No Smoking

No Smoking is the Anurag Kashyap’s second film (talking about releases here). And it is a brilliant piece of work.

The Movie
The phone rings. A man wakes up in a room in a building situated in some icy hell (we come to know later that it is Siberia), disoriented. He desperately needs to smoke but can’t find a cigarette. Things happen, and soon enough he does find a pack of cigarettes. But he is shot before he gets to light it. The man then wakes up in a bathtub. This is how the film starts.

K (John Abraham) is an arrogant, obnoxious and self-indulgent man who is also a chain smoker. He is married to Anjali (Ayesha Takia) who absolutely hates this habit. They are having dinner with friends at a restaurant one day, when they meet Abbas Tyrewala (Ranvir Shorey), K’s childhood friend who got K started on cigarettes in the first place. Surprisingly, Abbas has quit smoking (also, he has lost two fingers of his right hand and wears hearing aids on both ears because of hearing problems). He gives Anjali a visiting card of a rehabilitation centre called Prayogshala (Laboratory). It seems that they can cure any addiction. The next day, Anjali, tired of K’s attitude, threatens to divorce him unless he quits smoking. So, K decides to pay the Prayogshala (known as Kalkatta Karpets) a visit.

The centre is run by Sri Sri Sri Guru Ghantaal Baba Bangali Sealdahwale (Paresh Rawal). Within a few minutes, K realises that he is trapped in some kind of mess. He is forced to sign an agreement and a cheque for a substantial amount (the date on the cheque is 11/09/2006 – 911? Why? I don’t know). Bangali also gives him an ultimatum. Every time he tries to smoke a cigarette, something bad will happen to his family or him. The first time he does try smoking, his car windshield blows up and he goes deaf. Apparently Bangali was not joking.

K wakes up in his bathtub, again, The second time he smokes (following a brilliant plan), his brother is put in a gas chamber filled with cigarette smoke. The third time, his wife disappears and the cops suspect him and therefore interrogate him. K’s explanation borders on the absurd and he has no proof (Bangali has manipulated everybody and everything. It seems that he is the devil incarnate). K tries smoking a fourth time, to prove that he is not lying, and his brother dies.

K wakes up in his bathtub, yet again. He gets a huge book from Bangali called the Cigarette Shastra, and there he finds that he can smoke without fear once every year, in the zero minute – the time between the last minute of the last year and the first minute of the new one. So he goes to the specified place, and sometime later finds himself in the room of his dreams in Siberia, woken up by a phone call from his wife. He is now unsure what is real and what is not. Is he in some nightmare? He escapes from the room, and runs up a icy slope where there is a bathtub and a pack of cigarettes. This time he jumps into the bathtub. He falls down a drain and finds himself in some strange prison. Apparently, this is his soul which Bangali has stripped from his body as a final measure. K’s soul looks through a glass partition to find his body and his wife on the other side in some kind of hospital with a doctor (Bangali, again). The soul then burns away, like a cigarette.

K wakes up again, this time in his bed, with two of his fingers missing, and his wife beside him.

The Music
No Smoking has brilliant music by Vishal Bhardwaj with lyrics by Gulzar. All the songs revolve around cigarettes, smoking and the high one gets from the same. The music and the film are a perfect fit (after all, we are talking about Vishal Bhardwaj). My favourite songs are the Adnan Sami version of Jab Bhi Ciggaret, Rekha Bhardwaj’s Phoonk De and Deva Sen Gupta’s Ash Tray.

Aristotle says : 8.0 / 10

Interpreting the movie
In No Smoking, Kashyap takes you out of your comfort zone. Within K’s world, reason or rationality does not exist. The line dividing reality and imagination disappears. Since it is not a plain one dimensional story, it really depends on how you, the viewer, interprets the same. I have watched it thrice in two days and for what is real and what is not question, I think that everything till K’s going deaf is real and so is his waking up in the bed. Everything else happened in his dream. While this interpretation does not explain how his fingers disappear, it does have some semblance of rationality (assuming that a supernatural finger chopping fiend – notice the apparition of a devil floating behind Bangali when K first meets him – who sees everything and knows everything is rational). As for the (possible) preaching – Smoking is bad. Don’t do it, I don’t think that is the main purpose of the film. Kashyap has just picked up smoking as a metaphor and woven his story around it.

There have been comparisons to works by director David Lynch (haven’t seen any of his films) and to the novel The Trial by Kafka (haven’t read him, but have heard a lot about him). Well, I don’t care where he got his inspiration as long as I like what I see. I am not too sure about how the film fared at the box office (hope it recovered the money). But it should do well on the DVD circuit because it is more entertaining when you watch it alone in the comfort of your home. And you do have to watch it multiple times.

I absolutely loved the movie (except the comic strip like thought and dialog bubbles, which are a minor but necessary irritant. This is the another way of conveying the characters’ thoughts, the standard one being man-speaking-to-himself-in-his-mind-and-the-audience-hears-it). And all the main actors have done a good job, especially Paresh Rawal and Ranvir Shorey. The media does not like Kashyap (it does not like Aamir Khan either) and critics have bashed the film wholesomely. They can take a hike. I, on the other hand, am waiting for his next movie.

Well, well, well. Here is Anurag Kashyap explaining the philosophy behind No Smoking.

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  • Anonymous  On December 26, 2007 at 8:21 am

    This reminds me a lot of a Stephen King short story called “Quitters Inc” from his short story collection “Night Shift.”

  • Everett Scott  On December 26, 2007 at 8:24 am

    Sounds like the plot of a Stephen King short story, Quitters Inc..

  • aristotlethegeek  On December 26, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    I haven’t read Stephen King’s story. But the director Anurag Kashyap has said that eight years back, he had written a story based on Quitter’s Inc. But over the years, the story has more or less changed completely and revolves around his struggles.

    ….the whole film was stewed over in my head over last eight years, years ago it was a straight story from quitters inc ( the first half of it, because that is how much ramu told me) , but it kept changing with my life.. i don’t even know when and how it became my story, i only realised it after writing it.. i wrote it in one flow like every other script over two days or was a stream of subconscious.. i just wrote….In defence of the “I”

    Kashyap has a reputation of being a maverick and the first two films he made were either banned or could not get past the censor board (socialist India’s government-appointed moral guardian). His first film – Black Friday was banned till a year ago because it dealt with the 1993 Bombay terror attacks and the accused complained that the film might affect their case. His other film – Paanch is blocked because the censor board is supposed to have said that it is too violent.

    Mainstream Bollywood is just like mainstream Hollywood. It spews out a continuous stream of absolute crap. Kashyap and a few other directors are the ones who save the day.

  • madhu chandra  On May 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    The movie is compared to the works of David Lynch and Kafka cos of its surrealism.Kafka’s Trial has the same theme as of No Smoking: Authority usurping an individual’s freedom.And as for David Lynch his Mulholland Drive blurs the line between dreams and reality.But Kashyap went a little ahead by exploring the sub conscious mind so very beautifully……remember the scene in the last part of the movie where all the “wont quit smoking” souls are supposed to bath, link this with the Schindler’s List scene watching which Anjali cries and the fun is K looking up expecting the same…….
    And its the soul that keeps floating

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On September 5, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    haha your one loyal anurag fan. i remember downloading black friday from the internet months before it was finally released here in india. just tried of mainstream movies.

  • aristotlethegeek  On September 6, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Yeah, the print of Black Friday being pirated before its release. Kashyap has a contrarian take on the whole case. In an interview to Kabir Bedi, he said that a judge came to know abut the film when he watched it on pirated vcds, and that “he is here because of piracy”.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On September 7, 2008 at 12:10 am

    hmm.. i was at a relative’s home and it was on his computer that i saw the movie but i didn’t own any portable drives at that time so left it there. i think it was just a month or two after it was released and later the screener copy of it leaked from some festival.
    next, after returning home, i approached a bunch of stalls of movie pirates in several cities and most them had never heard of it. some even replied “tere pass hai ko humko de na”. luckily i found it on some torrent site. it was on “sadaf cd” – major piracy group from pak!stan.

    it’s really sad that independent movies don’t make it to mainstream audience in this country cause most would rather spend there 2-3 hours in some sort of a dream world.

    it would be great if such directors released there work on the internet. almost 50% of warez distributing sites are run by indians. they’d make it an instant hit.

  • aristotlethegeek  On September 7, 2008 at 1:51 am

    Different movies for different audiences. The fact is most people in India watch movies to escape from reality and everything it stands for. That is why films where the hero goes and romances a girl, suffers injustice, beats the shit out of all his enemies and then lives happily ever after – a few songs thrown in for good measure – are so popular.

    The “new age” directors – RGV, Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Shriram Raghavan, and many more – are doing great stuff, and have their audiences. The problem lies in how to reach the niche audience, and make money at the same time – torrents don’t do that. Here, I put the blame squarely on the producers – most of them have no clue of what they are doing. Betting completely on the “multiplex audience” is a bad idea – there are many people who don’t have the time or inclination to go to theaters – and secondly, just because someone visits a multiplex, that doesn’t mean they will appreciate every film released there.

    I think things will change when we have a couple of movie channels focusing purely on such films – pay channels which should be able to charge whatever they wish without prices being fixed by the folks at TRAI – like HBO does in the US of A. Then there are DVDs – but some of them simply price themselves out of the market. On one hand you have Moserbaer with its ridiculous sub-50 rupee DVDs and there are some who demand 500+ for absolute crap. The real price lies somewhere between there two.

    Well, nothings gonna change. Status quo is king as far as “bollywood” is concerned.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On September 7, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    even praying is no good for out emotional stock. there’s a saying – jab log sudrenge, tab society sudregi. aur phir desh.

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