Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Gulaal: Holds up the mirror to an unpleasant reality
“The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves.”
When I was watching Anurag Kashyap’s “Gulaal”, my mind wandered to this passage I had read some days ago, from the last editorial of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper ‘The Sunday Leader’, who was killed by unknown persons.
Not that this passage is entirely relevant to the film, but I related to the part about the image in the mirror. “Gulaal” is one of those films, that may not be very pleasing or convenient, but nevertheless it is a film that deserves to be watched and discussed later, because it holds up a mirror to a reality not many of us might be willing to face.
Director Kashyap does indeed get rid of the mascara and styling gel, and presents to us a gamut of characters that are multi-layered and well structured.
The story focuses on Dileep Kumar Singh, a mild- mannered student who is ragged in his new university. That one incident sets off a chain of events that change the course of Singh’s life. He befriends the fiery Rananjay, a student at the same university and who, as we discover later, belongs to a royal family.
Dukey Bana, a local Rajput leader eggs on Rananjay to contest the university elections but it is Singh who eventually contests it, thus getting sucked into a whirlwind of political games and deceit.
Kashyap deals with complex issues like regionalism, college politics and money power in such a matter-of-fact way, he makes the point far better than if we had been subjected to long winded speeches and diatribes. Even the songs in the film make compelling points.
This is the prominent track in the film, but “Gulaal” would not be half the movie it is but for the colourful characters that make up the ensemble.
Piyush Mishra is good as Bana’s elder brother, playing the role of an outsider desperately trying to escape his world.
Kay Kay Menon as Dukey Bana is outstanding –there is no other word for him, but that is also in part because his character is sketched so well, its graph clearly visible as the film progresses.
Deepak Dobriyal is slowly emerging as one of the most nuanced actors to come out of the industry, and in his role as Bhati, Dukey Bana’s trusted lieutenant, I couldn’t help but admire him.
Also watch out for Ayesha Mohan, who plays Kiran, the illegitimate daughter of a king who uses any means to achieve her ambition and achieve some sort of a legitimate status.
“Gulaal’”s weak point lies in the most unexpected of places — its lead actor. As Dileep Singh, Raj Singh Chaudhary had the opportunity of a lifetime — the role of a weak man who undergoes a transformation. Unfortunately, he barely manages to pull either of the two facets. Also, the film’s pace might wear you down a bit. At 150 minutes, this is not a fast-paced one.
You should be willing to forgive all this though, because “Gulaal” is a film that will speak to you about hitherto untouched issues. India is a country of a million mutinies, so many of them hidden from us as we go about our daily lives. Watch “Gulaal” and you might realise the truth of those mutinies.