Friday, January 31, 2014

Junoon as Rebellion and Defeat Part III: Benegal's Junoon (1978)

This is one of those films that I might not have sought out so early in my filmi watching if not for The Shashi. I usually seek out the entertaining over the thought provoking, but I watched it last summer after getting sucked in by the opening qawwali on YouTube, after which I had to track down a copy. If you'd rather read some intelligent reviews, look here:
*From a Shabana fan 
*From a Shashi fan

If you want to hear more about the political and theoretical ramifications of the film from someone far more informed than I, look here.

Look here for a taste of the various obsessions from the film . . . for there are many . . . as befitting the promise of the title. 


Shabana Begum really wants some marital frolics from Shashi as the the grumpy Nawab. . .


Shashi the grumpy Nawab wants Nafisa the Anglo-Indian he has placed "under his protection" . . . 


Nafisa the Anglo-Indian just wants to be a bonnetted little girl forever and have fun . . .


Nafisa's mother, Jennifer (Mrs. Shashi Kapoor IRL) just wants to keep her daughter un(force)married and alive: 


Naseeruddin Shah's bearded revolutionary wants India to be for Indians. . . 


And I'm pretty sure this fellow (yes, it is Rajesh Vivek from Lagaan) just wants to wander around and have Faqir fits according to his own discretion:


So, it's no secret that I've been focusing on the word/theme of "junoon" this fine January. And not subtly, I am wrapping up with the "original" Junoon--the film that inspired it all.



I love that this story is a commentary on both political and interpersonal relations--something that Dil Se (1998) and Senso (1954) and I'm sure a whole lot of other films about romantic obsession do as well.



I also love that this film doesn't feel the need to tell you what to think. You're plunked into the middle of two family's lives during the 1857 Rebellion against British rule . . . and instead of spending a lot of time in the broader tempest of colonist/Indian relations, you find yourself in a queer calm; an eye of the storm in the midst of the outer madness.



You wonder whether the Nawab wanting a British "woman" is supposed to be a metaphor. You wonder if the British woman/women "using" the Nawab temporarily for survival reasons is meant to be symbolic. You wonder if the fact that no one who wants something intangible (like an object of passion, a way of life, freedom from oppression) gets what they want in the end . . . if that fact is supposed to say something universal about the human condition.



But I especially wonder about the Nawab--the central, yet most ambiguous character of the story--and whether his actions or his inaction(s) speak better for his inner character. He is neither savage enough to take what he wants, nor loyal enough to be content with what he already has, nor clever enough to think up a way to change the game in his favor . . . which makes me ask, "Is his junoon is his best quality or his worst?" And I don't think I'll ever know. Perhaps it is both/and. Perhaps it very like the way a rebellion or revolution can be both a country's greatest achievement, and its' greatest tragedy. Perhaps. Or perhaps he is just a stand-in symbol for a movement, a mission, a passion that is not willing to do what it takes to win all. And if that is the case, his problem is not in his obsession, per say, but in the limits of his obsession.

And a junoon that is not willing to die, to be extinguished, to be lost forever in its object, can it truly be called junoon at all?




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