Thursday, August 13, 2015

Interview: Max Landis, screenwriter of the upcoming AMERICAN ULTRA, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN and CHRONICLE (2012)

Max Landis
It was the noon of March 2nd in 2012 that I watched “Chronicle”, the American science fiction thriller. A smart found footage film about three boys with sudden superpowers. In the bombardment of Super-men, Bat-men, Spider-men and Iron-Men it was a breather, a completely different take on the superpower genre. These high school boys get superpowers and get baffled. First they play with it and later the side effects play with them. Their carefree lives get over. It gets tragic. Most importantly, they don’t save or destroy the world as it’s always done in Hollywood. Since then I wanted to know the mind of its young screenwriter – Max Landis.


Over the weekend, he released the first four pages of the unmade “Fantastic Four” script of his, perhaps in context with the criticism surrounding the third “Fantastic Four” film (a reboot) directed by Josh Trank (director of “Chronicle”) which released on August 7. The film did miserably at the box office. Josh himself displayed his displeasure that this is not the film he set out to make. Soon after the release he tweeted, and deleted, “A year ago, I had a fantastic version of this. And it would have received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”Indirectly, he blamed the studio (Fox) for the final outcome.

Jesse Eisenberg in "American Ultra."
Now it is Max’s turn to face cinemas. On August 21st “American Ultra”, written by him, is releasing. It’s an action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg (the “The Social Network”guy who is playing super villain Lex Luther in the 2016 movie“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) and Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga). The story revolves around Mike who’s a stoner but in reality a mind-altered sleeper government operative. Deemed a liability he is to be killed but he’s way too high-trained for it. 


Then “Victor Frankenstein” is lined up. It is a modern adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein.” In the San Diego Comic Con last month (July) director Paul McGuigan said about Max, “What he did basically is, he cherry-picked all the good ideas from the movie, from the book itself and he’s created his own monster within that. He’s made the script which has Igor in it, and of course Igor was never in the book. It has these other little monsters that have never been in the film.” Daniel Radcliffe who is playing Igor in the film said, “…and I think it is unashamedly entertaining all the way through and exciting. The energy behind the film is from him.” 

The other main lead James McAvoy playing Victor Frankenstein commented at the Comic Con, “I think in Mary Shelley’s original, for me, there was something missing and I know it’s sacrilege for a lot of people who know the stuff... it’s an amazing book... a very important book, but for me Victor was obsessed and crazy because he was. I didn’t really see a reason in the story. What Max did, what you (Paul) did and what we’ve done together (with Daniel) is giving him a reason for being so bloody crazy and then not cure him of that half way through. In the book, he kind of like goes into the woods for 18 months of vacation and then comes and says let’s kill the monster, whereas in this we keep him mad all the way till the end. And I think it is truer to his trauma, his back story and who he is.” 

Max is also making his debut as a director with “Me Him Her” which is a comedy. It got premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in June. The release is awaited. One of Max’s scripts “Mr. Right” is in filming stage. It is a romantic action comedy which stars Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick and Tim Roth. This story is about a woman who’s unlucky in love. When she meets a perfect man, it turns out he’s a hitman.

Max is writing from the age of 18 as he comes from a film family. His father Jon Landis is a known director, writer and producer. His mother Deborah is a costume designer in Hollywood films and theater. On the day “Chronicle” released Max uploaded a short film “The Death and Return of Superman.” It was his perspective of the superhero. His friends and actors like Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings series) and Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible series) were seen acting in it. In March this year, Max released another short “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” on YouTube. Again several actors, his friends and wrestlers had cameos in the film. It follows the career of Triple H and talks about the nature of professional wrestling in a light-hearted yet analytical way. Max regularly creates stuff like this and comments on subjects like these.

He’s so passionate about comic books, superheroes, Hollywood and American soft culture. I asked him a few questions quite a while back including the status of “Chronicle-2” which he’s off now. He also talked about his perception of India, Bollywood and Indian mythological superheroes. Here it is:

Q. How is the script of “Chronicle 2” coming along? 
ML: Well, I've been off Chronicle 2, so it's hard to say. My original sequel followed a young couple; a punk, anarchist man, and his girlfriend, a troubled, mentally unstable girl who it was gradually revealed was a genius of the highest calibre. The couple, documenting themselves, were obsessed with the events of the first film; they even hacked the government servers, editing together and releasing online the film that we the audience know is Chronicle. They did this as a way to bait out of hiding Matt Garretty, the surviving member of the trio from the first movie, so as to attack and kill him for ideological (as well as painfully personal) reasons, using next-gen technology created by the genius girl. However, as their plan spiralled out of control, our hero Matt and his liaisons in the US Government found themselves in an increasingly difficult and violent series of confrontations with villains who we, the audience, cared so much about that we didn't really want to see either side win. 

But alas, I left Chronicle 2 after differences with the studio; they want to go a different way with the property, and I respect that. I also had other projects to tend to, as well as directing my first feature, so I couldn't continue to develop the script. 

Still, Chronicle was an amazing experience, and I'm thankful every day to the people who allowed it to happen.
Daniel and James in a still from "Victor Frankenstein."
Q. What other projects are you doing right now and how excited are you?
ML: HOW EXCITED!? CRAZY EXCITED. I've got a lot of things going at once, but as a screenwriter, it's hard to guarantee any of them. There are two I'll talk about though, and happily: Frankenstein (is expected to release in November), starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy, and directed by Paul McGuigan. It's an extremely different take on the story, and I'm very grateful to Fox for giving me the opportunity to tell it my way. That's what's great about iconic stories; ultimately I think all you need are the touch stones, and the rest becomes up to the interpretation of time and the storyteller. I have finished editing on my first directorial project (Me Him Her). I also wrote it, but even so, the plot is kind of hard to describe. It's mainly a movie about identity; it's a comedy, but that doesn't really peg how weirdly intense and hyperactive of an experience I want the film to be. It's almost kind of Bollywood, actually; there's a surreal, larger than life quality that I associate with Eastern films. It's not often you see a Western romantic comedy that ends in a big swordfight. 

Directing a film was a bizarre experience for me; I'd imagine it's how a musician might feel on stage in front of thousands playing a hit song. Even if the movie isn't a hit or even is just completely terrible, on set I had this amazingly active feeling of creation; like I was painting or drawing or some other fine art with measurable lines and colour. I felt constantly stimulated by every choice, and kept finding myself going back and tweaking dialogue and changing things so that they flowed better, it was like writing live for an audience and there's absolutely no feeling I've ever had that can compete with that.

Q. How long did it take to write the script of “Chronicle” way back? What was the process like?
ML: It was actually extraordinarily quick; a little less than three weeks to write the first draft, two months till it sold, four months of development and six months of production, I believe. Trying to explain the process of development would be very difficult for me to do in any kind of concise way, because, while it has its purpose, the “rules” behind it are often arbitrary and unique to the situation. I got into the project because my friend Josh Trank pitched me the very basics of the first act and a half of the movie as it stands; I was enamoured by the idea of it and decided to make it a more tragic, darker story focusing on an antihero character.

Q. Which is your favorite superhero movie?
ML: I would have to say Spider-Man 2. Of all the superhero movies that exist, it most perfectly executes what has made the superhero it's about so iconic. The action, the story, the characters, the direction, the acting, the cinematography; everything is pulled off exactly right to create a movie that truly sings the idea of Spider-Man. It's bright, it's pop, it's fun, it catches you off guard with somber moments; everything the Spider-Man comics have always been about. Watching it was a thrilling experience for me.

Q. You are so critical and deconstructive of superhero movies, but at the same time crazily in love with them and seem mesmerized by them. How come the two personalities in you?
ML: I love mythological and character-based story-telling, so comics have always appealed me as a marriage of the two. I'm an escapist guy, so I look for compelling worlds, and hey, there's a lot of that in comics, too. That said, I'm an outspoken person; I've never been quiet about my opinions, and I will always call a spade a spade when I feel something isn't living up to what I want it to be. I never claim to be an oracle, or that my opinions are definitive. I just state them loudly, with confidence, because doing that, starting a discussion, makes me happy.

Q. Seeing your videos and public expressions, you seem to have a say on almost everything, then how come you've never spoken on political and social issues of your country?
ML: I do tend to stray slightly away from political and social issues in public, but as an American liberal, my cut and dry humanistic view of the world seems pretty rote to me. I don't think I have anything truly intelligent or new to say on the subject, beyond that I feel all humans deserve to be treated humanely, to have the same rights. I don't need to get on that soapbox; it's already much too crowded with smarter, less obnoxious, more eloquent persons than me. If you need a guy to pick apart a movie, or create a new one, or tell you a story, I'm here for that. But I don't know at this point that I'm ready to start acting like my hippy-dippy Californian “can't we just all be chill to each other” politics are unique enough to merit voicing loudly.

Q. You know in the newer editions of Comic book superhero movies, we have different villains with updated “criminal” images. Do you really think they are criminals? For instance, in Nolan's “The Dark Knight Rises” we have Bane and Talia al-Ghul which are identical with the “Occupy Movement.” In Sam Mendes' “Skyfall” we have Raoul Silva who can again be easily connected to Julian Assange. Who knows next we might see Edward Snowden as an antagonist. What is your take on this? If they are criminals then Superman in the last film “Man of Steel” hasn't killed less civilians either.
ML: Bane and Talia WEREN'T ultimately the Occupy movement, and I think that's kind of what killed them for me. They weren't really ultimately anything, other than “bad guys,” whose motivations of revenge felt tiny compared to the actions they took. Bane especially was hard for me to take, because, despite his silly look in the comics, he's probably my favourite Batman villain. He's presented as a massively intelligent, but more than that, incredibly CUNNING man, Batman's strategic cerebral equal. Imagine if Gus Fring from Breaking Bad could rip you in half with his bare hands, THAT'S the character. They turned him into this confusing, Welsh “bad-ass” who ultimately was basically a goon for Talia, and that hurt because I wanted so badly to see the real character. Imagine if at the end of Dark Knight they'd revealed Joker was just an actor hired by a more powerful mob boss. It confused me.

The same can be said of the VERY muddled motivations of Raoul Silva; he starts out as an Assange figure, but again, this is a phantom menace. He ultimately is just another psycho out for revenge. This is actually a theme in recent blockbusters; villains are presented as having some kind of topical or political motivation, but ultimately are reduced to “evil insane criminals” and their original, complex motives swept aside. Star Trek Into Darkness, A Good Day To Die Hard, Skyfall, Dark Knight Rises, and others; at first the villains are presented as having some kind of “ripped from the headlines” goal, which is dismissed in favour ultimately of evil laughter and shooting innocent people.

You could argue that all real world evil is ultimately like this; that it's a bunch of sound to mitigate a bunch of fury, and that ultimately the ideologies of people like Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler are really just psychotic ideation and the ranting of lunatics, but at least those people really did seem to believe their own nonsense. Every time a villain in a movie reveals that their complexity was just a ruse to hide how much they wanted to stab someone, it completely robs meaning from the conflict presented in the film.

“We're going to take over Gotham – for the people” became “we're going to blow it up with a nuclear bomb.” So quickly my head spun. And in doing so, I lost track of what was happening.

This happens because studios have this misguided desire to have “strong villain plots,” but ultimately the villain plots become too complex and you have a guy spouting Shakespeare in the first act and spitting and screaming in the third. It's a bad trend.

Q. Going by the law of the land, don't you think heroes and superheroes across the cinemas are criminals?
ML: Yes, very much so. That's one of the many things that's sexy about them.

Q. For American progeny, comic book characters and films might be the mythology and folk heritage. Have you heard of Indian mythological characters/heroes with extreme superpowers who are hundreds and millions of years old? (Like Lord Hanuman, Rama, Krishna, Bheema, Arjuna, Kumbhakarana and many-many more). What do you think of them? Can they be an exciting prospect for Indian and global audiences?
ML: I have of course! When I was young, I had all the comics, telling the story of Ganesha, all of that, people with blue skin. I think of course they're relevant, or could be made relevant to American cinema, but like everything else that gets adapted they'd have to be whittled down to their core elements. And with characters that precious to a culture, I worry that would be destructive.

Q. What interests you in life? What is your philosophy of living?
 ML: Experience. I constantly seek out new experiences, or at least, I try to live in a way that enables me to do this. I think of myself as an adventurer, and I crave adventure and exploration; not even physically, though that too, but mentally. I'm very much in the moment; I'd say my philosophy of living is “The more things you say you won't do, the more things you don't end up doing.” 

I feel like that's a terrible answer, though. I often feel as though I'm not as smart as people seem to think I am, if only because I can't instantly produce an eloquent answer to a question like this. Like there will be occasional bursts where I find myself soliloquizing and groups of people rapt in attention and I feel smart and well spoken and like I'm the sort of person who has an answer to the question “What is your philosophy of living?” but, more often than not, I'm just dicking around on YouTube.

Q. Your father John Landis is a well known American filmmaker and your mother Deborah is an Oscar nominated costume designer. What influence both of them had on you? Which of their teachings you still carry?
John Landis with son Max.
ML: They were really incredible parents. That was the most important thing. I had a very difficult childhood and they were there for me the whole time, even if that meant dealing with some dark and troubling stuff. What are their influences? To me, they're shockingly obvious; my mother taught me that every visual element can be used to tell a story. Her ability to make the visuals indistinguishable and inseparable from the narrative intelligence of a piece, the “life force” of the story, is reflected in every visual decision I make while both writing and directing. My father is an even more outright steal; the way I tell stories, both professionally and amongst friends, is a very direct evolution of his style. Down to getting all high pitched when I'm excited.

Q. According to you who are the most influential filmmakers in American cinema?
ML: When you say influential, you've sort of got me at a loss. I am not a film historian, and I was never a film student; hell, I'm barely even a proper cinephile when it comes to dates and directors and “the essentials,” I'm just a guy who really really really loves movies and has seen a whole lot of them. I think the director who's most influential, to me as well as to film history, is probably Scorsese (Martin). His ability to perfectly nail any tone, to recreate instantly entire worlds within characters and then build those huge characters into even bigger stories is just something that absolutely terrifies me in the best way possible. That the guy who directed Taxi Driver is the guy who directed The Departed is the guy who directed King of Comedy is the guy who directed Bringing Out The Dead is the guy who directed Casino is the guy who directed Gangs of New York is the guy who directed Goodfellas is the guy who directed After Hours is the guy who directed The Last Temptation Of Christ, I mean COME ON THAT'S INSANE. SO MANY STYLES. So many great stories, so many incredible performances, he's done something like fifty movies and HE'S GOT MORE COMING OUT. Sure, there's some misses in there but his ratio is CRAZY, he's like an exploding oil well of great American cinema. To know that someone like that can exist and prosper isn't just influential; it's inspirational.

Q. Your favorite Indian movies and makers?
ML: Well, I don't know many filmmakers other than Gurinder Chadha, who's been a family friend since I was little. But I'd have to say my favourite Bollywood films I've seen are Kal Ho Na Ho (every time Mahi Ve comes up on my iPod it's an instant dance party) and Om Shanti Om. Om Shanti Om has to stick out to me over Kal Ho Na Ho because I love the story; reincarnation, murder, great music, evil producers, and the final scene where he does the whole play to show the villain that they know what he did and re-enact the soundstage burning down is probably not just one of my favorite Bollywood sequences, but one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever.

Q. What perception American entertainment industry has of Indian movies?
ML: Honestly? I think there's a pretty big cultural gap; the styles are so wildly different that it's hard to even measure a Bollywood film against American Studio stuff. I think there's a perception of them as silly, but in an inimitable, alien way that can't easily be described. They certainly aren't condescended to; if anything, studios wish they could really crack the Indian market in a meaningful way, but since there's such a storytelling-style barrier, it's hard to say how and when and even if that's going to happen.

Q. As an individual what do you think of India and Indian people?
ML: I think that India is one of the best examples of a culture that has endured. So many countries, as we hurtle forward technologically and everything gets all Starbucks'd and Wal-Mart'd, have started to blend together in the inevitable singularity of globalization. But India, with its menagerie of mythological characters still riding high in the nation's zeitgeist, its own entertainment industry and really even its own fashion iconography of what's sexy and what's cool in an indefatigably different way than the west, seems to still be doing its own thing.

So yeah, I think India is pretty neat.
 
Max Landis standing in a fantasy fight with "Man of Steel."

मैक्स लैंडिस अमेरिका के कैलिफोर्निया से हैं। फिल्म लेखक हैं और काम के सिलसिले में लॉस एंजिलिस भी रहते हैं। बतौर स्क्रिप्ट राइटर उनकी पहली फिल्म "क्रॉनिकल’ 2012 में प्रदर्शित हुई थी। ये तीन युवाओं की कहानी थी जो हाई स्कूल में पढ़ते हैं और अचानक कुछ शक्तियां प्राप्त कर लेते हैं। सुपरहीरो फिल्मों के तय फीके सांचों के उलट ये बेहद ताजा रवैये वाली फिल्म थी। इस साल मैक्स की दो बड़ी फिल्में प्रदर्शित होने वाली हैं। 'अमेरिकन अल्ट्रा’ 21 अगस्त को लगेगी जिसमें जेसी आइजनबर्ग और क्रिस्टन स्टीवर्ट मुख्य भूमिकाओं में हैं। ये फिल्म एक ढीले लड़के के बारे में है जो बेहद विशेष क्षमताओं वाला सरकार का सुषुप्त लड़ाका है लेकिन अब वो सक्रिय नहीं हो पा रहा, ऐसे में उसे मारने का फैसला लिया जाता है लेकिन उसकी शक्तियां सक्रिय हैं और वो किसी के हाथ नहीं आता। 

इसके अलावा जेम्स मेकवॉय और डेनियल रेडक्लिफ की मुख्य भूमिकाओं वाली "विक्टर फ्रैंकेंस्टीन’ इस साल नवंबर में रिलीज हो सकती है। ये मैरी शैली के 1818 में लिखे मशहूर उपन्यास "फ्रैंकेंस्टीन’ पर आधारित है जिसकी स्क्रिप्ट मैक्स ने अपने अंदाज और बदलावों के साथ लिखी है।  वे बतौर निर्देशक भी अपनी पहली फिल्म "मी हिम हर’ बना चुके हैं जिसकी रिलीज बाकी है। "मि. राइट’ नाम की एक फिल्म भी मैक्स ने लिखी है जिसकी शूटिंग पिछले साल शुरू हो चुकी है। इसमें टिम रॉथ, सैम रॉकवेल और एना कैंड्रिक जैसे अदाकार हैं। ये एक औरत की कहानी है जिसे कभी सच्चा प्यार नहीं मिलता लेकिन जब मिलता है तो बाद में ज्ञात होता है कि वो एक हत्यारा है। मैक्स 18 की उम्र से लिख रहे हैं और अब 30 के हैं। उनके पिता जॉन लैंडिस हॉलीवुड के निर्माता-निर्देशक हैं और मां डेबरा ऑस्कर नामित कॉस्ट्यूम डिजाइनर हैं। वे समय-समय पर सुपरहीरोज़, वर्ल्ड रेस्लिंग एंटरटेनमेंट, हॉलीवुड, कॉमिक बुक्स और अमेरिकी एंटरटेनमेंट पर टिप्पणियां करते रहते हैं। 

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

मानो मत, जानोः “मिलांगे बाबे रतन दे मेले ते” ...परस्पर

“Do not believe, Know!” …is a series about relevant documentary films and filmmakers around the world who’ve devoted their lives to capture the most real, enlightening, shocking, just and humane stories. They’ll change the way you think and see everything. Watch & read them here. 

 Documentary. .Let’s Meet at Baba Ratan’s Fair (2012), directed by Ajay Bhardwaj.

“धर्मशाला धाड़बी रैंदे, ठाकर द्वारे ठग्ग
विच मसीतां रहण कुसत्ती, आशक रहण अलग्ग”
- मछंदर खान मिसकीन, फिल्म में बुल्ले शाह की काफी उद्धरित करते हैं
अर्थ हैः धर्मशालाओं में धड़वाई (व्यापारी) और ठाकुरद्वारों में लुटेरे बस गए हैं। मस्जिदों में वे रहते हैं जो वहां रहने के योग्य नहीं। आशिक (ईश्वर से प्रेम करने वाले) तो इन सबसे अलग रहते हैं।

पंजाब का सांझा विरसा और उस विरसे की बहुत परिष्कृत मानवीय-धार्मिक समझ अजय भारद्वाज की डॉक्युमेंट्री “मिलांगे बाबे रतन दे मेले ते” में नजर आती है। ये फिल्म उनकी “पंजाब त्रयी” सीरीज में तीसरी है। मौजूदा मीडिया और पॉप-कल्चर ने एक सभ्यता के तौर पर हमें जो सिखाना जारी रखा है उससे हमें सुख और सच्ची समझ की प्राप्ति नहीं हो सकती। ये फिल्म भारत-पाकिस्तान विभाजन के बाद दोफाड़ पंजाब में मजबूती से बचे अलग-अलग धर्मों, वर्गों के लोगों में प्रेम, स्नेह और सह-अस्तित्व के निशान तो दिखाती ही है, दर्शन के स्तर पर भी बहुत समृद्ध और सार्थक करके जाती है। शायद ये समझने के लिए “मिलांगे...” हमें पांच-छह बार देखनी पड़े।

A still from "Milange..."
हम इस डॉक्युमेंट्री के पात्रों की बातों और समझ को देख हैरान होते हैं। वे ईश्वर को माही कहते हैं। वे अंतरिक्ष, आकाशगंगा और साइंस पढ़कर घमंडी नहीं हो गए हैं। वे पूरी विनम्रता से आश्चर्य करते हैं कि उस इलाही की महिमा का पार नहीं जो पानी पर धरती को तैराए रखता है। कि कैसे गर्म, धूल भरी हवाएं लहरा रही होती हैं और न जाने पल में कहां से काले बादल आ जाते हैं। इन पात्रों के विचार फकीरी वाले हैं। इनकी धर्म की व्याख्या बेहद आधुनिक, बेहद मानवीय है। ऐसी फिलॉसफी आधुनिक पाश्चात्य नगरीय सभ्यता शायद कभी नहीं पा सकेगी।

पिछली दो फिल्मों (कित्ते मिल वे माही, रब्बा हुण की करिये) की तरह इसमें भी उस पंजाब को तस्वीरों से सहेजा गया है जो भविष्य में न होगा। ईंटों के सुहावने घर, गोबर लीपे आंगन व दीवारें, गलियों में बैठे कुत्ते, टूटे पेड़ की शाख पर बैठे कौवे, खुली नालियां, स्कूल की ड्रेस में जाते भोले-प्यारे बच्चे। मज़ार के बाहर झाड़ू से सीमेंट की चौकी बुहारी-धोई जा रही है। शांति है। सुकून है। पैसा गौण है, प्रेम प्राथमिक है। धर्म सब स्वीकार्य हैं। ऊपर वाले को लेकर कोई लड़ाई, दंगा, फसाद नहीं है। ये हिंदु भगवान को भी मानते हैं, अल्ला को भी, वाहे गुरु को भी। 2015 के भारत में आप धर्म को लेकर जो बपौती की हेकड़ी पाएंगे, जो वैमनस्य की बू पाएंगे, दंगों का भय पाएंगे, दुनिया में हो रहा क़त्ल-ए-आम पाएंगे.. वो इस पंजाब में नहीं पाएंगे। वो पंजाब जो मुख्यधारा की कवरेज से दूर है। वो पंजाब जिसे बंटवारा भौगोलिक रूप से ही बांट पाया।

अजय इसी पंजाब को ढूंढ़ रहे हैं। उनके हर फ्रेम में जाते हुए ज्ञान की प्राप्ति होती है। यहां धर्म की विवेचना अलग है और देश में अभी के माहौल में धर्म की परिभाषा अलग रची जा रही है। इस परिभाषा से लगता है कि कैसे हमें संकीर्ण सोच वाले दड़बों में हमारे बड़ों, हमारी जाति-धर्म वालों ने घेर रखा है। हम हिंदु हैं तो अन्य हिंदुओं से चिपक रहे हैं, हम मुस्लिम हैं तो रूढ़ि की अलग ही बेड़ी में बंधे हैं। अगर कहें कि ऐसा लग रहा है हम कई सौ साल पहले के युग में पहुंच गए हैं और आक्रांताओं का हमला होने वाला है। या ख़लीफायत स्थापित करने का वक्त आ गया है। तो धर्म की रक्षा को हिंदु और आक्रामक हो गए हैं। ये कितना हास्यास्पद है।

राजकुमार हीरानी की दिसंबर में प्रदर्शित फिल्म ‘पीके’ इसका सटीक जवाब देती है। जब स्टूडियो में पीके-तपस्वी संवाद होता है तो छद्म धर्मगुरू तपस्वी धमकाने वाले अंदाज में कहते हैं, “आप हमारे भगवान को हाथ लगाएंगे और हम चुपचाप बैठे रहेंगे? बेटा.. हमें अपने भगवान की रक्षा करना आता है!” जवाब में पीके कहता है, “तुम करेगा रक्षा भगवान का? तुम! अरे इत्ता सा है इ गोला। इससे बड़ा-बड़ा लाखों-करोड़ों गोला घूम रहा है इ अंतरिक्ष मा। और तुम इ छोटा सा गोला का, छोटा सा सहर का, छोटा सा गली में बैठकर बोलता है कि उ की रक्षा करेगा.. जौन इ सारा जहान बनाया? उ को तोहार रक्षा की जरूरत नाही। वो अपनी रक्षा खुदेही कर सकता है”। ये जवाब उन सबको भी है जो खुद को भगवान का संरक्षक या सैनिक मान लेते हैं। जैसे हाल ही में “जय भीम कॉमरेड” और “मुजफ्फरनगर बाकी है” जैसी फिल्मों का प्रदर्शन रोकने वाले। ये खेदजनक है कि अपने भीषण अज्ञान को उन्होंने सर्वोच्च ज्ञान और सार्वभौमिक सत्य मान लिया है जो उनमें उनके पूर्वाग्रहों से है, जो उनमें उनके घर के बड़ों, जातिगत समाजों द्वारा रोप दिया गया है। ये तत्व पशुवत हैं जिनमें सिर्फ अज्ञान और अहंकार है। क्या अहंकार से ईश्वर मिलता है? एक-दूसरे धर्मों से असुरक्षित महसूस करवाए जाने वाले लोग “मिलांगे..” में मछंदर खान को सुनें। वे गुनगुना रहे हैं.. “बालक पुकारते हैं बंसी बजाने वाले। कलजुग में भी खबर लो द्वापर में आने वाले”। सुनकर आप सुन्न हो जाते हैं।

हर पहचान (identity) को अपने में समाहित करने वाले इस धर्म की विवेचना और सूफीयत के अलावा फिल्म बंटवारे के बाद पंजाब में बची सांझी विरासत की मजबूती को भी पुष्ट करती चलती है जो इस “पंजाब त्रयी” की पिछली दो फिल्में भी कर चुकी हैं। शीर्षक में जिन बाबा रतन का जिक्र है वो बाबा हाजी रतन हैं जिनकी दरगाह भटिंडा में स्थित है। उन्हें भारतीय उप-महाद्वीप के अलावा इस्लामी दुनिया में भी श्रद्धा की नजर से देखा जाता है। माना जाता है कि वे पैगंबर मोहम्मद से मिले थे। लेकिन इस अपुष्ट तथ्य से ज्यादा जरूरी बात ये है कि कैसे उन जैसे चरित्र अलग-अलग धर्मों और वर्गों के लोगों द्वारा समान रूप से पूजे जाते हैं। इन सूफी चरित्रों के मेले अनेक वर्षों से पंजाब के अलग-अलग हिस्सों में लगते रहे जो सब लोगों को करीब लाए। जैसे बाबा हाजी रतन का मेला 1947 के बहुत पहले से लगता था। दूर-दूर से लोग वहां आते थे। ये पंजाब का काफी बड़ा मेला था। फिर छापर का, बाबा मोहकम शाह जगरांव वाले का , नोहरभादरा में गोगामेड़ी का और सरहिंद का जोर मेला भी हैं।

पिछली डॉक्युमेंट्री के दयालु पात्र प्रो. करम सिंह चौहान की लिखी पुस्तक ‘बठिंडा’ से हम इन मेलों और विरसे को नजदीक से जानते है। वे बाबा रतन मेले के बारे में लिखते हैं, “यहां मुस्लिम सूफी संत आते थे, कव्वालियां गाते थे, गजब मेला लगता था। बुल्ले शाह, शाह हुसैन और अन्य गाए जाते थे। इस दौरान खास याद आती है बाबू रजब अली की गायकी। विभाजन के बाद उन्हें पाकिस्तान जाना पड़ा। 35 साल वहां रहने के बाद उनकी मृत्यु हो गई। वे वहां रह-रहकर अपनी जन्मभूमि के लिए आंसू बहाते रहे। भठिंडा की धरती पर बाबू रजब अली शाह अली गाते थे, दहूद गाते थे वहीं साथ ही साथ गुरु गोविंद सिंह के साहिबजादों के बलिदानों की कहानी गाकर श्रोताओं की आंखों में पानी ले आते थे”। इस बीच मछंदर कहते हैं कि हालांकि वो मुस्लिम थे फिर भी साहिबजादों की कहानी ऐसे गाते थे कि कोई गा नहीं सकता। वे सूफी फकीर थे और उनका कोई धर्म नहीं होता। रजब अली, महाभारत के किस्से गाते थे, भीम-कृष्ण सब को गाते थे। ख्वाजा मोइनुद्दीन चिश्ती, निजामुद्दीन ओलिया जैसे मुस्लिम धर्म के मेलों में बाबा रतन का मेला चौथा सबसे बड़ा था और यहां हर धर्म के लोग आते थे।

छापर में गुग्गा मढ़ी (जिसे हम राजस्थान में गोगामेड़ी कहते हैं) की दरगाह में बने भित्तीचित्रों से तब के माहौल और व्यापक सोच की झलक मिलती है। इनमें सोहणी है जो दरिया पार कर रही है महिवाल से मिलने के लिए। मिर्जा पेड़ की छांव में सो रहा है और साहिबा उसके पास बैठी है। उधर साहिबा के भाई पीछा कर रहे हैं। पुन्नू ऊंट पर जा रहा है, पीछे सस्सी बैठी है। पंजाब के नामी पहलवान किक्कर सिंह और गुलाम लड़ रहे हैं। छापर के बेहद मशहूर गायक डोगर और उसके साजी हैं जिनके पीछे गांव का जमींदार रूरिया सिंह बैठकर सुन रहा है। मेले में आए लोगों के लिए निहंग कुएं से पानी सींच रहे हैं।

इस दुनिया के पात्रों का दर्शन (philosophy) बहुत ही सुखद है।

मछंदर कहते हैं, “अल्लाह किसी को मिला है तो बरास्ता (via) ही मिला है। हीर ने रब को पाया तो रांझे के रास्ते पाया। ससी ने पाया तो पु्न्नू के रास्ते पाया। मजनू ने पाया तो लैला के रास्ते”। वे मजनू का किस्सा सुनाते हैं। एक बार अल्ला का प्रतिनिधि उससे मिला। उसने कहा अल्ला ने याद फरमाया है। फकीर मजनू बोला कि मुझे तो अल्लाह से मिलने की कोई ख्वाहिश नहीं है। अगर अल्लाह को मुझसे मिलना है तो मैं क्यों जाऊं वो खुद आए। और हां, जहां भी वो है, वो कभी मेरे सामने न आ जाए। अगर मुझसे चार बातें ही करनी हैं तो लैला बनके आ जाए।

क्या प्रेम की ये पराकाष्ठा इस और उस दोनों जन्मों को सफल नहीं कर देती?

एक बेहद अज्ञानी और गैर-स्मार्ट लगने वाला पात्र कहता है, “नमाज पढ़ लो या गुरु ग्रंथ साहिब पढ़ लो, बात एक ही है.. बस उस मालिक के आगे सुनवाई होनी चाहिए। सब बोलियां उसी की बनाई हुई हैं। वो सब बोलियां जानता है। हम नहीं जानते”।

(यहां ajayunmukt@gmail.com संपर्क करके अजय भारद्वाज से उनकी पंजाबी त्रयी की डीवीडी मंगवा सकते हैं, अपनी विषय-वस्तु के लिहाज से वो अमूल्य है)

“Let’s Meet at Baba Ratan’s Fair” - Watch an extended trailer here:


On the eve of the British leaving the subcontinent in 1947, Punjab was partitioned along religious lines. Thus was created a Muslim majority state of Punjab (west) in Pakistan and a Hindu /Sikh majority state of Punjab (east) in India. For the people of Punjab, it created a paradoxical situation they had never experienced before: the self became the Other. The universe of a shared way of life – Punjabiyat — was marginalised. It was replaced by perceptions of contending identities through the two nation states. For most of us this has been the narrative of Punjab– once known as the land of five waters, now a cultural region spanning the border between Pakistan and India.

However, the idea of Punjabiyat has not been totally erased. In ways seen and unseen, it continues to inhabit the universe of the average Punjabi’s everyday life, language, culture, memories and consciousness. This is the universe that the film stumbles upon in the countryside of east Punjab, in India. Following the patters of lived life, it moves fluidly and eclectically across time, mapping organic cultural continuities at the local levels. It is a universe which reaffirms the fact that cultures cannot be erased so very easily. This is a universe marked by a rich tradition of cultural co-existence and exchange, where the boundaries between the apparently monolithic religious identities of ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Sikh’ are blurred and subverted in the most imaginative ways.

Moreover, one finds in this universe, mythologies from the past sanctifying such transgressions and reproducing themselves in the present; iconographies of Hindu gods and Sikh gurus share space with lovers, singers and wrestlers, creating a rich convergence of the sacred, the profane, and the subversive. Nothing represents this more than the Qissa Heer, a love balled exemplifying a unique Punjabi spirituality identified with love, whose multiple manifestations richly texture this landscape. Yet, there are absences to deal with. Strewn across this cultural terrain are haunting memories which have become second skin —of violence of 1947; of separation from one’s land; of childhood friends lost forever; of anonymous graves that lie abandoned in village fields. Accompanying this caravan of seekers and lovers are the ascetic non believers in whom a yearning for love and harmony turns into poetry against war and aggression. Such is the land of Punjab where miracles never cease to capture the imagination.

(Users in India and International institutions, can contact Ajay Bhardwaj at ajayunmukt@gmail.com for the DVDs (English subtitles). You can join his facebook page to keep updated of his documentary screenings in a city near you.)