Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gunda - A Shakespearean Tale of the Existential and Metaphysical

I completely accept my reverence to Mithun Chakraborthy by referring to Him as Prabhuji though I use His name in this post for the clarity of the not-so-holy.


Gunda is a Hindi movie by Kanti Shah starring Mithun Chakraborthy. It was released throughout India in 1998 and has found huge acceptance among college students, jobless IT professionals, auto drivers, prostitutes, leopards, monkeys and ofcourse Gundas. Gunda as such is not based on any city, but it is a city which has the lush landscapes of Ooty (Otty as the closing titles suggest), Airport, a minefield, a harbour, a brothel with hanging beds (yes, I wrote that correct and you are not drunk), the eeriest of graveyards and even eerier vacant roads.

If you have watched 'No Smoking' and could not understand heads or tails about it, then be warned as Gunda walks the same uncharted path of the surreal. An opening sequence of a long haired fat gunda with a long knife 'stuck' to his belly with blood everywhere else but his belly underlines the surrealist aspects of the movie. He walks from an airport (with the knife intact) through a Martian looking landscape and finally into the hands of his 'savior' Bulla who is in a harbor. All this happens in a course of 10 seconds on the screen and probably 1 minute in reality. Existential philosophy amply described in the movie is evident from the beginning when Bulla takes the knife off the man's stomach to save him from mortal wounds, but saves him instead from the dilemmas of life; for good.

If you think Aamir Khan's lines in Fanaa was corny, after watching Gunda you will understand where he drew inspiration from; and he has failed completely in transcribing it into Fanaa. Almost all the characters in the movie speaks in what can be called as Shakespearean couplets. It is not a surprise really as the dialogues are written by Basheer Bhai Babar; I mean, with such a name its difficult to really write or even think without having a rhyming scheme.

The antagonist of the movie is portrayed by Mukesh Rishi in what is easily his career best performance. Yes, he has to be seen AND heard to be believed. Shakti Kapoor plays his namard (unmanly) brother Chutiya what with a pony tail (on top of his head) intact even when he dies.

For a movie that you might think is just for the masses, Gunda actually provides you relevant social messages throughout. For one, it supports continuous change of jobs by the software engineers. In the movie, the protagonist Shankar (played by Prabhuji Mithun Da ofcourse) alternates between his job as Coolie in a Harbour and an Airport (yes, an airport) atleast 5 times through the movie. It also spreads AIDS awareness by having a character called Nirodh Kumar supplying Nirodh (Indian condoms) to brothels and other personal requests. It also advices us that if you are going to rape someone, do that with your clothes intact; no fluid exchange, no infection.

When the regular movies released these days are made only for a commercial purpose, Gunda believes that the art and the message is above commercial aspirations. Kanti Shah makes self referential comments to his earlier movie 'Loha' (which by the way is next in my viewing list) by quoting a dialogue (dialag) from it in direct speech. It also advices us to take care of the baby even if the actual Dad is trying to kill you in cold blood while you are busy protecting it. Animal rights have been addressed in a scene showing Bulla taking his pet leopard for a stroll through the harbor. Kanti Shah is telling you that if you have a rather exotic pet, you should not let the strolls be the job of your gardener; personal interaction is essential in having a healthy relation with your pets. The movie also puts a twist in the recent Harbhajan Singh v/s Andrew Symonds issue in which the former insults the latter by calling him 'monkey'. A monkey in this movie is treated with such worshipful grace that a screening of the movie for the Australian team will alleviate all concerns of the monkey chants.

The metaphorical aspect of Gunda is another feather in its already thickly feathered cap. In this movie you see a brothel which has charpais (beds) hanging from the ceiling. If you think deep about this you will actually see that sex is ofcourse a heightened sensation of pleasure. Also, a brothel is used for swinging, see, swinging beds, swinging lifestyles. In a deeply engrossing fight sequence, Mithun Da tries to find a corrupt cop by looking into Ambassador cars parked one behind the other in two straight lines. Switch to the next scene and the cars are lined as an immaculate circle. Cut to the next and the cars are parked side by side. Cut again and the cars are parked in an arbitrary shape of 'L'. Again you might think that these are production issues. But delve deep and you can see that this particular sequence has been quite blatantly copied by Chris Nolan in his 'Batman Returns' during the scenes of his training. One should never lose sense of his surroundings no matter what seemingly inexplicable things happen; exactly what Mithun Da also believes in.

The metaphors in the movie are not just visual but also audio cues. To establish the superiority of the main antagonist Bulla, a very creative audio cue is used. He finishes off his dialogues by hanging the last syllable of the last word of the last line in his dialogue into thin air. Example, 'Mera naam hain Bulla, rakhtha hoon khullam khullllaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...'. One should realise that his subordinates are not supposed to speak until he is done with it; and as one cannot really read Bulla's mind, Bulla puts it out for all to know with the help of this cue.

Existential aspects of this movie goes deeper than what had been discussed earlier by touching into subjects of Karma. All human beings have a purpose and this has to be satisfied for their eventual sending off. A prostitute carrying the burden of a bastard child commits suicide by taking poison. But her life on Earth is not over until she tells the secret of who is the Father to a close acquaintance. As soon as she utters this dialogue and punctuates it with a period, she has breathed her last; purpose served.

A rather wasted performance in Gunda is by this incredibly talented artiste who portrays Lambu Aata. His performance was so amazing, he could have won the Oscar Award for Best Actor for his 14 minute role in the movie. His sequences are so good you actually wish we would shift focus to Swarg (Heaven) where more of his talent will be on display for the Gods.

There has been observations that Gunda is a B-Grade movie. This is a very despicable act as Gunda as a movie cannot be rated on Grades. This movie is actually above any grade that any critic can give. IMDB is seriously thinking of having a different rating system for Gunda or to actually rate Gunda as 'Holy. Cannot be rated'. The movie has also been on the receiving ends of criticism about its sexual double entendre. This is not exactly true as much of Gunda's dialogues though at first might seem cheap actually has deep philosophical meanings. I believe that only Kanti Shah and Babar Bhai will be able to completely help us understand the meaning of those poetic proses.


If you haven't watched Gunda yet and wishes to do so, the whole movie is available at Google Video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3923767355169636477 .
I would seriously advice you to watch some of the snippets of the movie before going into it head long as it might give your jaws a serious ache and your throat a feeling as if you have inhaled one helium balloon too many.

The whole purpose of this post is to enlighten how great the movie 'Gunda' actually is. A complete dissection of the movie would probably result in Encyclopedic proportions. If the movie gets its much deserved dues by gaining widespread acceptance, we can see the prominent so called classics we have rated so high, fall from the ceilings... TUP... TUP.

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