-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.