Big, bright and beady eyes looking right through you, resting her gaze on meeting the soul, Durga, the beautiful supreme goddess, asks you to dare. The three-eyed deity, in a blast of red and yellow, and a thunderous jubilant tune, asks you to be brave.
Every mortal being bows and offers herself and dances madly, in a daze, circling in the incense fog, urging goddess Durga to bless and enlighten her devotees.
Durga Puja, a Hindu festival, celebrates every shade and story of life, fostering passion, guiding the troubled, reminding the beaten soul to rise once again.
Many old Hindu scriptures have passed the story of the fierce warrior goddess Durga, with a royal lion as her vahana (vehicle) by her side, killing Mahishasura, a shape-shifting deceitful demon who had caused havoc on the earth.
Grand clay idols of Durga – her ten hands carrying various weapons, slaying the terrible Mahishasura with a trishul (trident) who lies on her feet – are built and placed under beautifully decorated marquees.
Different avatars of goddess Durga are worshipped for ten days – for she is the personification of power, wealth, emotions, intellect, nourishment, beauty, desires, faith, righteousness, forgiveness and peace – and on the last day, the idol is taken to a local river body for visarjan (immersion of the idol). She then returns to her husband, Lord Shiva, who resides in the Kailash Peak in the Himalayas.
Slayer, nurturer, the feminine soul of the Universe, Durga is the life force, the will to survive, the spirit to fight back, the joy of being alive and the celebratory dance of the Creation.
Exceptionally popular in the eastern parts of India – mainly in West Bengal, Odisha, Assam, Tripura, Bihar – these states lit up magnificently, colouring every nook and corner alive. In our corona-hit world, with provisions in place, India welcomed goddess Durga once again.
More of a socio-cultural festival than just a religious one, the artists always come up with unique themes and styles when creating the idol. This year it was the idol depicting goddess Durga as a migrant mother carrying a young one in her arms, with two little girls walking by her side that won everyone’s heart.
The idol, created by Kolkata based artist Pallab Bhaumik, highlighted the plight of the migrant workers who were forced to walk thousands of kilometres to reach home from cities during the lockdown.
Devoid of vibrant colours, the ‘migrant’ Durga represents the hardships of a section of society who are usually forgotten after they make headlines, but such brilliant is this work that it appears to be more alive and grand than anything real.
Yet again it is the victorious, omniscient eyes of the goddess that say the most. She smiles for she is the witness of the on-going life drama.
The depiction of goddess Durga as a ‘migrant mother’ then could not be more apt because a labourer is also closest to the raw life drama which we all on the contrary love to refine before consuming.
And it must be a fierce conviction to win that fuelled the hearts of the migrant mothers and their faith in life that encouraged them to complete the tiring journeys. Because if not honest hope, what could be behind their unswerving patience and perseverance?
They will win in their journeys, everyone who creates something will win, for every action is an oblation, it is life and the wondrous Durga, its symbol.
Listen to the astounding Aigiri Nandini, sung in honour of goddess Durga –
The crayon doodles, chalk scrabbled floor and walls, silly games of following the clouds, the butterflies and the wind, toying with fairy tale thoughts, dancing in the rain, eating snowflakes, and living in the inverted fable world… all this and every other childhood memory comes alive in Miyazaki’s masterpiece anime, My Neighbour Totoro.
Those whispers, secrets, and myths that we all have heard, in which the happy spirits rise to guide the one who dares and bridges her to the magic around, which world-wide have different versions, which are absurd yet possible, forms the core of this motley work.
Two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, move to the countryside in Japan along with their father, Tatsuo Kusakabe. Mama Yasuko Kusakabe is not well and so she is admitted to the hospital which is closer to this countryside house.
“But she will recover and come back home soon”, says Dady Tatsuo, “when, will she be back by tomorrow?” asks four years old Mei, “there she goes again with tomorrow”, says Satsuki and they all laugh.
Mei is courageous, she even catches a soot gremlin to show it to Satsuki but it ends up only in making her hands black.
As Satsuki goes to school, little Mei plays around the house alone; carrying her packed lunchbox, she explores the place with a clear and light mind, giggling, following two small bunny-like Totoros to the colossal camphor tree and ultimately meeting the big Totoro there.
Totoro is a furry giant animal, with whiskers, big eyes, and a bigger smile. He lives in the huge camphor tree in the forest neighbouring Satsuki and Mei’s house.
While the little Totoros collect acorns, the giant one helps it to grow; together they play the ocarina like music instruments at night, sitting high on a branch, guarding the forest, and all the beings living in it.
Totoro in some ways is like a Kami – a spirit in Japanese religion of Shinto – which can be anything, from forces of nature to spirits of an honoured dead person like a King. Possessing both positive and negative qualities, these spirits are to be worshipped and thanked for their blessings and support.
Kami cannot be seen by everyone, but the one whom it chooses to reveal itself to. Being aware of the powers of Kami means being aware of the powers of nature, respecting it, and also showing gratitude for what it grants.
After Mei’s first encounter with Totoro, their father takes both the girls to a nearby Shinto shrine to thank the Kami for looking after Mei and asking it to continue looking after all of them. The shrine is next to the giant camphor tree which Mei happily recognises, but doesn’t find the way to Totoro’s den as she did the last time.
Two Little sisters, Mei and Satsuki
As children look at the world with the hope to see a miracle every second and love as if it is all theirs, it is only Mei and Satsuki who get to meet Totoro. It all starts with Mei, she sees the soot gremlins twice and then the three Totoros. Little Mei’s world, it seems, is still more magical than Satsuki.
When Mei tells Satsuki about Totoro, she tells her father that she too wants to meet Totoro, but on one occasion when Mei accompanies her to the school and draws Totoro’s image on a sheet, Satsuki feels embarrassed amongst her giggling friends, typical of a growing-up kid.
On a rainy late evening, Satsuki and Mei go to the bus stop to receive their father who had not taken an umbrella, there Totoro joins them. Satsuki is elated to see him but stays still. She then gives him the spare umbrella and shows him how to use it.
Raindrops falling on the umbrella from the branches above give Totoro the shivers which he enjoys; he jumps up and down and a heavy splash of raindrops fall on them and Totoro beams magnificently. The magic only multiplies then as a Cat Bus arrives there, Totoro climbs on it and leaves.
That same night, Totoro comes with his two little friends to silently perform a ritual in the yard where Mei and Satsuki have planted the acorns; the girls wake up and join the Totoros.
Their prayers are heard and the plants sprout magically to form a giant tree, just like the camphor tree, right before their eyes. Totoro then takes all of them to the top of the tree to sit on the branch and play the ocarina.
Next morning the girls find that the tree has vanished, but the seeds have indeed sprung; both of them then repeat the ritual ecstatically shouting “I thought it was a dream, but I was wrong.”
Mei repeats whatever Satsuki says, she gets excited when Satsuki is, dances along and follows her everywhere trying to match her speed, happy to be around her elder sister. But when she gets the news that their mother will not be returning soon as planned, she gets angry.
Both the sisters argue and Mei leaves for the hospital all by herself to give her mother an ear of corn that Granny had said would make her perfectly healthy.
In the evening when Satsuki realises that Mei is not at home, she, Granny, Kanta, and his family all start looking for her. Sure that Mei must have left for the hospital Satsuki takes to the road, running all the way and calling out Mei’s name, but she does not find her there.
Satsuki then goes to meet Totoro, praying to the camphor tree to allow her to meet him; she tells Totoro that Mei is missing and she cannot find her on her own.
Totoro smiles and immediately calls the Cat Bus, the destination indicator blinks Mei’s name, an awed Satsuki climbs on the bus and on its many legs the Cat Bus leaps from one farm to another, tiptoeing from one utility pole to another, finally stopping at the roadside where Mei was sitting and crying.
The Cat Bus then takes both of them to the hospital; there sitting on a treetop the little girls feel relieved to see their parents together and happy.
Both Mei and Satsuki come across as two real-life girls – their mannerism (in the first scene, sitting together in the small lorry, sharing candies), their reactions (when Mei sees the soot gremlins she freezes, holding her frock tightly), their silly arguments (when Satsuki teases Mei that she is afraid at night and that is why she cannot sleep alone), when happy (after meeting the Totoro for the first time Satsuki is overjoyed, she asks his father to hold both of them and they jump into his arms) when sad (both are disappointed to know that their mother will not be coming home soon), all these actions in totality make them appear like two actual kids.
Mama and Daddy Kusakabe
Both Tatsuo and Yasuko Kusakabe are loving, supporting, and open-minded accepting parents. They know that it is a tough time for the girls as they have been staying away from their mother and have shifted to a village for her sake, thus, they do not discourage them from any vibrant idea of theirs.
Whenever the girls talk about soot gremlins, Totoro and the Cat Bus, they both show excitement, honestly interested in their tales.
Tatsuo always listens to them and joins them in their fun activities. Yasuko misses both of them and worries for Satsuki as she knows she takes more responsibility than others do in her age.
When Yasuko tells her husband that she thought she saw Mei and Satsuki sitting on the tree, smiling, Tatsuo, familiar with the Totoro story by then, picks up the corn with the inscription ‘for mama’ on it lying on the window-sill and says that they must have been here.
Granny and Kanta
Mei and Satsuki’s neighbours, other than the Totoros, are Kanta’s family. While Granny is caring and full of warmth, Kanta hesitates even to talk to Satsuki.
On two occasions – delivering them lunch on their first day and giving his umbrella when it is pouring heavily – he simply hands over Satsuki the lunch box and the umbrella, grunting and without uttering a word.
As time passes by, they become like family to the Kusakabes; when Mei leaves for the hospital on her own, Granny gathers the whole village to look for Mei and Kanta goes to the hospital on a bicycle to check the way for her.
Granny hugs Mei when she returns with Satsuki. The four of them walk back home together as the cheerful closing track plays in the background.
The Charm of the Era
The film is set in the late 1950s Japan when life was simpler and the pace was kinder. On arriving at their new home, Mei and Satsuki get excited about seeing every new thing – the timeworn house (‘it could be haunted’, says Satsuki), the collapsing patio, the soot gremlins, the water pump, the small bridge that takes them to their house, the stream and of course, the giant camphor tree.
Raindrops falling in the rice paddies, the sudden downpour, the drizzles dripping from tree leaves, the puddles, all these scenes are beautifully captured in the film.
Totoro is overwhelmed with joy when raindrops fall on his umbrella which he is holding for the first time, this brings back memories of childhood.
Such simple happy actions become a habit unknowingly; whether it is raindrops falling on the umbrella for some or say, crushing the dry autumn leaves for others, it always gives us a sudden boost of cheerful energy.
Imagery & Music
The wonderful work done by Hayao Miyazaki and Kazuo Oga, the art director, makes the anime world truly alive.
The cushiony clouds, the rapturous scenery, the quiet stream, and every rock and leaf complement each other, aiding in and not shying from embracing the modernity.
When Mei, Satsuki, and their father visit the shrine for the first time, the ambience and even the cool moistness of the hidden place catches us and we are struck by the glory of the huge camphor tree.
And what gives the imagery this soothing life-like quality is the music in the film. The excellent soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi, gives the film a mythical tone as if opening a door to a magical dream world while keeping it firmly grounded in its times.
Especially the score titled “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest”, which plays whenever we see the camphor tree in its glory, has become analogous to the spirit of the film. It is an uplifting majestic tune that marks the listener’s entry into a secret world.
The Credits Roll
The story goes on as the credits roll at the end. We see Mei and Satsuki spending time with their mother – taking baths together, reading storybooks – as they had been hoping to for a long time.
The girls continue living in the same region, making new friends, bonding with the old ones, making a snow Totoro in winters, and enjoying their childhood days.
My Neighbour Totoro is considered to be, both by the critics and the masses, one of the best Anime fantasy films of all time. Totoro has become a cultural icon and the film has a worldwide cult following.
Apart from being the company logo and appearing in Studio Ghibli’s other productions, Totoro has also appeared in Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 3.
Such is the love for the film that an asteroid discovered in 1994 and a velvet worm species discovered in Vietnam in 2013 were named after Totoro.
A smiley giant, guardian of the forest, Totoro does not have a dialogue in the film; apart from speaking his name out loud to Mei, he only beams, roars, flies, plays the ocarina, eats and sleeps.
His simplicity makes him a more welcomed, accepted, and believable character by one and all. Mei and Satsuki’s neighbour, the guardian of the forest, Totoro is a true friend, yours as well as mine.
Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki; Production company – Studio Ghibli; Music by – Joe Hisaishi; Cinematography by – Hisao Shirai; Edited by – Takeshi Seyama
Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy. A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.
Roger Ebert, the film critic. Read his review of My Neighbour Totorohere.
Love is pure truth, a divine experience, a way to live more and surpass even death.
It is a sublime fantasy that is real and better than the material world. Love is life’s paradox.
This is the idea that John Donne is expressing in the poem The Canonization. It is a reply as well as a declaration that the poet makes to the world- a world that treats lovers harshly.
He scorns the worldly, he questions the inquisitive, he proves the myths true, he places his love high and announces it as canonized.
The sudden change in his tone doesn’t bother if one recognises the powerful and apt imagery he has used in the poem.
The very first line ‘For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love’ hits hard, but certainly in a good manner. In fact, it catches the interest of the reader at once.
The poem is like a necklace, beaded with beautiful and grand images like –
‘What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?’
‘And we in us find the eagle and the dove’
‘The phoenix riddle hath more wit/ By us; we two being one, are it’
‘As well a well-wrought urn becomes/ The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs/ And by these hymns, all shall approve /Us canonized for Love.’
‘Countries, towns, courts: beg from above/ A pattern of your love!’
These are not empty expressions as every word in the poem is linked with the central theme – love.
If we randomly pick one word from each stanza, it will still be related to the poem.
For example, ‘improve’ (stanza 1) – one who is in love grows as an individual and improves by learning to be selfless; ‘remove’ (stanza 2) – when in love you cannot dwell on hatred, and so the negativity is removed to make space for hope; ‘Mysterious’ (stanza 3) – love is an easy mystery; ‘legend’ (stanza 4) – we all remember love stories as legends, sadly these are mostly incomplete ones; ‘mirrors’ (stanza 5) – love is as reflective as a mirror.
Love is closely related to asceticism in the poem, which is one of the conceits (an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor) used by the poet.
He proves it with great subtlety that the lovers need nothing from the world; they complete each other and hence, know inner peace.
The poet says that the lovers rise to such a level that they become one and enter a divine world, thus leaving the material world behind. They dwell in each other’s simple presence.
In the last stanza, after canonizing himself and his lover, the poet says that his pious canonized love would be celebrated in the world by one and all.
He ends by completing the canonization of his love, placing it on a high pedestal, and separating it from the worldly pleasures.
Canonization, the title of the poem, seems to be a question and an answer at the same time. As one wonders about how love can be canonized and attain sainthood, the divine nature of the poet’s love presented in the poem gradually justifies the same.
The poet shows that his love is spiritual not merely physical, that his union with his lover has made them blissful and assures that it will radiate amongst the others.
His canonized love is not against the world rather it is for the world, acting as an inspiration. His love is not harming anyone but is a liberating force, just like a saint’s.
John Donne’s The Canonization is a smart poem with brilliant use of wit, the quintessential quality of a metaphysical poet.
He celebrates love in a simple, forthright tone that makes this 17th-century poem wondrously alive in today’s world as well.
‘Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?’ (Stanza 2)
‘Call her one, me another fly/ We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die’ (Stanza 3)
There is a message hidden in this poem and the title ‘canonization’ is the key to unveil it. Donne wants to share that every one of us, whatever be our rank in the society that runs according to the man-made rules, has the ability to reach the divine state.
Sainthood according to him is not reserved for some but is achievable by all.
What we need is to rise above the material world, to resurrect ourselves through true love. Here the beloved represents anything- a person, God, nature, the entire world.
Love is the best, the all-embracing way to reach the sublime state as it is love that makes a person truly selfless and compassionate.
Even today if someone pursues this path, they will know that they are canonized, for they are in love.
Sound is a sensation and a stimulus; reflected, refracted, and humbly attenuated by its medium, the sound wave propagates. Only the frequencies between 20 Hz and 20KHz comes in the hearing range of us humans.
Voices, calls, laughs, and whispers fill this range of ours, from morning to evening. We consider, approve, discard, ignore, and absorb it as and when we understand the hidden meaning.
The hidden meaning…? Yes, the message that every sound wave carries is the hidden meaning, it shapes this very understanding of ours.
And what an exuberating elusive message a melody is, a wonderful wordless story that nevertheless is discernible, more than that in fact, as it touches and soothes our heart and soul.
Bansuri, a bamboo flute, taps a tune, using wind as the source and wind as the medium, carrying the message as far as possible, resonating beyond the visible, accepting all, conquering all.
Two and a half ample octaves and the bansuri deciphers happily the message using the Sargam (solfege); a subtle and soulful tune reads it to us.
Lord Krishna, the Jamun coloured Hindu deity with a peacock-feathered crown, is always depicted with a bansuri in his hands. Various stories tell us how Krishna, the charmer, used to mesmerise the listeners, stopping the time as if to unveil the beauty of the cosmic play.
The leading character in several ancient Hindu religious, mythological and philosophical texts, Krishna plays his bansuri to win Radha’s heart, to celebrate the victory over evil, to turn impossible into possible and routinely for shepherding cows (he played a melodious tune on the bansuri and the herd of cows themselves returned to him).
Natya Shastra as well as the other Vedic texts associated art and music with the Supreme, calling it the spiritual means to rise above, concentrate on and connect to one’s consciousness, witness it and attain Moksha (enlightenment, release).
Why would one make a creative artist’s job tougher by leaving the great responsibility of enlightening the receiver on her? Let art be for art’s sake.
Right! But apart from just being true, pure art, what if say a tune played on a bansuri leaves a listener illumined, will this not add to the beauty of the melody? It absolutely will.
If it deciphers the message for the listener, showing her more than what is on the surface, by additionally doing absolutely nothing, then surely the message is intrinsic to the composition.
Wonderfully it all also depends on perception. Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as sight, thus, in such cases sound involuntarily evokes an experience of colour, shape, and movement.
Read what the first recorded case of synesthesia was about –
“The earliest recorded case of synesthesia is attributed to the Oxford University academic and philosopher John Locke, who, in 1690, made a report about a blind man who said he experienced the colour scarlet when he heard the sound of a trumpet.”
I started blogging back in the year 2011 following my brother’s lead, unaware of the world of bloggers, without any plan of action, happy simply to write one, happy to share my stories on Home Chimes.
This is what I wrote in my introduction earlier-
“I dreamed of Home Chimes a long time back with my eyes open. Since then, I am on a journey to understand that dream.”
It was indeed like a dream because I do not remember why I came up with this particular name. I remember that I wanted it to do something with the word ‘chimes’, but that was it.
After I selected the name and started blogging, I found out that there used to be a magazine in the late 19th century in London that was also named Home Chimes. And that it went out of publication around the year 1894. You can read about this magazine here.
I was very thrilled to know that Jerome K Jerome was amongst the many writers who got their work published in this magazine. Such a wonderful thing it is, I thought. But then this new information made me wonder if I should change the name of my blog to be truly authentic.
I did not change it. The happy coincidence forced me to keep exploring the hidden meaning behind Home Chimes and to keep writing about the stories I became a part of.
One fine day a simmering thought spoke to me, the devotion with which I write these blog entries and the joy that it gives me, it said, is immense, and I realised then that the blog holds a very special place in my life. Gleefully, I stepped forward. Neither a hobby nor a medium, my blog should be simply what I do.
I am a writer, I love the art of storytelling. And like lightening it hit me that it is time now to turn to the second chapter – Chiming Stories.
Dear all, with much gusto I have begun and I promise that the second chapter would be a wonderful one. Tales of this and that world, of today and tomorrow… just to give colour to your thoughts and add rhythm to your flying time, ‘Chiming Stories’ is here to tell you a story. Oh! And a good chunk of it will be about the lotus-eyed one, because I love him.
From my dear old Blogger I have now shifted to the fantastic WordPress, the sound reason behind it is – I wanted a high-quality website and the complete freedom to create it.
Both the responsibility and risk are mine now. Voila!
“O muse, bless me that I write well and become the best in chiming stories.”
P.s. – I apologise for the glitches you must have noticed (and will notice in the coming weeks as well); it is because I am still in the process of developing this website and am doing it all by myself, kindly bear with me. Thanks!
What is tolerance… the capacity to endure hardships and… and the willingness to accept beliefs, respect the opinions that are different from our own.
Tolerance, they say, shows that you are educated for you listen, you debate and you rule out what is not plausible.
You stick to what gives you clarity and what appears to be true, true for one and all because we, the people, are walking forward together.
The boundaries are superficial.
And so the intolerant idea that in its core aims to divide, to break, to segregate is a foolish one, it does not succeed in the long run.
But oh, oh, we are complex beings, we are slow and we glow with pride or we moan with guilt and we disturb the peace, we freeze the disease in our minds and resist the resolution till the very end of the war.
We the humanity and I the individual still do not know who is more powerful… powerful not only to survive but powerful enough to understand, to forge a balanced world, to see through eyes unclouded by hatred… powerful enough to show tolerance.
The three voices are saying the same thing.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
The highest result of education is tolerance.
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
The times when the sky mirrors the sea and the sea mirrors the sky, when the horizon disappears and the sun’s reddish stroke colours both alike, at those times you get a glimpse of the whole Universe celebrating life.
Children of the Sea is a Japanese animation film directed by Ayumu Watanabe and is based on Daisuke Igarashi’s manga series.
The story unfolds leisurely as the protagonist Ruka, a teenager, meets two brothers – Umi and Sora – who are from the ocean.
While the grown-ups stay occupied with understanding the physiology of the two boys, hoping to know through them the secrets of the marine world, Ruka, Umi, and Sora go through a magnificent journey.
The unseen and the unknown happen for Ruka as she sees and lives the connection… the connection of every being with the universe.
Umi and Sora tell her that every living being is waiting to be found, that the awakened bright light in one finds the other and that if you pay attention and listen, you can hear the sea and the sky talking.
Quite depths of the ocean await the light of the comet for it is then that the celebrations begin; all the marine life gathers to be in this light of the comet.
Umi and Sora take Ruka along as a guest to witness this mystical event, themselves turning into a comet and disappearing forever.
Ruka on one hand cannot forget the surreal experience, cannot forget Umi and Sora, on the other hand, she just can not understand the meaning of it all and is not ashamed to say it out loud.
Dede, an old lady, tells Ruka that she also met a boy from the ocean when she was her age and that she did not understand things just like her, but she learned to understand the sound of the wind that carries secrets from the five oceans of the world.
Ruka’s confusion reminds me of Arjun from the Mahabharata, he, after witnessing the supreme lord in his absolute vastness and glory and listening to him, requests the lord after winning the battle to elucidate once again the message of the Bhagwat Gita.
An unfathomable experience and a human’s forgettable nature…
Summer vacation ends and Ruka heads back to school, to the routine life, on the way she hears the ocean and looks at the sky, she feels the secret is within her and smiles.
The times when the sky mirrors the sea and the sea mirrors the sky, when the horizon disappears and the sun’s reddish stroke colours both alike, at those times the Universe shares a message, one that is meant for you and only you.
In the game of cards, the roles of a King, Queen and Jack are determined, but in the real-life nothing is certain, in the real-life the roles often interchange, a King becomes a salve, a Queen a maid and a Jack a conqueror. Bimal Mitra’s Bengali novel, Saheb Bibi Golam (1952), narrates one such tale of a bygone era of flourishing feudalism that ultimately saw its ashen downfall.
The Hindi film Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (1962), keeping the spirit of the novel alive, enriches its impact through the well-knitted, tight screenplay, realistic yet charismatic direction and spellbinding performances.
Literary adaptation to any other medium always changes the story; it inevitably enhances an aspect of it and ignores the other. The audio-visual medium of cinema chooses the part that ‘shows the story’ rather than that which ‘tells the story’. This film has very beautifully matched the tonality of a novel; scenes, transitions, songs and dialogues all combine to give it a mystical forgotten tale-like feel.
Let us see how the first scene is structured in the film:-
The first scene begins with someone flipping through the pages of Bimal Mitra’s novel that fuses into the image of a huge mansion that is now lying in a complete state of ruin; labourers are digging and clearing the place, pulling down the giant pillars; labourers who were once not allowed to enter the royal mansion are now seen shovelling its remains.
Then enters the Ghulam in suit-boot, grey haired and gazes at the ruin that was once a palace, a symbol of rich feudal lords; he does not need to say anything to the audience, his demeanour and troubled look reveal enough, there is a mystery and he is the only one who can narrate it. This is how the film begins, with a long flashback.
Just like a page-turner novel, the film hooks its audience right from the beginning. We know now that the Ghulam survived the downfall, but what about the Sahib and Bibi.
Plot & Characters
Atulya Chakraborty aka Bhootnath, played by Guru Dutt, comes to the city of Calcutta, looking for a job. The protagonist is as ignorant as the audience about the drama that is yet to unfold and thus, is the best character to relate with.
Bhootnath’s brother-in-law, a teacher who lives in the quarters of the grand mansion, warns him to ignore the ‘bade log’ (big people) just as they ignore all their petty lodgers.
He gets a job in a factory that produces Mohini Sindhoor – vermilion that is supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. The factory owner’s daughter, Jaba, astounds him with her wit and Brahmo Samaji attitude.
Fantastically, the plot and the main character together move this story forward. Bhootnath’s love story begins when he meets Jaba and parallelly the plot reveals the glittering feudal world, seen through Bhootnath’s eyes, building a mysterious charm capturing both his and the audience’s attention – one night, when he hears a painful voice singing about her misfortunes, he wonders about her, who is she? Who is Choti Bahu?
The great Meena Kumari played the role of Choti Bahu, the unlucky wife of the younger brother of the two Zamindars. The fact that she is called Choti Bahu by one and all, that no one, not even her husband, calls her by her first name, suggests a lot about her character. She is truly beautiful, elegant, a devoted wife, the youngest daughter-in-law in the family and this is her job.
It is expected from her that she will forever maintain this status and not complaint in any way. After all what is there to complain about? She has everything – silk saris, jewelry, servants and a palace to call her home. That is why when she requests her beloved husband to stay back for one night instead of visiting his mistress, the husband is shocked and reminds her that he is a feudal lord and this is not only his right, but this is how he can earn a good reputation amongst other lords, he even asks her what sort of a lord spends nights with his wife.
Choti Bahu meets Bhootnath and asks for his help; she wants him to get her a packet of Mohini Sindoor so that she can win her husband’s love back and to do it secretly because women of her status does not approve of such methods. At first Bhootnath is struck by Choti Bahu’s beauty, he stares at her speechless, only later to feel pity for her, struck by her helplessness.
As the story unfolds we see how tragic a life Choti Bahu is living, like a bird in the cage. This character is very well crafted. Choti Bahu’s predicament sheds light on the hidden and ugly aspect of not only the society, the women folk, but also the individual.
When Choti Bahu is nearing her end Bhootnath tries to stop her from drinking, he even holds her hand, taken aback by his guts, she says, ‘Main Choti Bahu hun’ (I am Choti Bahu), reminding him his place that of a ghulam. This scene also highlights how an individual creates an identity and then clings to it forever; whoever then challenges her/his identity becomes her/his enemy.
Everyone is a foe for Choti Bahu, everyone who does not understand how dedicated she is, how selfless she is. Though drinking starts to kill her, she, in a troubled and an incomplete way, stays happy thinking that she is following her husband’s order and thus, fulfilling the duty of a loyal wife.
Meena Kumari’s acting heightens the dramatic impact of each scene and every dialogue. The song ‘Na jao saiyan chuda k bainya, kasam tumhari main ro padungi… ro pdungi’ has become eponymous to her. After her track begins, all the scenes are more or less about her. Bhootnath worries for her, Jaba is jealous of her without even having an encounter with her and her husband, indifferent to Choti Bahu throughout, digs his and her grave foolishly with his own hands.
Chhote Babu, played by Rehman and Majhle Babu, played by D.K. Sapru are the Zamindar brothers who stay busy in their own silly world – one busy attending the dancer’s performance every night and the other busy either enjoying his royal cat’s wedding or pumping up for a pigeon war with his neighbouring counterpart. Blinded by excess of everything both the brothers bring their own downfall.
Majhle Babu assuming that Choti Bahu and Bhootnath are having an affair takes a reckless step; he gets Bhootnath beaten up and abducts Choti Bahu, murdering her in the end. But it is not Majhle Babu’s arrogance or the social dogma alone that killed Choti Bahu, it is her husband’s doing as well.
It is Chote Babu who made his wife addicted to alcohol, not only by asking her to be like his dancer mistress, but also by not giving her the respect and love a wife deserves. By the time he accepts his fault, he is bed ridden and it is all too late. His misery ends with his death.
The portrayal of the Sahibs of this era facing the collapse of the Zamindari system is written and directed wonderfully in the film. The two brothers come across as truly pitiful characters.
The flashback gets over and Bhootnath is informed by one of the labourers that they have found a grave on the site. He rushes to the spot only to be completely shocked to see Choti Bahu’s gold bangles on the skeleton; he remembers what she had told him, that when she dies, she should be decked up properly, with vermillion in her head, so that everyone can say that ‘Sati Laxmi’ passed away. Imagining the beautiful Choti Bahu, Bhootnath with a heavy heart steps back from the site; he sits in the carriage next to his wife Jaba and leaves the place.
The ending surprises the audience once again; that Choti Bahu was murdered and buried in the mansion itself is not something that Bhootnath or the viewer would have expected. It also closes two chapters – one of Choti Bahu’s disappearance and the second, of Jaba and Bhootnath’s relationship. They both are shown as a married couple, contrary to the novel’s ending.
Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam is an amazing adaption; it does justice to both the medium of the novel and cinema. Chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars, it was soon rejected by the academy stating that they sternly forbid showing alcoholic women in their culture.
The concept, quite bold for that period, is actually much deeper than the mere portrayal of a woman as an alcoholic. It has captured that moment in time where the powerful and rich were falling down and the servants were free to do as they wished. It is striking that the suffering labour-class where equally surprised by this change as they too had adjusted well to the feudal system. Bansi, Chote Babu’s personal attendant, jobless after his master’s death, tells Bhootnath that he has started working in the train station and that no one lives in the mansion anymore.
Therefore, the film is not only an interesting watch to study its screenplay, but also for those who wish to write/ make an adaptation, those who wish to study how both plot and characters can drive the story forward and how an individual fits in the larger scheme of things.
In the game of cards and in the real life, every Sahib, Biwi and Ghulam can overthrow the other and win; it is all a matter of time.
Raj Kapoor, the showman of Hindi cinema, has given dozens of super hits as an actor, a director and a producer. What made it possible, other than his brilliant performing skills, is the richness of the story, good quality of screenplays and earnestly written dialogues in the majority of his films.
One such film is Jagte Raho (Stay Awake), written and directed by the legendry Sombhu Mitra, along with Amit Maitra and screenplay by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas.
A social satire, this 1956 film is about a poor villager – we meet Raj Kapoor in his famous Chaplinesque avatar, though in a dhoti this time – who comes to the city with the hope of making a better life. Jagte Raho happens in real-time i.e. in a single night’s time when the protagonist feeling thirsty enters an apartment block and is simply presumed to be a thief. Thus, begins the epic cat and mouse chase where not one but many thieves are caught apart from the protagonist, who is reminded by a little girl that if he is not the thief then he should not worry at all. The poor villager then leaves the building and the chaos behind and meets Nargis (guest appearance) in a temple who finally gives him water to drink.
Setting the Tone and Overshadowing
Without wasting a second, the tone of the film is set – it is night time in the city and the watchmen are roaming the streets shouting ‘jagte raho, jagte raho!’ Who are they asking to stay awake… themselves, the residents, the thieves or the viewers? Perhaps the message is for all.
We then meet the protagonist who is searching for some water to drink. When a watchman finds him kneeling against a fire hydrant, he rebukes and pushes him down, calling him ‘Chotta kahin ka’ (petty thief) going just by his shabby look and threatens him of dire consequences if he saw him there again. This is overshadowing i.e. what is going to happen later on in the story is subtly hinted right in the beginning – the poor villager is going to be framed as a thief.
The First Song
With roughly seven minutes into the film we are presented with the first song. A drunkard (played by Motilal), lost in his world, sings these sarcastic lines –
“Zindagi Khawab Hai, Khawab Me Jhuth Kya Aur Bhala Sach Hai Kya… Sab Sach Hai.”
Translation – Life is a dream, in a dream what is a lie and what is a truth… everything is a truth.
Songs in Hindi films are different from the Western Musicals, for it does not only elevate the emotion of the scene, but takes the story forward in every possible way – introducing new characters, hinting of what is approaching, adding to the underlying theme of the story.
Here, the drunkard returns in the story, not able to distinguish between a man and a container, between his wife and the poor villager. Thus, touching the theme of the story – the elite ‘dressed in silk’ are either busy drinking or hoarding money, while the poor ‘a tramp’ is crushed even if he asks just for some water.
Jagte Raho’s hit music is given by Salil Choudhary and the lyrics are written by Shailendra and Prem Dhawan.
The main conflict in Jagte Raho is between the honest and the fraudster, between the poor villager and the hypocritical lot. The protagonist stumbles upon the secret world of the civilized city men complexing the conflicting situation further.
His first few encounters occur with the young lovers, the gambler who tries to steal his own wife’s jewellery and the drunkard; these situations are comic as wells as sensitive, highlighting the predicaments of the so-called upper class.
The movie then takes a dramatic turn as the Police are called for an investigation. A journalist, disappointed on finding that the information about the dacoits is false, has to make do with a resident’s photograph who is arrested for brewing liquor illegally in his apartment. This causes a silent alarm bell to ring for many residents; a Punjabi song highlights this beautifully –
“Oye aiwe duniya dewe duhai/ jhootha pondi shor/ te apne dil to pooch ke vekho/ kaun nahi hai chor/ te ki mein jhooth bolya, koi na…”
Translation – The world appeals for no reason, the liar makes a hue and cry. Why don’t you ask your heart, who is not a thief! Hey, have I lied? No!
The poor villager finally meets the biggest thug of all, a foreign return business man who mints fake money with help of a few others; when the thug finds out that the villager knows all about him, he first tries to kill him, but with the residents knocking on his door, he quickly fills the villager’s pockets with all the fake money and pushes him out through the window.
Hanging to a pipe, the poor villager is attacked by the entire society with stones until he empties his pockets and showers the crowd with the fake money; the residents immediately forget the poor villager and fight amongst themselves to collect the notes.
The climax holds its intensity till the last scene, though the verbose speech by the poor villager on the terrace mars the impact of the silence he maintained until then. Scenes like juxtaposing the image of Christ to the bleeding poor villager adds to the melodrama.
A little girl is rightly chosen by the writer for speaking the truth as children rarely hesitate from doing so. The poor villager realises the truth and then looking fearless, he walks out; neither the Police nor the residents notice him; the situation is frantic as all the criminals in the building are getting arrested one by one.
It is early morning now and he finds a lady singing in a temple –
Translation – Wake up dear Mohan, a new day is here to welcome you.
The film ends here as the lady gives the poor villager water to drink.
Jagte Raho is not a hard core mystery or a thriller yet it endeavors to keep the viewer throughout on the edge. Following the linear structure, each scene has a micro story that is disrupted by the protagonist for he unknowingly strips the ones who are masked.
Though an off-beat topic was selected by the RK Productions, it was made sure that this film is liked by the masses; hence, the script is full of slapstick comedy, songs and dramatic visuals.
The theme of Jagte Raho is jagte raho; the makers are warning all to stay awake for the real criminal lurks within every individual, who waits just for an opportunity to overpower you. In the film, the poor villager tries to steal the counterfeit money, but his consciousness jolts him and he does not take the money. His consciousness is in contrast to the collective consciousness of the public.
While a satire, Jagte Raho chooses only partially the realistic approach to narrate its story. In fact, the majority of the characters, including the protagonist, are clichéd and some even come across as frivolous and yet, as a whole, the film engages and entertains. And so, keeping in mind the era in which it was made, this film stays to be a good study for a screenplay writer.
A roguish year, 2020, I believe was a twist in our LIVE story. Terrible, oh, terrible things happened. Let us nurture hope, let us learn from our mistakes, let us help each other and contribute honestly to this change.
Let the old charm of stories work, let stories heal your tired heart.
This colossal twist proves that the great writer is planning to finish a chapter, but the story is far from over. Dawn is about to break, the sun rays will fall on a new beginning soon.
Come to Chiming Stories, pocket old and new posts and watch, along with me, the horizon.
Yes fly! For walking on the second track is dull and usual, but dreaming high, high, high requires tools. Tools like the right pair of shoes, a chirpy, gritty soul that eats butter-jam dreams, a soul that drinks milky-milky creams.