I think it’s inappropriate to discuss those details here.


  16. @ udtahaathi…
    Agree with u again..:-) one can notice a lot of such small yet powerful symbols through out the movie….

  17. Ardhnaari represents power and deceit (hanuman and women).

  18. “I am fairly sure most of you loved “Gulaal” to death.” – No, I didn’t – to that extent i.e, though it had its moments for sure.

  19. The review seemed to have mixed up theme and plot.
    Anyway, my 2 cents here :

  20. @Soumik: How on earth did you manage to watch Paanch?

    @Shaswat: dude let’s just say AK proved his point from the way you reacted when KK shoots the “blue chap”

  21. Did anyone notice how names of all alcoholic drinks were related to Politics or Government?

    “Republic” Whisky

    “Democracy” Beer

    etc. etc.

    It’s like Power is a more intoxicating substance than alcohol.

  22. Awww. greatbong, you broke my heart with this review.

  23. ‘you know more or less as to how the story arcs are going to end.’ – hardly for me. Maybe I am not clued in enough.

  24. v sad GB
    was hoping u’d get “it” and express it in your own unique way that we love to read – you know, you are able to write about stuff that we find hard to articulate

    i felt its a deeply complex movie carrying a multitude of ideas with it – and some deliberately open to interpretation. i am a die hard optimist myself, but my interactions with a bunch of post modernists or nihilists have opened my world to the darkness of theirs….and its quite fascinating to see this kind of duality amongst people.

    he has conceptualized and delivered on a very difficult theme. i felt it was true art. the symbolism of the ardha nari and the character of piyush mishra, the music almost being a separate character….i would like to contradict you on the characters not being well developed…i can go to a long extent on it….but would skip it. Would suggest you read the articles on Some of what i felt is put out there.

    would have been great if you;d enjoyed it as much…oh well, thats prolly what art is about…completely subjective and open to interpretation. To me, a movie that stays in my mind for long long after the cinematic experience of watching it is simply brilliant and crafted by a true master.

    keep writing and good luck!

  25. @INK,
    Very nicely put comment, exactly what all of us who like Gulaal probably wanted to tell GB, we loved Gulaal, but we love ur blog too 🙂

    So keep up dada

  26. I did not realise movie had so much fan following, agree with GB, after first 45 minutes movie lost the plot.
    I thought Irfan Khan movie, Hasil which had similar plot of mixing college, caste and politics.

  27. please please can we have a review of ‘the watchmen’

  28. My views exactly. Kashyap totally blew it in the second half. He tried to tell way too many stories. And the character he chose as the protagonist (Raj Chaudhary) made me cringe in my seat.
    Could’ve been a masterpiece.

  29. btw, what was jesse randhawa doing in the movie?

  30. Apologize for the longish rant.

    One of the most surreal experiences one can have in the Indian blogosphere is to witness the groupie behavior of Anurag-fan-boys at every civilized comment-space, as if PFC is not enough of a shrine for the man. For this class of movie-challenged any movie that has a nihilistic ending wherein everyone gets smoked is totally awesome. If that includes symbolism even though it is introduced for sumbolism’s sake and some raw language, then of course it is a masterpiece.

    Let us look at a smatteting of the pearls of wisdom some of these fanboys have barfed out in this comment thread.

    A sample.

    Genius 1: It didn’t appeal to u because you have never lived in Rajasthan.

    So if someone doesnt like Gulaal it’s because that person has not stayed in Rajasthan. If Gulaal’s appeal is so limited, let me recommend the movie be released in Rajasthan only with Ila Arun as the main hero.

    Genius 2: Clearly Gulaal is not an easy cinema to understand, not for everyone.

    The classic AK argument. Its so deep and so fuckin awesome dumbass people like GB just do not get it. This is the classic case of the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. If you are unable to see AK’s non-existent talent, you are an idiot. On the other side, if you want to show you are an intellectual, then you have to sign bhajans in AK’s name. AK needs to be congratulated for being able to create such a market of zombies in the same way that Chiranjeevi and Rajanikant have, though at least they are not half as pretentious.

    Genius 2A: Gulaal took seven years to make long before AK’s skills became mature.

    So that means Gulaal has to be judged by a different standard? The link provided in support is a link to AK’s own explanation. This is perhaps the most howlarious part of AK. He has to write a blog to explain his movie ! Not just that, he has to provide the talking points “This is angriest movie” so that fan-boys can later regurgitate these on various message boards….waah kya anger hain.

    Genius 3: Never saw a Hindi movie where the girl takes the guy for a ride.

    Hint: Watch any C-grade cheapo movie starring Tanusree Dutta, Payal Rohatgi and anyone of their ilk and you will find many such stories.

    Genius 3A: The characters are not developed but that is AK’s intention.

    ROTFL. Next I expect to hear—Paanch sucked but that was AK’s intention. Here is a link to his blog that explains why.

    Coming to Gulaal. Utter thrash. The opening sequence itself with the Rajasthan Royals with red gulaal on their face listening to Dukey Mamata Banerjee was hilarious. Were these people going to collect subscrptions for the local Pujo or where they going to start a revolution? It gets worse from there on. The femme fatale has a Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore 70s problem. Jesse Randhawa I thought should have been there just so that Piyush Mishra could play on her last name. Alas that was not to be.

    I can go on about Gulaal but I think I have made my point.

  31. anurag kashyap makes interesting movies with interesting takes ..on stuff .. he is not a good story teller.. there is a certain tightness concreteness missing..

    it is a collection of lots of good ideas but as a whole doesn’t make a lot of sense

  32. “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”

    Absoluetly agree with that statement and the review as well. I dunno if it is Black Friday which hampers my judgement given that Black Friday was nothing short of sensational but I would rate that more than Gulaal any day. Black Friday relied on a strong story out and out with no sensationalism, dramatizing or any of those extra cinematic elements that directors rely on and thats the type of movies I normally love.

  33. Anonymous :

    I am guessing is it Rajasen or Khalidji (the gr8 c*****ya)

  34. Sunny Puttar,

    Haha ! The typical response of the AK zombie ! The level of intellectual discourse (ch****) that fan boys can engage is mind-boggling. Oh wait that’s gritty language.


  35. kashyap is over-rated.

  36. Anonymous coward,

    You totally pwned Gulal! I mean like, how can other people miss those “logical” inconsistencies that you have unearthed, it was like while everyone was fawning over Andrew Wiles proof your phis loving brain found the issue which made the whole thing worthless.

  37. did your parents give u a name anonymous? 🙂

  38. Anonymous Mar 31st, 2009 at 8:09

    I have till date NOT seen any movie by AK. I hope that does not make me a card holding member of AKFC.

    I have a few points to share. Think over them.

    It is perfectly okay for GB to not ‘like’ a movie and for others to do. GB’s taste in cinema is not the Gold Standard for anyone and ditto for others.

    As Ink said earlier:
    “Very nicely put comment, exactly what all of us who like Gulaal probably wanted to tell GB, we loved Gulaal, but we love ur blog too”

    The entire discourse has been civilized. No one has trashed GB. Gulaal Fan Club has praised his writing skills and the fact that he writes what most of us think but are not able to articulate.

    Even loyal fans should be allowed to disagree once in a while.

    Let us be polite. Anonymity does not give the freedom to be impolite. It also shows the kind of fan following GB has attracted. This holds true for pro and anti Gulaalists.

    So far as I am concerned Savita Bhabhi likes the movie and that settles the matter for me :). I am going to see my first AK movie this weekend.

  39. I liked Gulaal quite a lot. Its the subject that demands many characters and that is how it becomes difficult to carve out lasting characters. One other issue is time constrain. Had it been a 3.5 to 4 hour movie it would be lot better at different levels.

  40. I thought that you not liking this movie was your take on April 1st blog entry. Then I noticed that it was posted on March 31st. Alas.

  41. @AlphaQ,

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO that was not INK , that was me :((

  42. tum sab log kitna bakchodi karte ho yaar.

  43. Its good that movie has mixed opinions else it stands the chance of going unnoticed 🙂

    Time will tell if Anurag Kashyap is over rated or not but his resume till date looks good

  44. I feel post Black Friday and PFC Mania, Anurag Kashyap tends to get on top of the things.. kinda pretentious.. guy is genius, no doubt. But Control yaar.

  45. @GB: Varun Gandhi, no thoughts about the drama so far ?

  46. Bong Bai! I guess you should stick to reviewing cricket in Kolkata and writing seemingly humor on India. Reviewing cinema is not your forte. No hard feelings.

    Agreed gulaal has a lot of flaws. Nit disputing it. However, if you look at the flicks dished out by AK with a perspective on Indian cinema, then AK is class apart, even with all the short comings.

    I appreciate AK;s courage to make cinema to his conviction rather than give into to box office!

  47. @ Optician

    I stand corrected. It was Optician who wrote the following line:
    “Very nicely put comment, exactly what all of us who like Gulaal probably wanted to tell GB, we loved Gulaal, but we love ur blog too”

    I think I will need your services soon 🙂 O-O/

  48. Love Piyush Mishra – I have a soft corner for all alumni of the Delhi theatre circuit, including Irfan, Deepak Dobriyal, Ritu Raj, Himani and the late Gyan Shivpuri, etc. Piyush resisted moving to Bombay for years, but I’m glad he finally made the move. Delhi’s loss is an enormous gain for Bombay – the man is a talent powerhouse.

    As for Gulaal, haven’t seen it. As someone mentioned above, Haasil was made on a similar theme. Dil Dosti Etc., touched some of these issues, albeit very superficially and the focus was different.

  49. I thought this film could have been more powerful and towards the end it was dealing more with personal “senti” of Dilip Singh while it could have focused more on politics…I wished Ransa to be the protagonist…!!

    But still it’s an awesome movie….I have seen Haasil, it was good but this one is better…Haasil only had Irfan, this has a bunch of brilliant but underrated actors…the only other Political movie that comes close in terms of impact is Hazaro Khwahishe Aisi…

    Anonymous brother seems totally pissed off…its OK not to like a film…like GB has expressed his views…but to totally trash it while it is obviously not…indicates something fishy…

  50. GB,
    Strange that you should consider the story and the characters to be the weakest link in the film since I found them to be the biggest attraction in Gulaal. The script was awesome and the dialogues as well as Piyush Mishra’s lyrics had me rolling in the aisles.
    Some of the scenes like the revolutionary meetings are surreal and like the characters there is a touch of fantasy in the plotline as well. it might be argued that AK went a little overboard here and his anti-establishment message was too loud whereas he could have been a lot subtler. Also the ending was quite jarring and almost disconnected from the rest of the film, but whether that was an accidental hash-up of a Shakespearean tragedy or a deliberate ploy of the director is debatable.

    Ultimately however, I accept the charge you have levelled against me and other AK fans – I applaud AK and watch his movies for the same reasons why I rooted for open-source software developers against Microsoft; because much as I like mainstream Bollywood fare, I have to appreciate the spirit of anyone who dares to stand up against the might of a well-tested system and challenges the status quo. Bollywood is richer due to AK’s non-conformity.

  51. Also, how come there is no mention of KK’s acting? I think he has given a virtuoso performance and stands out amidst a very impressive cast.

  52. Apparently you also dont share Longfellow’s aversion to ultra-pessimism. And this is the first time I am disagreeing with you. Gulal is a masterpiece in Indian movie making. And no, the movie does not focus on dark side of like only. you dont like the unnecessary darkness which ram gopal verma portrays his films like sarkar. he tries to impose darkness by making every dialogue every frame mournful and sombre. this movie was just showing reality. there was not even one bit of exaggeration. just about the right amount of drama and darkness that the story warranted.
    all the characters were so real. even dukke bana had kind, friendly and humorous side to him. each character has been worked out so wonderfully, its a pleasure to watch them as the movie goes forward. the drama element bought in by piyush mishra and his side kick is something thats so amazing and so unprecendented even in world cinema.
    actually I am quite surprised that you didnt like it.

  53. Was the movie released in the US ?

  54. Agree with the assessment, Gulaal looks powerful, plays powerful, and has the basic ingredient of AK forte: his writing skills. Other than that it falls at too many places in trying to become a masterpiece.

  55. Don Ayan de Marco April 5, 2009 — 7:00 am

    Anurag Kashyap ne kasam nahin khaya tha ki wo sirf masterpiece hi banayenge….he is allowed to make just ‘good movies’ too.

  56. Dev-D was a great attempt, whilst Gulaal, highly pretentious, fells flat. As someone pointed out in the above comments, there are lots of characters appearing and disappearing or even staying on without adding anything to the story. Cut their scenes out, still wont make any difference.

  57. Don ji – ab itna bhi chane ke jhad pe mat chadhao Anurag ko. Masterpiece to abhi tak koi bhi nahin bani. Haan achhi filmein kaafi banayi hai usne.

  58. Babadhon Arnob,
    Agreed Gulal isn’t ‘great’ but you should cut poor AK some slack for the fact that this biryani was cooking for 5-6 years.
    It got over-cooked.Chicken-mutton shob mishiye pheleche. Then, the fire was snuffed out in between. He was stuck with too many ‘central’ characters with unresolved issues.And the metaphor of gulal~bloody revolution seemed forced into the proceedings.
    AK has spent years running from pillar to post, trying to find a producer for his pet project. Read his early interviews on Gulal and you’ll wonder if he’s even talking about the same project.As producer after producer abandoned ship, the plot wandered.
    He’s gone on record with the fact that he had to cut 45 mins of Gulal to be able to release it. That by itself, is nothing commendable, but who can accuse AK of just going with the flow? Here’s one man who sticks to his guns in the face of every adversity and I think he deserves support from the educated elite for his long swim-against the tide. For me, Piyush Mishra alone is reason enough to watch the film.

  59. But u have to admit, the movie had its brilliant moments… Abhimanyu Singh to name one of them… i though he was quite brilliant…

    Also, how can u forget… Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of bho****ke…:)

  60. Loved Gulaal ! Its a fresh approach towards cinema , and kudos for the acting of KK and others !

  61. Great Movie Ever …..

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