June 17, 2013

Must Watch Before You Die #36: Ijaazat (1987)

Wim Wenders' 'Wings of Desire' (1987) has a line that I am going to use all my life when lost for directions, spoilt for choices, or faced with life-changing situations. That line summarises my world view, and my actions. It is: "I don't know if there is a destiny. But there is a decision. Decide."

As film-writers, we learn the difference between chance-driven events and character-driven events. While developing the plot, we try our best to make the events, especially the irreversible events or the Plot Points, look like results of believable actions or decisions by a character, rather than an accident or 'an act of destiny'. Why do we try to achieve that? Because in films (as in other forms of fiction), a chance-driven event is actually the 'decision' of the writer, that a smart audience figures out, sub-consciously if not consciously, while by letting the event be driven more convincingly by a character, the writer hides and the audience never realises the manipulation. I will give you an example. In DDLJ (1995), Raj tells Simran's Mom that he will not elope with her. But he will earn her and wait for the day when her Dad hands her over to him. This is a decision made by the writer, but hidden under the 'decision making ability' of the hero. The audience is lost admiring the hero and his guts and his principles, and forgets that it was actually the work of the writer. On the other hand, a little later in the film, a photograph of the love-birds floats around the house full of people to finally be spotted by someone and thus the story is changed irreversibly. This is a chance-driven event that makes an intelligent audience react not as favourably as the event mentioned above. Most of us feel, at that moment, that it is after all only a film! The efforts of the film-writer to make the audience forget that they are watching a film and make them lose themselves in the world of the characters are compromised if the writer relies too heavily on such chance-driven events. It makes things melodramatic. And the audience reacts: "This is how it happens in movies!"

The very same audience does not question the authenticity of such chance-driven events in real life. All of us keep coming across instances from our lives which are stranger than fiction. And we try to explain those with such terms like karma, connection of the souls, God's will, or simply, an act of destiny. Lovers always believe in such things. That makes them feel 'special' and 'made for each other' and enhances their belief in their relationships, if such events are positive, and full of misery and doubts, if such events are negative. Worse, in a bad state of mind, we tend to blame the character for a negative chance-driven event, while we praise the destiny for all pleasant accidents. Better sense prevails only with more wisdom, better communication, or over time. But often, it is too late by then. Most relationships fail because of lack of honest and appropriate communication and wrong choices made at the wrong times under the influence of strong but potentially misguiding emotions. If only we could know our destiny, if there is one. Or if only, at least, we could take rights decisions at the right time...

In the same year as 'Wings of Desire', Gulzar wrote and directed what I consider his masterpiece, and which is my favourite Hindi film of all time. The film and its characters inspire us to look at all relationships, however complicated and morally or socially 'forbidden' in a non-judgmental way, with greater empathy for the people involved in such relationships. Every time I watch it, I am filled with enormous and endless admiration for people who can co-exist without malice or mistrust by simply being honest with each other, enduring all troubles, including numerous moments of doubts, pain, and grudges. Every time I watch it I cry at the cruel game destiny sometimes plays with us, changing our lives forever, and robbing us of our most precious companions. And lately when I watched it, I shivered with that dread of a similar loss and the subsequent pain if the same happened to me. When characters as mature as those shown in the film can eventually suffer so much, who are you and I? The only consolation I find is in the fact that the same mature characters did not communicate as well as I do, or want to do, and thus they spoiled their chances. If only they had followed what one of them suggests to the other pretty early in the film: "Zindagi ko lagaam mat daaliye. Aapke rokne se ye nahin rukegi. Jo sach hai, aur sahi hai, wahi kijiye." Isn't this exactly the same thought as reflected in the line from 'Wings of Desire'?

'Ijaazat' earns the distinction of being the first Hindi film that I am recommending here as a Must Watch, not just because of its amazing structure, unforgettable characters, incredible performances, and the devastating catharsis it provides, but for everything that it can teach you to lead a life with more fulfilment and pride, and lesser regret.

P.S. It is available on YouTube, at this link.

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