Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No Smoking

I liked ‘No Smoking’. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to.

The imagery, philosophical sub-text, iconoclastic screenplay, crowded symbolism and cocky coded allusions to theology and absurdity are not easy to digest. The entire film skates between being unfathomable to being mind altering. As to which side the film veers in the viewer’s mind, well…there’s no way you can make that out. Some people shuck their first oyster and spend their lives caged in that heavenly, briny taste. Others do the same and vomit.

The lighting – mostly dark and grimacing magnifies the cratered wryness of John Abraham, the wholesomeness of Ayesha Takia, and the crippling notoriety of a lit cigarette. At times, the scenes suffocate. At times, close-ups of dismembered fingers and sounds of wracking coughs unhinge you. But the most startling effect is, probably, the way these dark nuanced visuals refract the seemingly unblemished righteousness of non-smokers.

I am sure there is an appropriate cinematic lexicon that can describe this film’s approach and structure. Here are, however, a few things that I liked.

The barren incisive jokes:

Quotes by Socrates, Plato, and Sinatra at the beginning of the film:

To be is to do – said one

To do is to be – said the other

Dobe Dobe – sang the third.


John to Ayesha: What do you want for your birthday?

Ayesha: A divorce

John (continues to smoke, and doesn’t bat an eyelid): I don’t have that kind of budget.


John’s name is K, simply K. His brother’s name is J, simply J.


Ayesha Takia, explaining her marital problems to her friends:

Religious differences. He thinks he is God; I think he is *****.


An absolutely vagabond monologue of a baba (Paresh Rawal) explaining the difference between fine, penalty, and fees for the no-smoking program.

A rotund friend launching illegally imported cigars under the label ‘Fidel Incastrated.’


Slather of kinks:

Thought bubbles with Hindi and English invectives.

A spirited run by a comatose patient.

Mundane long, hollow silences that jettison traces of coherence.


The music, the score – that anthem to anathema.


Dips of tortured souls in fire.


Frank Sinatra…just like that.


Very strong references to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and several other Lucifer-type damnation undercurrents.


Final screw of the cork:

The scathing sarcasm that not many would really get. A fabulous tongue-in-cheek commentary on the brackeny Puritanism of non-smokers; their self-righteousness that mirrors a self-loathing of sorts; the unholy lengths to which they will push ‘improvement’ programs.

A smooth subterfuge to mask the ‘The joke’s on you!’ wink on the proselytizing non-smokers.

(Of course, this is only my interpretation. And the reason I interpret the film this way is because I am trying to be a vegetarian now. But when I was a non-vegetarian, I detested the moral rectitude that almost stunk from the vegetarian sorts who’d tell me to be off meat because it is cruel to kill animals. And to all those people, I had asked and I continue to ask: How do you explain wearing silk? It’s less brutal to scald a worm to death than to kill a goat for raan? I will desist now, because memories of good raan bring tears to my eyes.

And yes, I don’t like smoking. It is my observation that when people take up smoking, their prowess to empathize dies. They become a little hard-hearted. Slowly, they get self-centered and this self-centredness is inevitable. The notion of breathing in air, a community property so to speak, contaminating it, and breathing it out to the full detriment of everyone around you is plain thoughtless selfishness. But again, I know of two smokers who are actively involved in afforestation programs, so I suppose the human soul seesaws plenty between selfishness and selflessness.)

The animated 'wherefore art' debate that it has spurred.

My mother hated the film, and believes that I liked the movie only to be the devil’s advocate. “Why bother making a movie that no-one understands?”, she asked me.

“Why bother going to a movie you don’t understand?”, I asked.

“How will you know you won’t understand a film unless you watch it?”

“How will you know no-one will understand a film unless you make it?”

That’s just plain stupid. Of course, you know. Now, there will be all those pseudo-intellectuals (of which I am one, I think, according to mom) who will just pretend to like it because most people didn’t understand.”

Well, the movie appeals, the movie appalls. Would I recommend it? Let’s just say, people do get through life without shucking an oyster. But then, they remain those who went through life without shucking an oyster.


Kartick Sitaraman said...

Hi Mukta,

Was wonderful reading your post. It's so clearly indicative of a well-read / exposed mind, in a position to appreciate a piece of work far better than professional critics with their heads up the wrong place, and egos in even worse places...

Thanks for commenting on my post.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review.
Not sure if you've already seen this but it explains where all that sarcasm is coming from.

p.s. I am a smoker...but I think I was self-centered a long time before I took my first puff.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mukta.
I am going to see the film. I mean, i was going to see it anyway, but this review makes the motivation a little more stronger and I might see it today. Will reserve my judement till then, but I loved your review. I will look out for the sarcasm.
Any kind of self-rigtiousness by judemental people makes you feel dead inside, however much you feel you dont care.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mukta,

I like movies with a "twist". Guess this is one of them, all of John's movies are. And, I'm going to watch this moview no matter what the reviews are....just like "Constantine" ;) (So much for the anonymous now.)

and yes...i don't smoke.

Anonymous said...

If I were starting to turn vegetarian, I would include vegemite in my diet.

Take a toasted bread, put butter on it, scrape a thin thin layer of vegemite.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mukta ,

It's me again (The Constantine guy). I watched No Smoking and it's awesome. Well you can’t blame the ppl who said it's bad.

Their story would go like this...

It’s a bright, beautiful day, and I was bored to the core. Hence, I left my brain at home and jogged to watch a movie to kill time...but what'd u know this movie actually required you to use your brains...too late I left mine at home... Conclusion: the movie was bad (Translate: I didn’t understand it)

Bottom-line: The movie requires you to look at it using your third, creative eye.

My only complain: The text bubbles needed to be a little bigger for ppl like me who use glasses.