Painter M.F. Hussain´s Gaja Gamini is not a film for everyone. The few who see the film will hate it, and even fewer will understand it. Many critics have deemed this film as "a waste of precious celluloid". I challange these so-called critics and vierwers to find one film that has been as finely executed as Gaja Gamini. Though confusing at times, the film has a deep central message, with good music and fantastic visuals. Every scene is well planned and executed by first-time director M.F. Hussain. In today´s times, a film like Gaja Gamini is very rare. With hardly any mass appeal, besides a stunning Madhuri Dixit and a guest appearance by Shah Rukh Khan (Who appears in a confusing portion of the film as himself), this film spelled instant doom at the box office. Even in limited release, the film has barely managed decent opening day collections. With these facts in mind, I approached the newly released DVD (an excellent one by Yash Raj Home Entertainment) with caution and extremely low expectations.
I was pleasantly surprised by a film that doesn´t always make sense, but portrays a novel idea in a time when brainless action films or cliched romances plague the industry.
Made in a mold very similar to that of V. Shantaram´s films (Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Jal Bin Machchli Mrityu Bin Bijli), Gaja Gamini is a timeless film that explores the woman. The central figure of the film is represented by a mysterious figure called "Gaja Gamini" (Madhuri Dixit), who inspires, arouses, and confuses the common man. "Gaja Gamini" is the inspiration behind Leonardo Da Vinci´s (Naseerruddin Shah) ´Mona Lisa´, Kalidas´ poem "Shakuntala", and photojournalist Shah Rukh´s (As himself) photographs. The myseterious "Gaja Gamini" appears as four characters, one of them being Sangeeta, a blind girl from Banaras at the beginning of time, who inspires village women (Farida Jalal, Shilpa Shirodkar, and Shabana Aazmi) to revolt against a male-dominated system and carve a niche for women forever. Another character is Shakuntala, who is the subject of Kalidas´ poem of the same name. Shakuntala incites jealousy in the women and love in the men around her, charming humans and animals alike in the forests of Kerela. "Gaja Gamini" is also Mona Lisa during the Rennaissance, the object of painter Leonardo Da Vinci´s obsession. Finally, Monika, the most confusing sector of the film, is supposed to represent the woman of the New Millenium. Kamdev, the God of Love (Inder Kumar, in a fine breakthrough performance as a hero), walks the earth throughout history, attempting to win the love of "Gaja Gamini", with whom he is in love.
Thrown in to this mix is a large black wall, separating two different time periods, and confrontations between Science (Ashish Vidyarthi) and Art (Mohan Aghashe) at different points in history, showing that the world itself can change, but it´s original ideas will always be permanent. For example, a play by Shakespeare can be written in the 15th Century and performed by actors of that time. The same play will still be performed in the 21st Century, but with different actors. The confrontations between Art and Science also bring about the idea that while Science is firmly set on believing that which can only be proved, the basis for Art is that which can be proved, and an intuitive sense that can be felt. Science uses the brain, while Art uses the brain and the heart. Another interesting facet of the film is a ghatri, a small bundle which a woman carries upon her head, like a burden, with which she must walk forever.
M.F. Hussain tries very hard to incorporate several themes in this Ode to Women, but ties these themes together in a fashion that can be confusing to the viewer at times. Of course, the beholder can not exactly interpert the intentions of the artist, but upon watching Gaja Gamini, certain scenes completely flew over my head. For example, I still do not fully understand the point of having characters like Phoolvaliyah, a flower girl who, on the outside, is a happy person, but on the inside is out to avenge the murder of her husband, or Sindu (Shilpa Shirodkar), a firebrand who attempts to destroy everything that irritates her. Even the character of Nirmala (Shabana Aazmi) is a mystery. Maybe watching the film a few more times will clear up some of the mystery.
The film contains an excellent performance by Madhuri Dixit. Her looks, dances, expressions, etc. are excellent, confirming her number one status in the industry. After watching her in Gaja Gamini, I´m completely shocked that an actress as graceful and talented as Madhuri Dixit could be mentioned in the same sentence as newer girls like Aishwarya Rai -- girls who are beautiful, no doubt, but have not one iota of the talent or charm of Madhuri. To say that Aishwarya has dethroned Madhuri is a joke in itself. She looks spectacular throughout the film, especially in the sequence in which she appears as Monika, in a beautiful blue dress. Inder Kumar looks handsome and confindent, and supports well as Kamdev, Gaja Gamini´s eternal lover. Naserruddin Shah also gives an excellent performance. The supporting cast consisting of Shah Rukh Khan, Farida Jalal, Shilpa Shirodkar, Shabana Aazmi, Mohan Aagashe, and Aashish Vidyarthi is very good. It is a real pity that their characters are an enigma to me.
The sets of Gaja Gamini are spectacular as well. The film was made on a very low budget, and while the sets are obviously constructed in a studio, the visuals are eye-catching and quite nice. The jungles of Kerela have especially been given good treatment. Each section of the film has a different color. For example, the entire section taking place in Benares is gold, with splashes of yellow thrown in. The sets, costumes and colors are all golden or yellow. The color of the section of the film that takes place in the jungles of Kerela are various hues of green. The small budget on which the film was made was used with intelligence.
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika´s music takes a while to grow on you, and while the other songs are strictly meant to be enjoyed on screen, the two best numbers of the film are "Meri Payal Bole Cham Cham" by Kavita Krishnamurty, and "Do Sadiyon Ke Sangam Par", a nice duet picturized on Madhuri and Shah Rukh Khan. Special mention must be given to Saroj Khan´s excellent choreography, which is just superb. The film has lots of dances in it, and each dance is handled very well, especially Madhuri´s excellently choreographed number "Meri Payal Bole". Saroj Khan´s work in Gaja Gamini will definitely win awards for choreography, blending traditional and classical dances with modern stuff.
M.F. Hussain has achieved his goal -- to an extent. The film has portrayed the essence of a woman accurately, but about 1/4 of the film is an enigma to this viewer. To enjoy the film, one must watch carefully, and understand the excellent hindi dialogues involved. Much of the film´s idea is portrayed with symbols that are often very subtle. With all of it´s complexities and flaws, Gaja Gamini is indeed a beautiful painting on celluloid, which, sadly, has hardly any audience. Whatever audience was excited by the film was no doubt scared away by mindless critics who didn´t take the time to interpert and assess the film. The film was set to bomb at the box office on day one. With no set plot or screenplay, the film is a different experience that few will enjoy. If you like something intelligent, artistic and complex, watch Gaja Gamini and try to fathom the mind of M.F. Hussain. If not, stay far away from Gaja Gamini.
I leave my readers with this thought. Every year, people cry for a refreshing or different film, and every year, I see beautiful cinema ripped to shreds because it strays from commercial bounds. As long as we have critics who praise banal and hackneyed films like Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega and Champion, we´ll have more and more regressive films release every year. This is the reason for the ultra-slow progress of Bollywood in making a mark with audiences over the world. Out of the hundreds of films releasing every year, very few stray from the formula, and those very films are abandoned and ignored. Gaja Gamini is a film that dared to stray, and was greeted with empty cinema halls and bad reviews from clueless critics. Gaja Gamin is not a bad film... just different.