Subhash K. Jha speaks on Gulaal

This article was last updated on June 18, 2022

The blossoming of Anurag Kashyap into a formidable storyteller who bends all the rules of filmmaking, acquires a startling new definition with this film about student unrest during times of intense politicizing. Gulaal emblazons itself across the screen as a deft definitive brutal and life-defining film on the culture of decadence in a typical North Indian. It spares us no room for niceties. And definitely asks the squeamish to stay away. With dialogues like, “If your father had withdrawn in time you wouldn’t have been born a bastard”, you surely don’t expect Gulaal to be Sooraj Barjatya’s domain, do you? It is not. What it most definitely is, a powerful and brutal portrait of a culture that thrives of bullying tactics. The homage to the cinema of Vishal Bhardwaj is rampant in Gulaal. Somewhere in the brilliantly-cohesive soundtrack we even hear the heavenly strains of Lata Mangeshkar’s Pani pani re from Bhardwaj’s Maachis. A strangely incongruous inclusion in a film where life is lived by the gun and the mantra for survival is deception and duplicity. The world of Gulaal is squalid crowded claustrophobic and potent. The writer-director spares us none of the details in bringing to life a world where unlicensed guns and unchecked lawlessness define the quality of life. This is the kingdom of anarchy. Enter at your own risk. In many ways Kashyap’s portrait of a world on the skids is borrowed from the Sicilian mafia films of Martin Scorcese. The same disregard for human life defines Kashyap’s collage of queerly egocentric characters in Gulaal. In the new Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino the aging super-hero says, when you kill someone you take away everything he ever had and everything he ever will have.

In Gulaal human lives get snuffed out with anarchic disdain. The location and mood are perfectly pitched to deliver an ambience of uncouth vigilantism. Men who are mean because it’s their only trick of self-preservation and women who scheme against unsuspecting men by using their ample sexuality, trip and tumble out of the crowded canvas as though they as much as the audience have stumbled on a formula to feverish glory. Kashyap’s narrative provides us with no full stops or other occasions for a breather. The editing (Aarti Bajaj) is so relentless in its pursuit of variable moods and situations that the audience is often left behind in the effort to keep track of the goings-on.The soundtrack perpetually races ahead of the visuals, taking us forward into the bloodied trail to dusty death at a rugged and furious tempo. Shakespeare meets Quentin Tarantino in Gulaal. Then they both meet their nemesis in the creative orbit of Anurag Kashyap. With Dev D and now Gulaal Kashyap has proved himself a master of basic storytelling. He pulls the plug on cinematic pleasantries and takes us straight to the core of the characters, often rotting and evil but never any less compelling for being the way they are. Headlines heckle historicity in Kashyap’s roomy and often renegade range of vision. The royal politics of separatism rubs shoulders with the politics of sex and power in a heady brew that the Shakespearean tragedies had patented a century ago. And yet Kashyap’s stimulating and brutal cinematic language embraces its literary antecedents without losing focus on ugly facets of contemporary Indian life. Kashyap begins with college ragging when we are introduced to the callow hero Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Choudhary, earnest sincere and believable) who’s locked up by a bunch of bullies with a naked girl (Jesse Randhawa). The duo strike an empathetic code that takes them on a nightmarish journey through the scummy world of North Indian politics where brother kills brother and lover gladly betrays love. Gulaal is many things at the same time. As a comprehensive portrait of small-town politics it bludgeons you with its lethal mix of grimy morals slimy characters and perverted politics. The stench of corruption is conveyed with the same intensity as the odour of sweaty bodies running through duty gullies in pursuit of the next victim. At heart Gulaal is a portrait of a civilization that’s rapidly receding into chaos but thinks its just karma that propels them into annihilation.
So make the best of the beast within. At the core there’s an unspoilt uncorrupted relationship in Gulaal, that between the aggressive student leader Ranajay Singh (Abhimanyu Singh) and his protege Dilip. It’s no coincidence that Dilip tells his soul-mate Anuja (sharing another agenda-less rapport in a plot where everyone wants something) that he feels vulnerable without Ranajay. Beneath the politics of power and sex, Gulaal hides a tender longing for bonds that transcend the barrel of the gun and the power of the phallus. It’s been a while since we saw such a ceaselessly authentic set of actors playing characters who are completely at one with the director’s snarled and dark vision. Outstanding in different ways are Abhimanyu Singh as the self-disinherited royalty, Pankaj Jha as the over-age college bully, Kay Kay Menon as the unscrupulous Rajput leader, Aditya Shivastava as the illegitimate heir of a subverted princedom who dotes on his kid sister (Ayesha Mohan) who eventually turns out be a monster in disguise. And then there Piyush Mishra as narrator/conscience/sounding board/resident-cynic and what have you. In fact Mishra plays so many roles and defines the chaos of the plot with songs that sing of old forgotten values in new power-packed parodic postures. Isn’t that what Anurag Kashyap attempts in his cinema?

Share with friends
You can publish this article on your website as long as you provide a link back to this page.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.