IIM Calcutta

No Smoking


-A prize winning entry by Ramana Krishnan

“Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody tells me what to do.”

No Smoking starts off paraphrasing Aristotle, Plato, and Frank Sinatra. That, and what might easily be the most visually pleasing dream sequence in Hindi cinema give the viewer a peek into what to expect.

K., just K., as the protagonist would want us to believe, is more than just that. He is a character straight from Kafka’s set pieces; a character straight from a story of any struggle for individualism and freedom; a character straight from morally-policed India; a character straight from the field of arts and K., just K., probably is Kashyap, the writer-director himself.

K., a business man doing rather well for himself – at least professionally – is a heavy smoker, much to the dismay of his wife. Some marital discord, some emotional blackmail later, K. is packed off to what appears to be a boot camp straight from the Nazi era, only somewhere in the labyrinthine depths below Dharavi’s slums. The overlord of this otherworld, Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdahwale – whose dictatorial views and surveillance skills would make Hitler and Big Brother (from Orwell’s 1984) proud – warns K. of incremental punishments which would result in killing of his brother, cutting-off of his fingers, killing of his wife, and the ‘unspeakable punishment’ (Remember 1984?) for each instance of smoking. As the Baba’s methods get clearer and clearer to K. he realizes that the (Fincher-inspired?) Game he has stepped into which makes him question his sanity and the blurs boundary between the reality and his dreams (or nightmares!).

K. is defined by the quote at the start. He starts-off as the arrogant person who doesn’t let anybody dictate anything to him and ends up being a person forced (by family, by society, and by the authority) to stop what essentially defines him, and his consequent way of life. Ostensibly, everybody is out to help him ‘get rid of a bad habit’, but would he remain the same a person after changing? Would he not have ‘sold his soul’ due to the forced change?

Smoking might not be the best analogy of the artist’s right to creative pursuit, and the movie is such a personal reflection of the director, that he is caught showing-off too many times – be it in terms of the infinite homages to cult favourites, or the general abstractness of the movie which ends up showing a proverbial middle finger to the audience.

A one-of-a-kind movie in Hindi cinema, and fitting perfectly into the works of David Lynch or other such ‘abstract’ directors, this movie is a strong metaphorical work in defense of the artist who faces the censor board, or the moral police which takes out demonstrations for arbitrary hurting-the-sentiment-of-minority argument. Overall, the movie ends up leaving a strong taste in the mouth and depending upon the audience’s taste for self-indulgence, it might make for the best or the worst viewing.

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6 responses

  1. Well written piece….Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of Anurag Kashyap’s movies. I feel he is single-handedly the biggest reason for the new-found fame of parallel Hindi cinema.

    Having said that though, No Smoking at most times felt pretty over the top to me. Maybe because it took imagination to whole new levels. If the movie was even shown as a nightmare of the protagonist or something, things would still have been clearer. What No Smoking leaves in the end though is a frustrated viewer – in most cases if the person watching the movie is a smoker this movie would just push him closer to another smoke by giving him a headache. 😀

    Also, what was interesting to note was a comment made by Anurag in an interview after the success of Dev-D where he confessed to have lost the plot and vented his artistic frustration through No Smoking after being denied a chance in Bollywood for about 8 years.

    Given the storyline though, this post is the best tribute that the movie can expect. Kudos!!!

    August 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm

  2. Art is what we make out of it. Making a “good” film is not a one-sided affair, the viewer is equally involved. Poor Kashyap expected too much from his audiences!

    August 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

  3. Arvind Gopal

    Very well written piece !

    Haven’t seen the movie but the entire plot seems to mirror A Clockwork Orange…

    August 17, 2010 at 8:07 am

  4. Arvind Gopal

    did a google search to find a link between the 2 movies and this came up… interesting

    http://mysolaceincinema.blogspot.com/2009_07_01_archive.html

    August 17, 2010 at 8:14 am

  5. I just realised I should come here also and proclaim that this is an excellently written piece. Great job da! 🙂

    There is a clarity of thought and clarity of expression, so rare to find in reviews. Not to mention a balanced perspective. Way to go. And write more. And send me links! 😉

    October 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

  6. kartik

    pretty intresting thoughts…
    another film No smoking gives a few ‘nods’ to is the “cult” film called Om dar ba dar. Watch that one and review it if possible
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om-Dar-Ba-Dar

    October 4, 2010 at 6:01 pm

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