Rajanna (Naseeruddin Shah) has just moved to the city with his wife Gauri (Deepti Naval) and is looking for a house.He has dreams of living a life of marital bliss away from the prying eyes of his relatives.Like any educated young village dweller he has been seduced by the glamour of the big city.He works as a supervisor in a MNC called S&W which manufactures bulldozers. He prefers woking as a crane operator on the assembly line than as a farmer which for him is back breaking work.
Rajanna finally manages to find a house.After moving in they discover it has a huge cast iron bed fitted with kinky mirrors which eventually turns almost into a cage.It creaks a bit when they make love but in a big city nobody notices or cares.He has been helped in securing the house from a suspicious moneylender landlord with the influence of his aunt (Rohini Hattangady) who is an old-timer in the city.She is old, attractive and has been deserted by her husband long ago.She lives in a comfortable house and has a steady stream of male visitors which even in a big city is enough to set tongues wagging. Rajanna uses her but warns Gauri to stay away from her as she may be a bad influence.
The contradictions are clear both within Rajanna and in the city.Nothing is what it appears to be. Their urban utopia does not last long and soon a group of mysterious faceless men arrive to reopen a noisy metal workshop in the adjoining shed.With this evaporate all hopes of peace and their life descends into a hell of cacophony and bickering.Again the help of auntie is sought with much reluctance, when they arrive at her house there is a police inspector lounging around in night-clothes which upsets Rajanna, but he plays along.
Rajanna, Gauri and Auntie are placed on a continuum with Rajanna being the weak, disgruntled, confused and disoriented immigrant and Auntie being the suave urbane surviver who lives by her own rules.Gauri is trying to navigate the murky waters with her sensitivity and humanity intact.Perhaps she will toughen up with time and Rajanna will implode into a mental wreck going by the trajectory of their characters.In 1991 India was on the cusp of an economic and consequently a social revolution which must have frightened most men and confused an equal number of women.By the end Gauri is an articulate woman, no longer in her husbands shadow and reasons with him with a confidence and clarity of thought that rattles Rajanna.
The film is meticulously constructed and crafted, it follows a dual color pattern of mostly blue punctuated with yellow.There is a near complete absence of green which is what Rajanna has left behind.When he and Gauri decide to take a walk, it is at night and the trees appear more like concrete pillars, lit by harsh street light.The use of yellow is most interesting, Auntie wears yellow saris, a stack of cascading yellow drums nearly crush Rajanna in a narrow by lane, he nearly hand-paints his house yellow with yellow turmeric in a most harrowing sequence to drive out red ants and finally when he has broken down mentally is seen in a yellow shirt.The video game parlor owner is also wearing in a yellow jacket when he shows Rajanna around in his psychedelic den.Gauri by contrast never wears yellow.
The compositions are precise and inspired by the 17th century Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer who made very few paintings all of which are masterpieces. It tempting to call some sequences Kafkaesque but why credit him with Mr Kasaravalli’s creativity and sensitivity so lets call the shots of dumbbells gently moving on their own, Kasaravalliesque. Perhaps the film draws from personal experience, where Mr Kasaravalli’s charming house stands in Bangalore today was once a quiet, leafy residential area but is now a noisy polluted thoroughfare.The background score by L. Vaidyanathan mixed with the noise of the city creates a perfect mood of peace lost forever.
Rajanna’s pride in working for a MNC is part of the craze for high paying private sector jobs that gripped India after the late 1980‘s.No longer was a government job the ultimate status symbol and eschewing the security if offered was part of a new-found confidence.Mr Kasaravalli’s films are always a part of the dialogue in society and there are definite echoes of the destruction that the private sector can unleash as epitomized in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, in this film.More sinister is the partnership between the private sector and the government in subverting the interests of the poor, a problem which is getting exacerbated every day in present times.While a transition to a market led economy may be inevitable, the social cost that must be paid is depicted here very artfully.The character of the young yuppie video game parlor owner is almost a caricature of Rajiv Gandhi who found himself running the country despite being grossly unqualified to do so.
Although the film met with tepid critical response in India it was very well received at film festivals abroad.It is the only film Mr Kasaravalli made simultaneously in Hindi and Kannada and this gives a great opportunity for wider audiences to appreciate this landmark film.The director has stated that he may have been better off casting Kannadiga actors but the trio of Shah, Naval and Hattangadi deliver very solid performances and are likely to add significantly to the viewing experience of the Hindi speaking audience. This is clearly a film leagues ahead of its time but with its release on DVD as part of NFDC’s Cinemas of India Series, its time has certainly come!