Review: No Smoking

It is not often that a Hindi movie reminds you of a Murakami short story*. Make that never ever. But that is precisely what director Anurag Kashyap accomplishes with No Smoking. This phantasmagorical allegory explores the idea of addiction, and by extension of non-conformity. It takes a dark and cynical view of the the price one has to pay – to kick the habit, to survive, in fact to do both, as one can’t be accomplished without the other. The explicit addiction in this case is smoking, but replace it with a compulsion of your choice (“vice” according to the rest of the word) and the movie would work just as well.

In telling his story, Kashyap dispenses with or even intentionally subverts many standard Bollywood props, starting with the name of the hero (John Abraham). He is K, just K. And if you must know, his brother’s J. Yes, there are dream sequences involving pristine snow covered slopes. Only, they are nightmares, presumably set in Uzbekistan (up yours, Switzerland), and there’s no singing. There is a Bipasha Basu item number, but only if you aren’t such a boor as to walk out of the theater immediately after the credits start rolling.

K is a chain smoker and when his wife threatens to leave him because of it, he reluctantly agrees to check out this rehab center that appears to be all the rage among his friends. Sinister and bizarre things start happening after he signs up for the program, and the fun is in sitting back and watching him deal with every new lemon that life throws at him. There is some fine black humor, dark thoughts that no doubt every smoker has experienced. There’s even some slapstick thrown in, but thankfully not too much.

The movie is not without its flaws. At 135 minutes it is too long. For starters, a little less of Ms. Takia (particularly in the second half) and lots more of Messrs. Shorey and Rawal would have made a better movie. And ending the story about fifteen minutes before it actually does would have made it a lot sharper and edgier. While one admires Kashyap’s ambitious attempts at pulling a Tarantino with the soundtrack, the places where the music does actually work best is when it is original. Overall, the more had Kashyap stuck to the ‘less is more’ rule, the better this movie will have been.

It is impossible to watch or write about this movie without also thinking about all the bad press it has been receiving. It is a pity that the critic community in India has decided to hate this movie. And it is an even bigger pity that Indian audiences set such store by reviews. I was one of five people at this evening’s show.

 

Kashyap has been accused of being arrogant, confusing, and inaccessible to just mention a few of the labels being thrown at him. To be fair to Kashyap, none of these labels are justified, excepting perhaps the one about arrogance – after all, he did go and make a movie with no bad guys (or good guys for that matter), no romance (the only terms of er, endearment used by the leads are “bitch” and “bastard”), and to top it all uses humor that will make no sense whatsoever to three year olds. Kashyap in turn has been far less diplomatic in his response. All of this drama makes what is essentially a rather tame story by indie movie standards into something bigger. So that, despite its best efforts, this movie ends up being not very different from the scores of others that are made back home – Indian cinema will have its pound of melodrama, if not inside a movie then outside it.

As mentioned before, this movie is far from perfect. But to hate a movie simply because it does not stick to standard Bollywood formulae seems a bit much. And this new found thirst for logic from a country raised on utterly illogical cinema is both amusing and annoying. Kudos to Kashyap for pushing the envelope on Hindi-cinema narrative, and hats off to him for refusing to dumb down his vision as well as his sheer optimism in daring to hope that Indian audiences will still “get it”. Better luck next time, pal. Hope you keep ‘em coming.

* The story am thinking about is ‘UFO in Kushiro’ from ‘After the Quake’. There are also elements of ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’. For the record, I haven’t read or watched Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, parts of which are also supposed inspiration for this movie.

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7 comments so far

  1. Review: No Smoking | DesiPundit on

    […] Dreaming of Zihuatanejo reivews No Smoking, a film that a lot of people appear to loathe or love with equal intensity. It is not often that a Hindi movie reminds you of a Murakami short story*. Make that never ever. But that is precisely what director Anurag Kashyap accomplishes with No Smoking. This phantasmagorical allegory explores the idea of addiction, and by extension of non-conformity. It takes a dark and cynical view of the the price one has to pay – to kick the habit, to survive, in fact to do both, as one can’t be accomplished without the other. The explicit addiction in this case is smoking, but replace it with a compulsion of your choice (”vice” according to the rest of the word) and the movie would work just as well. […]

  2. DoZ reviews No Smoking on

    […] LINK […]

  3. full2faltu on

    Sadly, Unfortunately, the same critics cry every week over the repeated story line in Hindi movies. They complain why big stars don’t really work in good movies. That is because the critics are driving audience away from movies like “No Smoking”

    Sad state!

    Nice review

    -Punds

  4. gukseon on

    Wow….I’m a big fan of Murakami, and a fan of both conventional and unconventional Hindi cinema, so I may have to check this out….it’s a shame about the reviews, it sounds like a very compelling movie…

  5. […] DoZ, Dreaming of Zihuatanejo Rating: Thumbs up …And this new found thirst for logic from a country raised on utterly illogical cinema is both amusing and annoying…. See full review […]

  6. Deepa on

    Now this review makes sense. I’ll have to check the movieout.

  7. aneesh on

    Finally i find someone on the blogsphere who liked the movie. I wrote a review praising the movie and readers flayed me about my twisted perceptions. You are a relief. Thanks for existing.


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