CHAPTER 2: TRUDGING THROUGH THE PAST
The film begins with a dedication, voiced by Kamal himself, to Ananthu, friend, philosopher and guide to Kamal Haasan. The titles roll up with the song “Raghupathy Raghav Rajaram” being sung in a very unconventional, war cry-like fashion in the background that defines the pace of the film. .The credits proceed as the visuals begin in monochrome.
The year is 1999. A dark room. The room opens as the doctor enters. A few sunrays barely make into the room revealing the elderly figure that is lying on the bed. He is surviving on an artificial supply of oxygen. Who is, in a few seconds, revealed to be the old man’s grandson, Ram, is sitting next to him. Suprabhatam, which is essentially a wake up call for God, is being played in the background as though waking the old man up. This is the starting point for the string of references to God and man’s relation to God in the film.
The doctor asks why the room is not lit. Ram replies that he has never seen his grandfather in the open or even in light upon which the doctor remarks Gandhiji’s habit of keeping the lights on even during his sleep. Ram is quick to reply that his grandfather has always liked darkness and he is no Mahatma. However, he is a good man. The small conversation sets up the contrast between the grandfather and Mahatma Gandhi which is to be observed during the rest of the movie. As the conversation proceeds, it is revealed that Ram is a celebrated writer and is very close to his grandfather. It is also found that the grandfather is of unstable mind and hence isolated. Nobody except his wife has seen him in his normal state. He has not opened himself to anyone except his grandson, that too in the form of stories which the latter regards no more than figments of imagination. The doctor picks up one of the three monkey skulls placed on the adjacent table in front of “Gandhiji’s three monkeys” and asks Ram about it. The dark light, that is suggestive of his exclusion from the outside world and his hidden past, slowly starts getting adulterated with bright light as he recounts his past. This bright light falls on the old man’s face as it is revealed that he was an archeologist at the Mohanjo-Daro ruins. The image of the dying man’s face is juxtaposed with that of a skull at an excavation site indicating the meeting point of his future and past.
Note the chromatic shift from grayscale to full colour indicating the complete opening up of the old man’s past. Such colour swings will be recurrent during the rest of the film.
The year is 1946. An excavation site. Saket Ram (Kamal Haasan) and Amjad Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) are digging through the layers of the past. Eventually, Saket will be excavating his own true self, mirroring his profession, revealing many hitherto hidden layers within him. Saket is clean shaven and wears spectacles whereas Amjad is bearded. General Wheeler calls Saket from up above and asks him to pack up. Upon asking the reason, Wheeler says it is because of the communal riots as a result of the ongoing discussion about the partition of the country. Both are turned off but decide not to lose their temper as Mr. Wheeler shouts “It’s pack up time”. It is as though communal riots have become a commonplace and it is no news that a new one has broken out. Amjad points out that the Indus Valley civilization was miles ahead of the present one for they had much advanced thoughts but never had to fight about God and religion. So both decide to call it a day and head towards Karachi.
Archaeological Society of India Recreational Club, Karachi. A party like atmosphere is around. Saket enters alone whereas Amjad alights from the car with his wife Nafisa and kids. Amjad’s father asks both Amjad and Saket not to go out of control and return home quickly. Everything is cordial between Saket and Amjad’s family. We also come to know that Nafisa ties a Rakhi every year to Saket and Amjad is like a brother to Saket. This point will be elaborated later in the movie. We also meet Lalwani, a jocular Sindhi industrialist who is friends to both of them. There are jovial discussions about the partition and everybody seems to have an opinion. It is here that the background of both Amjad and Saket are revealed. Saket is a Tamil Iyengar from South India who is married recently to a Bengali woman. Amjad is a Pathan who had stayed who had finished his graduation in the Madras Christian College along with Saket and Lalwani, hence his knowledge of Tamil. His wife Nafisa is also a Tamil Muslim. This is revealed in a nice bit of dialogue between Amjad and a certain Mr. Bright:
Mr. Bright: I always wonder how Lalwani and Amjad can speak in a Dravidian language…
Amjad: Same Alma Mater sir.
This reply from Amjad is not just indicative about their college but the country itself. This reference of India as an “alternate mother” occurs throughout the film. This piece of conversation will ring loud during the final parts of the movie and will be reminded there. Just then, a call comes from Calcutta from Saket’s wife Aparna. Amjad and Lalwani fool around with the phone and even manage to tell a few lies about Saket to Aparna, all in good spirits. After the call, the three booze and start celebrating. The scene basically establishes the affluence and friendship of the three men from different religious and geographical backgrounds. Saket plays the piano for the first time in the film. A song “Ramar aanalum, Babur aanalum…” ensues which tells about the importance of friendship over religion. A lot of photographs are taken too.
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