DHANAK THE FILM- ROAD TRIP TO RURAL RAJASTHAN!

Dialogue from Dhanak, the film by Nagesh Kukunoor,

“अब हम साथ में धनक देखेंगे, रात वाला धनक!”

(Now we will see the rainbow together. The rainbow which appears in the night, that is!)

There are noisy big budget Bollywood films and then there are those Bollywood films which release without making much noise, touch the lives of those who appreciate good cinema and remain etched in their memory forever. I prefer the latter.

I went to watch Dhanak with zero expectations. After a sluggish beginning, the film surprised me with its riveting narrative and stellar performances by the kids. The film turned out to be a road movie (of a different kind!)

The story line is simple. A village girl fails her exams on purpose so that she can study with her visually impaired brother. The boy is a fan of Bollywood star Salman Khan while the girl is a fan of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Both are Bollywood megastars and apparently rivals. When news spreads that Shahrukh Khan is shooting in nearby Jaisalmer, the girl gets excited. The excitement is less of a fan girl excitement but of the hope that the megastar may help her cure her brother. Earlier in film, she sees him promoting eye donation on posters.

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Watch Dhanak, the film, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor on DVD. (Pic Credit: Drishyam Films)

What ensues is an epic road journey from the nondescript village (Dhani) near Jaitaran to the touristy Jaisalmer and beyond. Dhani (Remember Chowki Dhani?) are the cluster of huts in rural Rajasthan, the residents of which either belong to same caste or family tree or both. The opening sequences slowly revealed the life in a hut in distant Rajasthan through its characters. Sleeping under stars in desert (The quintessential Rajasthan Package for the urban) is an everyday reality here. I wanted to jump into the screen as the wicked aunt cooks Bajra Roti on a wood fired mud oven and the uncle smokes a hukkah.

The kids are rebellious and confidently embark on the journey in the ‘veerana’ (uninhabited lands) all by themselves. What happens next is very relatable to me as a traveler. I have always found the rural Rajasthan more charming than the Rajasthan one sees in brochures. The hospitality, the food, the people in Rajasthan just win your heart. I have found the roads in the hinterlands of Rajasthan to be baby bottom smooth as was also evident in the movie.

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Khichan in Rajasthan was the most memorable part of my road trip to Rural Rajasthan

Having exhausted all their water, the kid bump into a truck driver and ask him for water. Amused by their banter and boy’s dramatic “I am going to die soon.” (he repeats that almost every half an hour), the driver interrupts his siesta and offers them a ride till Garnia naka. He also offers them Amdavadi farsaan (Gujarat shares border with Rajasthan and the influences overlap). The scene was totally believable as I have experienced such goodness on the roads of Rajasthan.

Music and food are important to me when I travel. As they waited for a bus, a ‘saadi ka tractor’ (Tractor carrying wedding attendees) stops. The drunk man in tractor and the little boy indulge in magical jugalbandi. The silence of the desert was broken with the echoes of their mehendi rang lago’ It was melodious and smelt of Rajasthani soil.

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Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan. Why I love rural Rajasthan!

The man offers them a ride, food and an overnight stay. The next day, they leave for Jodhpur sitting atop a jeep. I remember hanging on to the rear of such jeeps in rural Gujarat and feared for my dear life. They end up in a God women ‘Mamtamayi’ Sheera mata’s darbar. The enticing smell of sheera (aka halwa) and poori (fried bread) tempts the boy and they end up missing the bus since they queued up for the food. I have missed some buses in rural and remote areas only so that I could eat more. At other times, I have almost missed my trains and buses because I tend to walk a bit far in search of interesting food during breaks.

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHEN I WAS STRANDED IN RURAL GUJARAT IN PITCH DARK

While walking from Lohawat to Jodhpur, they bump into an American. When the American starts singing “All I am saying is, let’s give love a chance” the kid spices it up with a rustic version of ‘damadar mast kalandar’.  It was one of my favourite moment of the film. The jugalbandi ended with the echo of a peacock in the background. In my road trip to rural Rajasthan, I was amused to see hundreds of peacocks on either sides of the road, sometimes even sitting on the paan shops.

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Camels at Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan

The kids meanwhile get kidnapped and then rescued by a ‘banjara’ (nomad) women. Good opportunity to weave in a kalbelia dance performance! The kidnap and rescue was a bit simplistic and so was Shah Rukh Khan rescuing the dehydrated duo later from the desert and sponsoring the boy’s eye operation.

The film ends with the boy getting his vision back and with this heart warming song :

ख्वाबों में अपने तू,

घुल कर खो जा रे

पलकों पे सपने

मल कर सो जा रे

होगी फिर महक तेरे हाथो में

और देखेगा धनक तू रातों में!

 (Get lost in your dreams,

Rub the dreams on your eyelids and go to sleep.

You will discover sweet smell in your hands then,

And you will see a rainbow in the night!)

 

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My picture of Om Banna Temple in rural Rajasthan. They worship motorcycle here! It was shown in the film Dhanak, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

Ecstatic to see the sand falling from his hand the boy says, “isn’t it all beautiful?” The sister says, “Yes, everything is beautiful!”

I have noted down the names of the village so that I can make a journey or maybe even follow their trail. The visuals in the film for sure made me want to take this road trip.

Their route (From what I could construct) was:

A dhani near Jaitaran – Lohawat – Jemla Bus Stop – Om Banna Temple – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer.

 

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Dhanak, the film is directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (Pic credit: Drishyam Films)

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel : One of the finest travel movies!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (For the elderly and the beautiful) is a heartwarming coming of age tale about 7 English retirees rediscovering themselves and reinventing their lives in an alien land they know zilch about, India, that is. They find the answers to their problems and miseries in an nation which is far from being perfect.

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All the seven have 7 different problems to grapple with, such as Muriel dealing with India and ensuring her hip replacement is done by an ‘English doctor’. Evelyn (played superbly by Judi Dench) deals with the loss of her husband and tries to find a job in Indian call centre. Graham is in search of his gay lover (‘I am gay, more in theory than in practical”, he announces). Douglas and Jean try hard to give their marriage a last chance. Madge is hunting down a rich guy to hook up with, and all Grandfatherly Norman wants is free sex, everytime, everywhere.

337c6ca00545ad43c47f44575abbc2c1How these stories intermingle with each other and how everyone gets their ‘nirvana’ in India is something to watch out for. They all are lured to ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ near Jaipur on seeing an online ‘photoshopped’ profile of the same hotel. When they actually turn up, all they get is a still under renovation hotel (far from being exotic) with pigeons, cockroaches, leaking taps and doorless rooms (“doors coming soon”, the manager tries to pacify). The hotel is managed by Sunny(Dev Patel).

Performances and the dialogues (the witty repartees between characters and the profound ones, both) are the strength of this film. The theatre and film veteran Judi Dench was the only superstar in the film and for a good reason. She rises above the script and lends the predictable film a credibility with her nuanced and understated performance. Norman (Ronald Pickup) plays the Casanova at 60 with aplomb. He visits sexologists, practices Kamasutra poses and finally hooks up. When asked “Aren’t you afraid of the perils of having sex at your age?” He retorts back smartly, “Well, if she dies, she dies!”

The-Second-Best-Exotic-Marigold-Hotel

But my favourite is Muriel (‘lived’ by Maggie Smith), who is the most ‘SCARED’ of India (‘Indians roam in packs!’, she said) and hates all things Indian. After braving her first few days in India, she announces, “I am in hell!” And when offered an ‘Aaloo ka paratha’, she TGEMHrefuses with a grimace saying,” If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.” Later in the film, she has a heart of change and finds the purpose of her life in India and moves on from her tumultuous past. Dev Patel(Slumdog fame) irritates with his overenthusiastic antics and goofy ways. But then it’s his success with acting; his character was meant to be ‘insane’, over the top and irritating. His relationship with his mommy is interesting, played superbly by charismatic (and my fav) Lilette Dubey. His passion for this hotel (which Mommyji is hell bent on selling) is apparent in the dialogue, “I have a dream Mommyji. To create a home for the elderly, so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.”

The film threatens to be predictable and to reiterate the clichés associated with an India as perceived by westerners. But it works bigtime, despite a predictable denouement and Body-28clichés such as crowds, poverty, untouchability, camels and elephants et al. The Incredible India first shocks, confuses, overwhelmes the characters but they soon adapt to the quirky and maddening ways of this extraordinary country. Usually most foreign director(Danny Boyle included, Oscars be damned!) exhibit utter lack of understanding when they portray India. No wonder I was appalled to see Kolkata in a poor light in The Avengers. John Madden (The director of Shakespeare in Love) has tried his best to be true to different aspects of the India, the land of baffling contradictions.
The movie gets philosophical in the end but still it doesn’t lose its vivre de joie and the light heartedness.It’s somewhat reminiscent of the film Eat Pray Love but with multiple characters. It will make you laugh and it will make your eyes well up. It will get you in touch with your human side. It makes you look at the vulnerability of human life sans being too serious. It’s the tugging at heart human stories told with great craftsmanship which works here. And the movie ends with all characters almost finding the answers to their dilemmas and inner demons. As Dev Patel says in the movie, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

Do see this feel good, slice of life film today. And yes, it’s worth a repeat watch.

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