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