Saurabh on Vijeta

Vijeta is a film which has stayed with me since I first saw it more than a decade back with my father (incidentally).Another superlative effort from the auteur, the film remains a very sharp and hard-hitting work even now. Cleverly masquerading as a coming-of-age story, the film came across to me as a sharp take on the ‘angst’ in the society and also touches upon the prevailing ‘generation gap’ in the late 70’s and 80’s of India. Under any other director this could have ended up being Bollywood’s Top Gun (though in any case the Tony Scott film came later) but Nihalani uses a not so uncommon trope to make a telling statement on a larger issue- how personal crises are often a microcosm of the generational conflicts and conflicting visions plaguing a nation state

For the uninitiated Vijeta, on its surface, is about a young Angad Singh (Kunal Kapoor). As his mother, Neelima (Rekha), describes him, Angad is an Angry Young Man. He has just failed out of another boarding school, much to the consternation of his stern father, Nihal (Shashi Kapoor) and he is angst-ridden, aimless and toying with the idea of suicide. Home is a toxic place, where Angad’s parents engage in nasty arguments – the residues of Nihal’s past infidelity – and the battle lines are drawn – Angad sides with his mother and resents his father. It takes a visit from his maternal uncle, Arvind (Om Puri), to kick-start Angad’s adulthood. Arvind, with his ruler-straight posture and meticulous precision, is a military man. After being shown around the warboat Arvind works on, Angad is inspired: he wants to join the air force too! While his mother and grandmother (Dina Pathak) agree to the idea, Angad’s father is adamantly opposed. After more oppressive tension, Angad is finally allowed to go. The rest of the film follow his slow awakening and maturation as he transforms himself from an emo punk into a responsible, sympathetic and brave young man.

But beware as this coming-of-age tale is not for the Wake Up Sid generation- the crisis here is not resolved over a Sushi Dinner (EMAET). Another film which tried to tread a similar path was Lakshya- but the ‘character-arc’ of the protagonist here never sucked the viewer unlike Vijeta and so I often ended up asking myself whether the plot ever justified the need for a protagonist to ‘grow-up’. But Vijeta does not offer its characters or its viewers any easy answers. Nihalani, like in his earlier 2 films, carves out characters which are ‘haunted’ by their past- In the opening scene itself a sleeping Nihal suffers a flashback to Partition-era Punjab and we see that most of his family was murdered in the rioting. And it is immediately followed by one more nightmare where he envisions his son buried under the sand in the battle-ground. It was as if the son’s death was a poetic justice for the horrors inflicted on the father (and the preceding generation of India). Angad’s rite of passage ends on a bittersweet yet hopeful note

And as much as the film is about growing up, it is also about the current standing of the nation-state. So when we see Nihal, always reluctant to hear his son’s views, casting doubts on his decision to join the NDA, it seems as if the preceding generation is hesitant to hand over the baton to the succeeding one. It demands the present India to prove its mettle first and rightly so since the ‘Modern Indian’ of 80’s never dared to build upon the Post-Independence Nehruvian Vision of a Nation State. And so through the journey of the protagonist, Nihalani also puts forth a vision where the selfish vagabond Indian will mature too. And through the Air Force (and also via Om Puri’s naval officer character who guides Kunal), Nihalani makes a rather valid point that when the government and the countrymen are stuck in a rut, the ‘outsider’ i.e. the Armed Forces have to show them the way.

Anger has always been an undercurrent in Nihalani’s works whether it was Aakrosh or Ardhasatya. Here too both Nihal and Angad are volatile people. But unlike the earlier 2 films where the protagonists struggle against the social order and the corrupt moral policies, here they have their own inner demons to fight with. Here Nihalani approaches the characters in a ‘humanistic’ fashion. He takes time to build up their environments via small, human details: the devotional Raga, Man Anand Anand Chhayo (sung by Lata) is a perfect example, showing us Nihal and Neelima during their morning routine. Nihalani’s use of dreaming and foreshadowing is also excellent.

And just like Smita Patil becomes the ‘voice of reason’ for Om Puri in Ardhasatya when she recites the titular poem to him, here Neelima acts as Nihal conscious keeper and in one remarkable scene tells him- Neelima intervenes and tells him- “you understood yourself and the world through the partition, let him fight his (Kunal) battles to understand himself”.

If Angad’s growing-up is the foreground theme, then his father’s is the background one. While the plot centers on Angad, it is book-ended and constantly informed by the story of Nihal. The very first flashback-scene deals with the massacre of Nihal’s family in the Partition-era Punjab and the last scene, likewise, features the resolution to Angad’s plotline. In this way, the movie is a lot like the great Mississippi Masala, where the child’s coming of age is cast against the broader historical angst that the father brings with him. The relationship between Nihal and Angad is one of the film’s big emotional hooks. Initially, Angad is full of resentment for Nihal’s past infidelity and Nihal’s treatment of his wife. Indeed, Nihal is a very flawed man: he is the self-pitying patriarch, throwing his weight around, quick to remind everyone of how hard his life has been, and, when that doesn’t work, using the slow poison of guilt. The arguments between Nihal and Neelimi were painfully evocative, mostly because they were so real. The film works to show you how alienated father and son initially are, so that, in their moments of closeness, it’s all the more poignant. Alas, expect no weepy reconciliations here.

And Nihalani’s masterstroke here is using ‘religion’ as a focal point in his commentary over the nation-state angle. The story is told from the perspective of a character belonging to a Minority (Sikh). But also important here is the ‘allegory regarding the sacrifices an individual or a generation has to make for the general good of nation-state- Nihal’s mother, Dina Pathak offers her first grandson (Angad) to the Sikh religion, as is the practice in many Punjabi families as a ‘mannath’. So, Angad is brought up as a Sikh boy. Religion also creates a chasm between the father and the rest of the family- While Nihal’s nightmares show that he used to live as a devout Sikh, when he wakes we see that he’s shed the ‘dastar’ and wears only the ‘kara’. His ‘secularism’ (so to say) is emphasized further: he’s a bit boozy and he works on (self-described) “low-grade” films featuring cheesy Western song and dances. Meanwhile, Angad has been raised as a devout Sikh, and Neelima sings devotional song at dawn and listens only to classical Hindustani. Also seamlessly blended is the theme of a ‘pluralistic India’- Angad’s fighter pilot buddies are a Hindu, a Muslim (K. K. Raina in a knockout performance as Kunal’s cricket playing buddy in the Academy), and a Christian – these guys aren’t caricatures. Furthermore (and interestingly!), the second most prominent religion in the film is Christianity.

The canvas is very broad – with discussions on war, rioting, Partition, patriotism, death and so forth. Similarly, the dialogue becomes progressively more and more large-minded, with pilots, fathers and wives-to-be all discussing heavy-handed issues like death and bravery over their tea. The film is far more effective when, instead of talking about these things, the characters did what real people do – petty arguments, easy-going chat – while perhaps thinking about the larger issues.

And finally Nihalani, the cinematographer has never been better before or after. The scene where Kunal takes his first solo flight is spell-binding- it is also the scene where the ‘real flight’ of the protagonist takes place. Equally superb is the ’sunrise’ following Nihal’s nightmares in the opening sequences. And then there are those scenes of night lamps working their magic on the characters.

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36 Responses to “Saurabh on Vijeta”

  1. @saurabh

    i wont be reading it, as want to catch the movie first, but it but it reminded me of my friend Piyush’s article on naachgaana… on the same movie… as same poster was used there:

    “While no one can put a stop to ageing (the world is still waiting for the chemical formula), coming of age is an arduous job. It is a journey like no other, which is more psychological than literal. Unfortunately history tells us that the best men, more often than not, get made only after facing a lot of hardships and going through personal losses. Maybe it’s a small tax that they have to pay on their path of self-discovery and conquest.

    Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta is a movie that emphasizes on the above fact and explores human relationships through challenging times. It is basically a story of guy’s journey from boy to man, and how he conquers his doubts and apprehensions to emerge victorious in life. The movie has been produced by Shashi Kapoor, and stars his son Kunal Kapoor as the protagonist.

    Vinod (Shashi Kapoor) and Neelima (Rekha) form an estranged couple, who despite their differences live together for the sake of their only son Angad (Kunal Kapoor as a young surd). Vinod is in the entertainment business, while Neelima is a housewife who is highly involved with her pursuits in classical music (This deep involvement suggests a void in her life that she is trying to take care of). One day Angad, their son, returns home after leaving his boarding school. Utterly confused about what to do in life, and highly troubled by the shaky relationship his parents share, Angad feels that his life is completely worthless and confesses contemplating suicide in front of his mother (with whom he shares a friendly relationship, contrary to the acerbic one that he shares with his father). Neelima’s young brother (and Angad’s uncle), a Naval officer, takes Angad to stay with him for a few days. During his stay with his Uncle, Angad finds life in the armed forces highly disciplined, challenging, and adventurous, and decides to enter the National Defense Academy to train for becoming an Air Force Pilot.”


    • Hey thanks for the link Rooney. Read it and found it more succint and to-the-point than mine. And u should definitely see the film (btw my piece has no spoilers so u can read it before watching the film too)

      • My first comment on this blog, thanks to Rooney. I have read the writeup here by Saurabh and I agree with most things he has said.

        I saw this movie about 10 months back, and wrote on it subsequently. But to be honest today, I didn’t really remember a lot from the movie before reading this piece. I guess it happens that you like a movie a lot when you first see it, especially with the intention of really liking it (can be because of a lot of things- starcast, director, music etc.). But now that I am having trouble recalling most of it, I can see why it is not remembered as a classic or even acknowledged as one of Govind Nihalani’s finest works.

        • Piyush, firstly thanks a lot for reading my piece (and i would love to see u commenting here in the future). I read ur brilliant write-up and i think u touched the more ‘human’ aspects of the film splendidly which i missed. On the film, i think i liked it more than you (though if u notice i have never even once said that is nihalani’s best work/it’s a classic and so on- but yes to be honest this is my Nihalani film though i like Ardhasatya a lot too)

        • Piyush, it was a pleasure reading ur articles on Aakrosh and esp Party- i loved the way u mentioned Amrish as an ‘observer’ in both films. (btw Aakrosh has a brutal disturbing scene where Bhiku kills his sister). Also u made a fine observation regarding the plots of Garv and Aakrosh- Superb stuff mate.Sadly I have not written anything on these films though Satyam/GF may have (the only pieces i have written here are on ‘agent vinod’ and ‘masala hero and hong kong action cinema’)

  2. Saurabh:

    I saw VIJEYTA long back – around 20 years. I am an old man of 35 now but reading this brought back memories many imp scenes. This film had a huge impact on me; firstly, the technical aspect of the movie–when considered in relation to time–is outstanding; and during the ’80s, until Vidhu’s PARINDA happened, all we knew was above or below average cinematography..

    This is an excellent film and Nihalani’s direction is awesome. An excellent critique of societal pressures and happenings & the typically Indian/Asian mentality of expecting the son to be a prototype of the father..

    Did you, BTW, get a chance to visit Belgaum? You should visit JNMC…

    • Thanks for the comment An Jo. And u r dead right abt Parinda’s cinematography- great observation. On Belgaum i have not been able to go there till now but will do see in near future (not too gar from Sangli)- do have few friends in KLM medical college there

  3. Havent seen this film but sounds good n different..
    May check it

  4. “But beware as this coming-of-age tale is not for the Wake Up Sid generation- the crisis here is not resolved over a Sushi Dinner (EMAET).” hahaha will read the rest after seeing this film….

    • Ha! Hope Ami doesn’t kill me for this :) . And while u can give my piece a miss, u should definitely see the film Alex. It’s not at all like the boring ‘art’ films- one may not like it as much as I did but it’s tough not to be moved by it

  5. Btw thanks a lot Satyam for putting this as a separate thread though it was again just a comment.

  6. Like this movie very much.

  7. great, great film! haven’t seen “vijeta” in more than a decade! i definitely intend on revisiting it very soon. thanks for the review, saurabh

    • Thanks a lot for reading it Aditya. And just like u i too felt elated when i revisited the film yesterday- there are many good films, many great films, even some classic films but there are few which move u so much- Vijeta is one of them

  8. A bit under the weather, will comment on this later but this was a great read Saurabh!

  9. Oh satyam is unwell!!
    Get well soon– and stay away for that dodgy ‘alternative’ stuff uve been watching!
    Also lately satyam has been trying to be a ‘Khap panchayat’ type of village elder here -doesn’t suit u satyam :-)

  10. brilliant analysis of a brilliant movie.
    watched it long way back as a kid …will watch again.

  11. omrocky786 Says:

    I remebr one scene from the movie when Kunal Kapooer says to Supriya Pathak- But I love you, SP teels him- “Toh Itna Ro kar kyon keh rahe ho “….LOL

    • Yes Sir, i remember that scene. Also Kunal Kapoor was good but i thought a young Sanjay Dutt (Naam waala) would have done wonders with this role

  12. nice review and remember watching some year back as kid on doordarshan

    liked the lakshay refrence but ya troubled father son relationship and generation gap separating them came up earlier in shakti and trishul first and very recently the same inspiration was evident in udaan to

    vijeta is really one of the best of 80’s

    • Thanks a lot Rockstar. And yes, u are right that the general conflict was very much there in Trishul but it was there in a much ‘personal’ sense (and less ‘nationalistic). Agreed on Udaan though- it is possibly one of my top 3 fav films of the past 2 decades

  13. yes just brought up this because nihllani always had the crust of anger in his movie and ya wake up sid was just to plastic( an irony is same sp playing ranbir’s mother)

    lakshay indeed had huge vijeta hangover with nationalism on backdrop and coming of age saga on backdrop of it

    • Oh yes, u made a great observation regarding Supriya. On WUS yes it did come across as a bit fake/pretentious (as u said and i also mentioned) at times but it’s a film i am somewhat fond of. Liked Lakshya a lot before it became just another war film in the 2nd half

  14. Satyam,
    Hope you are feeling better.
    Have to say, this is a very well written, heartfelt piece. Bravo.

    • I am.. thanks for asking Rajen..

      • Satyam, a very interesting bit of news (and GF should be happy to know this)- Nihalani to make ‘Ardh Satya 2′- Om Puri may return- – “We are working on the sequel of Ardh Satya. Producer Manmohan Shetty has been really keen to make a sequel. We were toying with this idea since long time. Finally we have decidedto go ahead with it,” Nihalani told PTI.

        • To be honest much as I love Ardh Satya, this doesn’t get me all that thrilled, and for a number of reasons. First off and most obviously it seems a bit late in the day for an Ardh Satya sequel! The film really was at its time rather important and obviously a very influential work but to retread this territory today seems a bit redundant. Leaving this aside, Nihalani’s film really is perfect in terms of the ending and the totality of the statement the film makes about its character and its world. An extension risks being superfluous. Above all, Nihalani simply isn’t the filmmaker he was back then. Dev is something of an exception but even that film I wouldn’t place with some of his greatest works during his peak phase.

          Having said all this, I’m happy to be surprised. In a piece I wrote on Gulzar’s two films Mausam and Hu Tu Tu I mentioned certain political and personal ideas I think he addressed in both films and how these evolved over the 25 year gap between the works. The success of an Ardh Satya sequel really hinges on Nihalani thinking things through in this way. Not simply picking up where the character left off but really seeing how the world has changed since then and how Nihalani’s own ideas about urban life, and about corruption–both political and personal–have developed.

          • This was a very fine comment Gf. Can’t disagree with anything here. Btw what did u think of Vijeta and Drohkaal? The latter esp has a fantastic Ashish Vidyarthi performance. Even Ardha Satya has a criminally ignored act by Sadashiv Omrapurkar as Rama Shetty- easily his best

    • Thanks much Rajen Sir. Agreed on the ‘heartfelt’ bit (can’t say abt the rest) and that’s because the Hindi films too of those times (even the mediocre ones), unlike now, had a ‘beating heart’

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