As I sat back and thought over the last week’s four episodes, the tangled skeins were not just in the tale, but inside my head as well. Normally, in any fictional narrative, there is a recurrent, central thread, a leit motif, which is the core, the keystone, of the whole structure. It could be doomed love, it could be revenge, it could be a mystery to be unravelled. But here, in our tale, there are many leit motifs, all tangled with each other, making it impossible to judge either which is going to be the predominant one, or where these criss-crossed strands are going to take the tale, and us the viewers as well.
Two recurrent themes: So I looked about to see if, even amidst this profusion of themes, we could identify just two, which would be likely to stay with us, at least for some time to come.
One suggests itself readily – the bonds that have no name, but are yet far stronger than those of blood or tradition. The other, though in a more restricted and limited sense as yet, is of retribution for evil, whether at the hands of the righteous and the innocent, or at the hands of still greater evil. Let us see how these themes played out during the last week.
Take 5: Then I intend to give you my own Take 5 for the week, my choices for the 5 most arresting scenes we saw. Your own ratings and choices might be quite different, but that is the fun of the whole exercise! But to begin,
Benaam rishtey: that are far stronger that those of blood.
Maimuyi & Rudra: The first, and the strongest, is of course the visceral bond that has developed, over 12 long years, between Maimuyi and the bachuwa who had sneaked into a corner of her arid heart against her will and almost without her knowledge, and had then proceeded to take it over so completely that now, for her, the sun rises and sets on her Rudra.
Seema Biswas brings this total emotional dependence alive onscreen with a sureness of touch that tugs at your heartstrings. Watch her brimming over with maternal pride as she watches Rudra making an unexpectedly impressive debut as Lord Rama in the Dussehra Ramleela. As she dresses him and does his make up with infinite tenderness and joy. When she does his aarti and cheers him on from the sidelines of the procession. Her eyes glow with an inner light, the tired lines in the worn out face are erased for an instant as a tide of joy wells up from the core of her being.
Watch her fear for this beloved child overcome her natural goodness as she warns Rudra, in no uncertain terms, not to engage in such risky ventures as saving the jyotishi Tiwari from the deep waters in which he was drowning. And her agonizing over the danger to Rudra posed by the garuda chin on his back, which fills her with a nameless foreboding.
Watch the fear that surfaces in her mind, like a snake rearing its hood, whenever he is gone for a while without her knowing where he has gone -and the sharp whiplash in her Kahan gaya tha tu?? – as when Rudra returns after having located Udiya Baba’s wife and brought her with him, in order to make the passing easier for his guiltridden soul.
The most evocative of all, watch Maimuyi’s face as the bits and pieces of Ravana effigy crash in a shower of burning embers all around Rudra and Udiya Baba. She has been crying herself hoarse trying to stop Rudra, but now all those screams seem to have been congealed into the still agony, the frozen despair in her eyes and her face. It reminded me of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting, The Scream.
Udiya Baba & Rudra: This bond is of a slightly different kind, and not only because nothing can equal maternal love for its tenderness and unconditional protectiveness. Rather, it is a substitute relationship, though it is in no way lacking in strength.
Udiya Baba loves Rudra, genuinely and deeply, and is ready to die to save him. But this is largely, as we now learn, because this unknown boy has, in Udiya Baba’s eyes, become a substitute for his lost Bishu. Not just that, by saving Rudra from drowning during the 1989 Kumbh, Udiya Baba feels in some way liberated from the festering guilt due to his inability to save his own small son in a similar situation. Feels that Lord Vishwanath has forgiven him for that failing, which he himself has come to see as a crime, a sin, on his part.
Thus, every time he imparts a bit of wisdom to Rudra, he is actually talking to the son he lost so cruelly. When he tells Rudra that to go forward fast towards one’s goal, like the arrow from the bow, one first has to pull back, like the pratyancha or bowstring has to be pulled back, strongly and with unwavering focus, and gazes in delight as Rudra follows his instructions, it is Bishu whom Udiya Baba sees, not Rudra.
When he learns about the bomb planted under Rudra’s chariot by Pandey’s goon, he is determined that this time, history is not going to repeat itself. There is no way he is going to let Rudra die, no way he is going to fail Rudra the way he failed his Bishu.
Whence the desperate race against time to get Rudra off that doomed chariot before the bomb explodes. His breath sobbing is his overworked lungs, gasping from the strain of running so hard at his age, bent over double as his muscles seize up and tug at his ribs – and Robin Das is fantastic in the raw physicality he brings to this scene – unable to make Rudra hear his warnings over the all pervading din, Udiya Baba still succeeds in saving Rudra a second time, even if it is, this time, at the cost of his own life. For with this, he has, in his own eyes, redeemed himself, both in the eyes of the Lord and in his own.
If Udiya Baba did have to go so soon, and I for one am very unhappy about it, there could have been no better, no prouder exit for him. And with the wife, whom he had abandoned in a paroxysm of guilt and grief, now coming to him and very likely forgiving him, he will go to his Maker in peace at last.
Rudra: For Rudra, these two are by now his whole world. The ones with whom he feels secure. The ones who have eased, at least in part, the pain of the loss of his parents and his home. For now Varanasi and the Manikarnika Ghat are his home, and Maimuyi and Udiya Baba are his family.
The loss of Udiya Baba is thus, for Rudra, a kind of replay of 1989,when he lost his real father. But now at least he has his Maimuyi, his sheet anchor. And while he is bound to miss the wise mentor that Udiya Baba had become for him, he will at least have the satisfaction that he was able to ease him passing by freeing him of years of festering guilt about Bishu and his wife. This can be seen in Rudra’s eyes as he explains his absence to Maimuyi, they are at once clouded with the grief of anticipated loss and lit up with a sense of achievement .
Shivanand & Kuba, and the boy’s mother: This is a relationship into which all the three have been pitchforked by Fate, but it none the less strong for that. Nor is it less deep because it is rooted not in love, for a child or for a man or a woman, but in humanism, and the courage needed to save another, even a stranger, who is in danger, even if this means endangering oneself.
It is thus more abstract, but just as admirable, and just as heartwarming.
The proxy son: For Shivanand, the alert, energetic, resourceful and good-hearted Kuba is a sort of substitute the son he had lost 12 years ago, and he sees the kid Rudra in him right from the time the boy approaches him as he lies on the road. He treats him as he would have treated Rudra, and his protectiveness towards the boy makes him urge Kuba’s mother to break free of her shackles, for the child’s sake. To prevent his psyche from becoming warped over time, so much so that he begins to believe that Dard denewale ki jeet aur dard sehnewale ki haar hoti hai.
When he plays with Kuba on the bridge, it is Rudra whom he is lifting in his arms and whirling around. And when he bargains with Grierson, bartering his surrender for the safety of Kuba and his mother, it is his surrogate child whom he is saving. I feel that in the future, a grown up Kuba will have an independent relationship with Shivanand, but for now, he is a proxy for Rudra, and cared for as such.
A human bond: Shivanand’s relationship with Kuba’s mother is rooted in twin emotions: profound gratitude to her for having given him shelter at a crucial time at great risk to herself, and later helped him is so many vital ways, and the linked desire to save her and her son from the hell they inhabit at present. It is not a romantic relationship in any sense, nor is it a platonic one. Both these need a personal angle to the relationship, and here there is nothing of the sort.
It is rather the bond between one human being and another, between two beings who have, thru the vagaries of fate, been pitchforked into a situation where they need each other to survive, though to different degrees, and thus stand by each other no matter fact.
It remains to be seen if there is anything more to this bond in the years ahead, but as of now, thanks to Shivanand, Kuba and his mother are free at last.
A reluctant heroine: Kuba’s mother exemplifies the truth of the saying that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to face fear and overcome it. She is the very embodiment of an abused woman, beaten into physical and mental submission and servitude by a brutal, sadistic husband, who gets his highs out of terrifying her for anything and nothing, treating her like a dog to be kicked when the mood takes him, and to be called to heel at other times. The scars that years of such treatment have left are there in her sunken, narrowed eyes, in the dark bruises from the last punch in the eye that had been dealt out to her, in the drawn, prematurely aged face, in the perennial tension in her body language, in the frantic haste with which she polishes Shivanand’s fingerprints off the “incoming calls only” phone set.
And yet, having brought home the man, whom her car had hit for no fault of hers, to please her son, she is steadfast in helping him even as she battles rising tides of abject fear as she thinks of her husband. It is only when her son’s life is at stake that she confesses to Messer that Shivanand is inside, and later, when she sees him in her car in front of the church, she empties her purse of her last money so that he can make phone calls. Finally, when he approaches her in the church one last time, she is terrified that someone will spot her with him, but yet she gets ready to drive him to the Indian Consulate.
Why does she do all this for a stranger? At the perennial risk of being found out and murdered by her husband, thus leaving her beloved son to a horrible fate? Initially, it is out of a sense of guilt for having hit and injured this stranger. But for the most part, it is humanism at its purest, goodness without any thought of reward.
And also because, in this poor tormented woman’s life, Kuba’s relationship with this stranger brings a few moments of unalloyed happiness. Watch her smile with pride when Kuba offers his piggy bank to the departing Shivanand. And again, the first real smile seen on her face when Shivanand, after fixing the lock and throwing away the key for luck, hugs Kuba and then picks him up and whirls him around with the kind of playful paternal affection his father should have shown him but never did.
So, to save the life of this stranger who has somehow become part of their lives, hers and Kuba’s, this cowering, mouselike woman picks up a beam and batters her brutish husband to death. As she rains blow after blow upon his recumbent form, the protectiveness for Shivanand morphs into a tidal wave of hatred and the long suppressed desire for revenge against the man who has made her life with him a living hell.
The same satisfaction at due retribution can be seen when she does not run away with Kuba, as she is told to by Shivanand, but stays back, rejoicing and smiling at every crippling blow he hits one of the goons, and finally when he kills Messer with his bare hand.
As Shivanand raises his hand in a farewell gesture from the helicopter that is taking him back to captivity, she looks up at him with an indefinable expression on her upturned face. Is it regret at his recapture? Is it fear for him? We do not know.
What we do know is that she is standing straight now, and years have been wiped off the once weary, perennially fearful face. Kuba aur uski maa ke liye achche din aa gayee hain.
Nemesis at work: Retribution: The Bible says: The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.
Last week brought this out with startling clarity. First, there was Kuba’s horrible father, battered to death by his mother as Kuba looked on, impassively, but perhaps with a terrible inner joy as he saw the man he had asked Shivanand to kill laid low thus unexpectedly.
It was that request of Kuba’s, all the more telling for the level, unemotional tone in which it was made, that brought home to us, far more than any beatings or other abuse by his father could have done, the horrors of the life Kuba’s mother, and thus Kuba at one remove, had been enduring all these years.
I am not normally a bloodthirsty person, but I would have liked to have landed the brute a few blows myself.
Next was Messer, the Blade Man. A thug whose casual sadism was equalled only by his arrogance. Nothing can beat the chilling realism with which he was introduced to us. Standing at the edge of a grave in which lay the body of a half clothed, murdered woman, clearly his latest “completed job”. A bunch of red roses in his left hand, obviously to be laid, in a ghastly tribute, on the grave once it has been filled up. Nothing, except perhaps the matter of fact tone in which he offers Kuba’s mother the choice of two ways in which he can cut Kuba’s throat if she does not speak up.
So it was eminently satisfying to see Shivanand deploy his martial arts skills (regardless of the handicap posed by his unkempt hair frequently getting in front of his eyes!The chap clearly needs a close crop) and not only lay low the whole assortment of thugs deployed by Messer, but in the end kill the Blade Man himself with the side of his bare hand.
Then, in the precap, there was khoye paaye Pandey, having committed the folly of trying to circumvent Swami Balivesh’s dire last warning, reaping the consequences at the Swami’s hands. It was unclear whether he was being stabbed to death or only blinded, but in either case, his days are clearly numbered.
I do not suppose Nemesis, the Greek goddess of retribution for evil, is going to deal with the Polish Cardinal and his cohorts, nor with Swami Balivesh and his gang, with similar celerity, for that would put paid to our tale in 12 episodes instead of 120!
It is clear that Shivanand’s father’s Brahma Nisht Panth will still be in a sad, leaderless state for a while yet. Seeing that the adult Rudra is still standing atop the rail bridge in Varanasi, it does not seem that Shivanand is back in India even after another 12 years. And the Swami’s Sri Santh Panth will undoubtedly flourish like the green bay tree, as the Bible says of the wicked.
It will very likely take all of another 12 years for Rudra to not only identify all his special powers, but to learn to use them wisely and to the best effect. So we have curb our thirst for retribution and possess our souls in patience, while the young ladies here make the most of Gautam Rode’s Salman Khan stunt on the bridge!
Still, it was good to have had a trailer for what is to come!
My Take 5: Now for my pick of the 5 most dramatic scenes, visually and content-wise, this last week. Personally, I would have chosen the killing of Kuba’s father to top the list, but that has already been dealt with, so let us look elsewhere.
– Rudra carrying Udiya Baba,wrapped in a blanket, out of the fiery mess that the Ravana effigy had created as it burnt down. There is a remote majesty to the boy’s face that makes all the onlookers see him not as what he is, but as Lord Rama, the protector of mankind, in person. Earlier, the whole fire scene was done much better than is the norm on TV.
– Rudra is sitting by the ghat, his whole body hunched in misery as he awaits news of Udiya Baba’s state of health. When Maimuyi approaches him, he raises his face to her in mute, fearful enquiry. In his eyes one can see all the resurgent fear of loss, the loss of one of the two pillars on which his life rests at present. When she says Hosh aa gaya, the boy’s face clears as if a wave had passed over it. He rises to his feet in a single, supple movement, and races off, like an eager greyhound, to get to his Udiya Baba.
– The sudden emergence of a forest of trishuls in the river, blocking the goons who are after Rudra. It was an extremely arresting scene visually, and even more satisfactory was the brutal dunking that followed for the goons, who were dragged along ruthlessly while being periodically plunged into the water. When they finally were left to bob up and down in the shallow water, while Pandey’s brother in law was dragged away to face the Swami’s wrath, I for one was delighted. In fact, this scene might qualify for inclusion in the Retributions section!
– After Jyotishi Tiwari brushes aside complaints about a poor smashan dweller playing Lord Rama in the Ram Leela, and insists that Rudra, a veer rakshak, and none else would be his Rama, some members of the audience get up to leave. But before they have reached the exit, Rudra’s sonorous recitation, of not only the doha he had been taught by Tiwari, but of another that he had apparently not yet been taught, judging by Tiwari’s astonishment, brings them up short. And the very naysayers, now seeing the Lord Himself in this young boy, fold their hands in obeisance. It was a beautiful illustration of the power of simple faith to open up eve n the most bigoted and closed of minds.
– A little earlier, Rudra mentally replaying a recording of the Jyotishi Nityanand Tiwari reciting the test doha, and then reproducing it akshara saha sahi. It was a lovely little bit about yet another of Rudra’s special powers, but introduced almost casually without any OTT flourishes.
Let me conclude by sending you all, and your families, my warm good wishes for 2015 to be good in every way for you, bringing you the best of good health, peace of mind and fulfillment. And if you get these three, happiness is sure to follow!