CHENNAI, India -- Director Anurag Kashyap's first two films -- "Paanch" ("Five") and "Black Friday" -- ran into massive problems with the Indian movie censors. The first was denied a certificate on six grounds, including abusive language and glorification of violence. His second feature made in early 2000 on the police investigations after the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 was not permitted to screen for a couple of years because of the sensitive nature of its subject. When "Black Friday" finally opened last year, it got rave reviews.
Scripting his latest movie, "No Smoking," Kashyap must have realized that open confrontation with the authorities does not quite pay. So he plays around with words and actions, and presents what seems like a strong indictment of cigarette smoking. But scratch this layer, and what unfolds is quite another thing. "No Smoking" is experimental in its color tones and editing, but the picture is unlikely to get into the commercial circuit. It will possibly fare very well in festivals and should attract critical attention.
Kashyap, who is better known in Indian cinema circles as a writer (he penned the dialogues for Deepa Mehta's "Water" among others), portrays K (model-turned-actor John Abraham) as an arrogant, insensitive executive, whose chain smoking habit irks his pretty wife, Anjali, (Ayesha Takia). When she can take it no more, she enlists the help of a detoxification center, run by an autocratic guru, Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdah Wale (Paresh Rawal).
What begins as an anti-smoking program soon slips into another level where we see a clash between K and Baba Bangali, both despots with different styles. The Baba, for instance, employs a host of women in his office whose freedom he curbs by asking them to wear veils, although they are not Muslims. While he tries to de-poison K through arm-twisting ,and politico-religious methods, K loathes the idea of giving up his right to puff into people's faces.
Abraham gives a solid performance as a conceited man helplessly caught in the web of the guru, essayed with verve by Rawal. These characterizations reflect the state of autocracy and fanaticism -- driven by money, politics and religion -- that prevails in some sections of Indian society. "No Smoking" ultimately is less about nicotine and more about manipulating the human being.
However, the film fails to entertain in the conventional sense of the term, and often feels like a documentary. The games that K and Baba play to outwit each other may tire audiences. Sometimes, sadistic violence is used to arm twist K. But why must K submit to this? There is no clear explanation.
Big Screen Entertainment presents a Vishal Bharadwaj Films production
Writer/director: Anurag Kashyap
Producers: Kumar Mangat, Vishal Bharadwaj
Executive producer: Sanjeev Joshi
Director of photography: Rajeev Ravi
Production designer: Wasiq Khan
Music: Vishal Bharadwaj
Costume designers: Narendra Kumar, Anna Singh
Editor: Aarti Bajaj
K: John Abraham
Anjali: Ayesha Takia
Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bangali Sealdah Wale: Paresh Rawal
Abbas Tyrewala: Ranvir Shorey
Running time -- 120 minutes
No MPAA rating