A Hussain who does not bother about an audience is not the Hussain we know. And, for sure, Gaja Gamini is a bomb
Review of Gaja Gamini
A brick wall stands alone in space. A painter stops by. He draws an image of a woman. The woman springs alive. She starts walking, in time and space. What results is Gaja Gamini, painter Maqbool Fida Hussain’s jerky brush with cinema.
The lady arrives at the Benaras ghats furiously pursued by her two lovers—the carnal lord Kam Dev and the painter Leonardo Da Vinci. If that’s bizarre, we also have the poet Kalidas and the scientist C. V. Raman, on this mission of marking the divide between illusion and reality—well on not that grand a mission actually, it’s just about Gaja Gamini’s presence and absence.
The 80-year-old painter goes berserk in his first attempt at handling celluloid. The flamboyant artist, whose words have occasionally to be taken with moderate amounts of salt, says the film was inspired by his unabashed infatuation for Bombay’s curvaceous Madhuri Dixit, now sadly Mrs Nene. According to Hussain, it took him 60 years to make the 120-minute film, half of that spent waiting for Gaja Gamini to turn up. The film, he said while in Calcutta for the premiere showing, is a tribute to “the woman who gave birth to me, to the woman I lived with, and to the woman who lives in my works”. Well, good enough, but the Calcutta audience did not get similarly inspired.
Gaja Gamini has it all, a feel-good operatic setting designed by Shar-mistha Roy, stirring music of Bhupen Hazarika, some fine camerawork by Ashok Mehta, and Madhuri Dixit’s tooth-paste smile. And yet it does not work, as mainstream, alternative or avant garde cinema, which means a good opportunity lost in trying to sensitise the South Asian masses (yes, beyond India as well) to the possibilities of film. For no other vehicle was better than one with superstars Madhuri, and Shah Rukh Khan thrown in for good measure.
The grandiosity of the venture reminds one of Peter Brook’s staging of Mahabharata, but Gaja Gamini falls flat. The man who has made his millions drawing horses in varying poses, however, is unrepentant. “I didn’t expect Gaja Gamini to run for more than four days, but surprisingly it is running for the fifth week in New Delhi. I am least bothered about its acceptance and its box office success. I have not done it for money, as my horses are still powerful.”
Which is a trifle fanciful, for a Hussain who does not bother about an audience is not the Hussain we know.
Friend Mrinal Sen, director of some repute, tries to say it without saying it: “I shall not call this a film, nor shall I call it a variant of it. Watching it and blissfully surviving, I prefer to call it an audio-visual wonder that lasts 120 minutes.” When pressed, Sen replies, “It is
an illogical extension of cinema though Hussain calls it a logical extension of painting.” High praise or disguised pan? Elsewhere, Sen said as elliptically, “I shall ask the viewers to save their visual
What Hussain would like us to believe is that Gaja Gamini is a portrait of the power and mystery of Indian womanhood. She is the bridge between the past and the future, she is all of them—Sangeeta, Shakuntala, Monica and Mona Lisa. She goes to meet other women made famous by their creators—Premchand’s Nirmala, Tagore’s Abhisarika, Manto’s Sindhu and Noorbibi of Satara. And when these women meet, the occasion turns into a dialogue of silence, in which one cannot hear their voices. They march silently in protest in a display of feminine shakti.
Meanwhile, Kalidas goes to the Kerala jungles to create his legendary character, Shakuntala. She falls in love with a Victorian prince and finally emerges in the new-age avatar of Monica splendidly dressed in blue, waiting for her photojournalist lover (played by Shah Rukh). The lover goes away on a war assignment, and Gaja Gamini is left alone. Only the brick wall remains.
The movie is a visual wonder, no doubt. And the acting is fairly adequate. But Gaja Gamini does not have the cinematic worth, say, of another artist’s tryst with celluloid, Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou. Most bitterly, Madhuri Dixit fails to capture that hidden sensuality that Hussain claims the Indian women have and which he asserts are to be found in the actress in abundance.
Hussain gives a parting shot to the questioning reviewer: “The film is like a long painting. Either you like it, or you hate it. When Picasso painted Guernica many rubbished it and many hailed it as a masterpiece.”