Monday, May 2, 2011

BAB Review of Review

After reading Shruti’s analysis of Bunty Aur Babli, there’s not much to disagree with. Her description of each of the main characters as indicators of transgression of modernity is wholly accurate, in my eyes. It would seem that the theme presented in this film is something that I’ve begun to notice as quite a common one. Of all the films that we have been asked to watch this semester, many of them deal with the concept of modernity in flux, with a deviation from tradition. Across the board, many of the films have dealt with deviating from one’s own tradition, and how damaging it is to do so. Bunty Aur Babli is a particularly striking example, because our protagonists leave comfort of tradition to strike their own against the world. In doing so, they succeed for years by tricking the innocent and gullible opulent of the Indian world, even some that are not a part of it. In finality, however, they recognize the harm of their ways, and renounce their exciting lives for the calmness that must be had to properly raise a child. In this action, they deviate from modernity to return to their roots, but are also captured by the police officer, Dasrath Singh, who, as all the previous reviews have mentioned, lets them go. Interestingly, a few years later the officer comes back and asks them if they are happy with their lives of tradition, and much to his chuckling lack of surprise, they hate the traditional life. I thought that this was a particularly interesting thing to note, despite the relatively obvious narrative of the film that contrasted modernity and tradition (which are not separate things, of course), the two end up being tempted once more to follow the path of freedom, hedonism, and money, money, sweet money.
What does this mean? Why is it that Bunty and Babli are invited to once again explore the ‘modern’ world, where money is the true blood that flows through people veins? Why is it that, even though Dasrath Singh has spent so much of his career chasing them, then letting them go, that he lures them back into the exciting life of crime that is so abhorred throughout the movie? Sure, they had their fun, but it’s still bad in the eyes of the Indian public? This was something unsolved by the conclusion of the film. Whether or not the director was attempting to leave enough of a cliffhanger for a sequel, I do not know (but then again. I don’t have that much experience with Bollywood sequels beyond Dhoom 2, so it’s in part my fault that I don’t know that).
The issue that this movie raises varies as you look at it. In one perspective, the two are battling against tradition, though one still feels a link to the past that she will not deny, donning the traditional garb of a married woman (something to whichI thought was particularly important that Shruti brought attention). Vimmi is very much a dichotomy that represents the simultaneity of modernity and tradition. Though all she wants is the plastic ‘future’ presented by her glorified movie stars, she still feels a powerful link to her roots that is not shared by husband, who seems to give her less attention than she truly deserves (she is played by Rani Mukherjee, after all. What husband would be so cruel as to treat such a beautiful wife in such a way?).
It’s interesting to look at the importance that Vimmi takes in this film; she is an empowered female who doesn’t let down in the opposition of her husband. She doesn’t really fall into any of the played stereotypes mentioned in the Ramchadani article; she is a woman of modernity who is capable of mixing the future and the past together, as evidence of tradition and the forces of change melding to meet one another rather than standing in opposition. Rakesh is very blind to her concerns (there is one scene in particular where her tears are met with confusion and insincere comforting by him), and stands at an arms length from her for much of the film until he realizes that she it carrying her child and is not simply someone that is a partner in crime but an actual confidante with enough importance in his life that he really must provide for her. It is astounding to notice this in the film, but nonetheless true. Rakesh asks her to follow in his crime, whilst she asks him to follow in romance, though his disconnection from her is very evident in all the moments that she spends with him. You can see it in his eyes. What is the importance of this? What it does seem is that Vimmi does have a particularly important role in this movie that at some points supersedes that of Rakesh. She represents the eternity of tradition. To some extent, she embodies all of those same stereotypes rather than embodying none. She is a seductress of the film, to those other than her husband, who already has her. Many times she seduces her victim into submission and acceptance of the opulent pleasures that she and her husband offer, though at this point she may have given up the pleasures of the Miss India success that she so long ago sought, or so it would seem on screen. In this position of constant change, she is capable of transitioning through the palette of roles that appear in Hindi cinema.

It is also interesting to note that as a particularly important role as plastic tradition, she is always wearing a sari. There are no times in which she is completely western, always submitting to the roles of tradition that are necessary of her. She stays with the tradition of India, but still manages to use this traditional dress as a very seductive dress with which to prey on her victims. She plays a character of a chameleon sort, with her attractive nature, and her sari continues to tie her to her roots whilst simultaneously lifting her into the position of vamp when needed.
An other particularly interesting thing that I did not see addressed by the movie is Vimmi’s return to Rakesh’s home after they left for so many years on what would appear to be their own version of a Rümspringa. They leave home, breaking ties with their families completely, but they at a change of heart they return to tradition and the calmness of their families… but how do their families react? They came back in a love marriage (whether or not Rakesh really wanted it), but how do the parents react to this? It was a story gap that I really felt needed to be dealt with, because the idea of a love marriage is a particularly important and controversial concept not disputed in Bollywood film. For this film, Rakesh’s parents react as though it is nothing.

The film is an interesting look at the ‘middle class’ of India, a look that we have had in three films so far, in Alaipayuthey, and Rang De Basanti. We must look at this particular element carefully, because it is very much an important element to the lust for freedom felt in Rakesh and Vimmi; they come from a class that is capable of dreaming for more because they are exposed to it, though they might not have the access to it. This is in part what the film seems to teach, that we will not escape our roots, though we may fight.

Posted for Parker by Dr. D.

Review of BAB Review

Shaad Ali’s 2005 film ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ follows the wayfaring adventures of two small town characters, Rakesh Trivedi and Vimmi Saluja who are young, restless and seeking an escape from their parents expectations and economic limitations in their villages. They live in separate villages and entertain different dreams (Rakesh is a schemer and Vimmi dreams of the Miss India tiara) but are fueled by a similar sentiment to expand and define their own destinies by utilizing their talents and dreams. Because their respective dreams aren’t inherently focused on “Indian” values of marriage and family, their families disapprove of their dreams for the future. This controversy creates a question of the confliction of traditional and modernist “cultural systems” that Gusfield points out are “mutually reinforcing, rather than systems of conflict” (Gusfield 356). Here, I agree with Shruti that Rakesh and Vimmi, who later become the crime partnership of Bunty and Babli respectively, are not so much trying to break down the “traditional” values that their parents embody but rather to redefine their dharma and societal position in a means that accentuates the capitalism and independence of modernity but also retain some moral basis that could be associated with conceptions of “traditional India.”

As the plot of the film built, I was strongly reminded of Nietsche’s uber meich theory of philosophy which upholds that sometimes it is socially permissable to evade previously constructed social norms if the effort is to restructure social problems of the distribution of wealth. In this view, Bunty and Babli are not recklessly stacking dollars by immoral means but directly ambushing a system flawed by grossly disproportionate wealth and corruption of institutions designed to protect such as the court system and the law officers. The protagonists of the film (I call them that because Ali chose to create characters that are likable and reasonable in context of the action) are actually recognizing their dharma by utilizing their talents and building their happiness and accomplishment in the world. Although this is not close to the ideal of honest hardworking middle class people that their parents would have chosen for their futures, they are made restless by modern forces that have become omnipresent in their communities.

I think that Shaad Ali’s film was made to convey the struggle of India’s fresh and growing middle class, the infinite potential of its youth and to challenge confining village expectations so that India may grow out of it’s third world name tag. He encourages individual success not in the context of Western values of investment and stamping out the little guy but in an innovative, intelligent manner that benefits the impoverished through wealth distribution and upholds a character that is inherently Indian. The false Taj Mahal scene is a good example of how their scheming actually benefits India as a whole. By tricking the greedy and lazy American into thinking he could actually purchase the grand building, they are able to extract foreign assets and still value a site of national pride. Ali also normalizes the couple’s behavior by utilizing very little violence during the couple’s conniving plans which I interpreted as a plea to his Western audience to identify that traditionalism and modernity need not be in conflict and that the two can peacefully coexist.

Posted for Liz by Dr. D.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of Bunty Aur Babli Reviews

I thought Shruti's review was a fascinating read of the film. The concept of "relative poverty" that we have discussed is certainly at the center of Bunty Aur Babli, as her review makes clear, and the film seems to make a strong case for the idea that it can be even more demoralizing than absolute poverty. The fact that they are working the system is very effective at illustrating the fact that they are so very aware of the system and the hierarchy that holds them in this "relative poverty". So, in many ways, I think that it is safe to say the plot is entirely based around the concept of relative poverty. This is a strength of the film that is hard to accomplish: tying the entertainment value in with the strongest social points it is making.
Though, at times in the film, it did just seem like they were bored and restless people, rather than lashing out at a system that they were suppressed by. That could definitely be derived from the Bonny and Clyde in them. Or, perhaps it could be seen that this bored and restless nature could have a lot to do with their status as "relatively impoverished". They are capable and aware of the better lives they could have, which leaves them as bored and restless with their actual situations.

I definitely recognized the tradition/ modernity aspect of the film, and also think its an astute and important observation by Gusfield and Shruti that modernity and tradition do not have to be mutually exclusive, as is emphasized in the movie. Even small ways of bridging the gaps between modernity and tradition (such as clothing) can really make a difference as far as how many people are able to relate to a film. And I like the idea that "it is not necessarily tradition that is being abandoned by Bunty and Babli, but simply those traditions that are holding the duo back form realizing their true potential." (-Shruti, paragraph 6)
Oh, and I also thought it was a cop-out at the end when they started working with the police! Especially after Dasrath lets them go, and he seems to acknowledge the limits of his system ("I think the law needs to destroy crime.... not people." -Dasrath). But then, they ALL just sell out to "the man"... "the man" who the rest of the movie did not sympathize with.

I found Sarah's information on dowry saddening, to say the least. The quotes about infanticide methods were particularly heart-breaking. Economic burdens really seem to feed the most disturbing aspects of our planet.

One thing that I noticed that the reviewers did not mention was that there was some cool and ambitious camera work. For instance, when the train stops towards the end of the film, and the camera is jolted forward as it comes to a halt. I just thought that scene kind of emphasized the fact that they are at something of a crossroads and Dasrath is about to let them go; its a jolting scene, so the camerawork fit well. Little things like this just struck me as fun little uses of the camera, and they also felt like things you may not be able to get away with in a similar American film.