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A 2003 multistarrer that is a mad feminist indulgence in some crazy nostalgia, go watch Pran Jaaye Par Chawl… err… Shaan Na Jaaye!
I belong to a generation that likes to indulge in nostalgia, often lamenting on how ‘kids’ these days would never be able to experience the kind of ‘innocence’ we grew up with. By “we” I mean the ‘You knew you grew up in 90s when,…’ Facebook-page-identifiers.
We have had our shares of Vengaboys, and Indipops and Hera Pheris, and Ajay Jadejas, all of whom we especially like to think of with a faraway (and idiotic) smile, and possibly a choked up throat. Even a Gunda finds itself a secure position in our nostalgia den. We lose any sense of criticism, and bring out reserves of good-natured tolerance to everything tacky, that we did not even know we possessed.
Some movies make you happy, some make you sad. Hell, there are some very smart ones that even make you think! But then, a movie like ‘Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaaye’, oh yes, that forgotten gem from 2003, with a ‘multi-starrer’ cast, and a feminism-meets-socialism-to-produce-a-musical-all-in-a-single-ecosystem-like-chawl, does all this and so much more.
This film begins with a Big Bachchan-sounding person reading out the message saying the film is dedicated to all the middle class people in our country, who face all adversities with a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts, and then moves to flash a bulb, and then a Zee Horror show-ish skull before blasting it right into our faces. Yeah baby, you trust them when they tell you they are ‘Mindblowing Movies’, and what they will present will simply speaking, blow your mind.
Pran Jaaye… is set in a chawl in Bombay/Bambai/Mumbai, as the first and later replaced by Sushmita Sen (playing herself), the narrator tells us. We are shown disturbing images, like a cat gnawing at the intestines of a dead dog, and we wonder if this image is symbolic of the movie that is to follow, the producer and the directors gnawing at the brains and hearts of their dead audience.
But just then, we cut to what has to be the human beings populating the chawl as they mourn the dry taps in their vicinity. Suddenly, there is a trickle and we cut into a modern day adaptation of Lagaan’s Ghanan Ghanan. Bas bhar jaaye ghagariya, bas bhar jaaye ghagariya, we sing along too, as all the ladies and gentlemen in the crowd groove to one verse each of the modern ‘tap’ dance song. And here, we stop and notice these men and women, most of whom we have grown seeing over the years.
Ex Miss India Namrata Shirodkar – who we later on are told in hushed gossipy voices, works as a t’ch t’ch, dhanda karnewaali aka prostitute, whose heart beats for a BA fail flute player – prances around in a freshly starched white kurta with freshly blow dried hair, and we are amazed at her resourcefulness. Of course, if you are to be the face of the chawl, you better make that face look good.
Then there is Raveena Tandon – the woman with her yellow saree drenched sexiness can still make many a men, errr, tip tip barsaofy a different kind of pani – play a coy and yet spirited housewife who longs to have a child of her own, but is saddled with a loser husband who cannot afford the operation that would facilitate the child’s conception.
There is Divya Dutta too, who complains about her mother in law feasting over the milk she buys for her young school going and future feminist daughters, and trying to get on with a drunkard horny husband. There is another horny husband too. Sayaji Shinde whose wife is the tall and sultry and supermodel-ish Shwetha Menon playing another average chawl housewife.
Then there is a geeky Diya Mirza who has the hots for a boy named Michael who doesn’t like her. Shweta Menon’s father is played by ACP Pradyuman in what was possibly his past life. In this life, he sings songs like Chaali humko jaan se pyaari hai (to be sang in Roza song Bharat humko jaanse pyaara hai), and then challenging the local villain Popatlal Chu…nnilal Garodiya’s grandson played by the generally genial Sachin Khedekar, who wants to, who wants to, what? Oh child, what else. Demolish the chawl and build something big and fancy.
The spirited chawl folk drive him away and also his other rented villains. Socialism is powerful, and socialism is unity. We learn this lesson, as we hoot for this coterie.
Somewhere through this mess there is Mr Aman Yatin Verma, the chikna TV regular a lot of us 90s kids would be able to identify. He enters the chawl to write a thesis on the chawl people, and you wonder, that when and if you do decide to enrol for that Phd, if this is the precise subject for you.
Just when you see him going all Munnabhai on the chawl residents, a Namak Haraam-ish shockkking twist is pulled off. But by now, our chawl folk have only grown stronger. They have also managed to give our Vibhishan Verma a change of heart. More power to socialism and more power to feminism too, as all our exploited women turn the tables on the exploiting men, questioning and challenging them. A prostitute is given the due respect she deserves. A drunk and good-for-nothing husband is brought back to his senses, and made aware of his false bravado. Go chawl-beating-feminists, like really go yeah.
And then there is a song for every occasion. And a dialogue for every philosophical quest your heart never went on.
How many of us really knew that mori mein nal naa hona (The absence of a tap inside a bathroom) is a reality and symbolic too. See, see what I mean?
A dialogue-driven musical with strong socialist and feminist and sexist (yes feminism and sexism can co-exist) and many more -ist leanings, this is a movie that even jokes with a grave sense of social wisdom, “Agar Rupa ki banian pehnoge to Rupa kya pehnegi. Rupa banian kyo pehnegi, wo to bra pehnegi.” (If you wear Rupa’s banian, what will she wear? And why will Rupa wear a banian? She’ll wear a bra!)
And not to mention the poetry. Look past the chawl, look past the obvious, look past everything. This is not just a chawl. This is ‘The chawl of music’ , the ‘More Miserables’ and the ‘Chawlgirls’.
Writer and technologist currently based out of Bangalore
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