Notes on Gulal

Posted on February 10, 2011


The film didn’t really work for me. Maybe I never expected Kashyap to be so deadly earnest. Maybe I was put off by the unbearable awkwardness of the male and female lead. Maybe KK Menon needs a new hairstyle and a quiet role.

This is a Shakespearean drama played out in the dilapidated havelis of Rajasthan — the scheming bastard children, the old family, the mad fool, the courtesan, the power struggle, the rousing rhetoric, the intrigues, and the sudden brutal deaths. But Kashyap is unable to beat all these intriguing elements into a narrative — or if he decided to forgo the narrative, the abandonment is not complete. He is clearing groping for some kind of plot development that will lead to the pre-destined end.

The interesting bits are what lies on the margins. Mahi Gill’s courtesan, for example. Mahi nails the character and her question to Bhatti regarding her resemblance to Tabu was priceless. A master-servant relationship that is based on profound trust and respect. The totally random Ardhnarishwar hinting at the power and madness of it all. The recklessness of Ransa that borders of self-flagellation. Of course, one cannot mention Gulal and not mention the writing and the music — both hit you like a sledgehammer, which is a good thing.

Regarding the message, well, to me, the political cynicism was piled on the material and not fused with the material. Plus, because political cynicism is such a favourite Indian pastime, the film does not really get us to think or denounce or shake our head in disbelief as the reviewers would have us believe.

This could have been a tight, well-developed Machiavellian story with great characters and details but Kashyap squanders it away trying to capture and bring to focus that which should have been between the lines and on the margins.

PS: The poster reminds me of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

Posted in: Reviews