Paheli – Human Nature

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian.  I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears.  I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

Ghost films

Paheli, based on a short story by Vijayadan Detha was directed by Amol Palekar.  This 2005 film definitely taught me a lesson.  Don’t judge a book by its cover Nonqaba.  Paheli is about ghosts and puppets, and I don’t do ghost films.  Hey wait!  There was an exception some years ago.  I saw Truly Madly Deeply directed by Anthony Minghella at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto and loved it.

What do I have against ghost films?  They are not real.  So, I thought.  Paheli is not about ghosts.  It’s about human beings, and how horrible they are.  I like the way the director quickly put the story on the table.

Kishanlal, played brilliantly by Shah Rukh Khan marries Lachchi (Rani Mukerji) and takes her back to his mansion, which is ruled with an iron fist by his father Bhanwarlal (Anupam Kher).

She meets a mischievous ghost during the journey.  It appears to her as a little black bird, a squirrel and a beautiful blue bird.  She goes to a well to splash water on her face and what does she see?  Footprints with no human form!

The newly-weds finally arrive at the mansion.  Kishanlal tells Lachchi that he is leaving the following day on a business trip, which will take five years.  Yes, five years.  Kishanlal repeats his father’s motto that there is nothing more important than business.

The ghost (Shah Rukh Khan) makes some devious ghostly moves and transforms itself into Kishanlal.  Bhanwarlal is very angry that his son cut short the business trip before the end of five years.  The ghost promises to give him five gold coins every day.  Bhanwarlal loves money and cools down after that.

Tender loving care
Paheli is a touching film that shows how the ghost showers Lachchi with love.  What she also loves about the ghost is that it told her that it was not of this world.  Kishanlal the ghost follows her everywhere, I mean everywhere.  It is over the moon when she gets pregnant. 

The human being Kishanlal gets a message that Lachchi is pregnant.  He is shocked because their nuptial night never happened. He was too busy reciting all the business accounts he had to remember for his five-year business trip.

He hurries home to find her having labour pains.  One wife, two identical husbands!  The human being Kishanlal cannot believe how the ghost looks like him.  His parents don’t believe the human being Kishanlal.  He tries to tell his mother about the berry incident.  On their way home after the wedding, Lachchi ate wild berries.

“She is fighting for her life and all you can talk about are berries!”

Who is the child’s father?
Paheli is about us human beings and our priorities, which are mostly selfish in nature.  Bhanwarlal, Kishanlal’s father is so obsessed with money he doesn’t notice the change in his son.  The ghost has a demeanour totally different from his real son.

The ghost is confident, doesn’t attend prayers, doesn’t care about business and totally lives for his wife Lachchi.   The ghost plays with children, while the human being Kishanlal didn’t have time for them.

The ghost is also generous, not tight-fisted like Bhanwarlal.  Kishanlal the ghost convinced Bhanwarlal to make some explorations for water which would benefit travellers and the community at large.  He knew exactly where the water source was, being a ghost and all.
There’s a touching scene where the ghost Kishanlal and Lachchi are deciding on names for their unborn child.  Just then, messengers bring the news that they found the water source.  Rent the DVD to see how they found the ideal name.

Paheli is about inhuman human beings because it is hard to believe that a father can banish his son for five years, a day after his wedding.  Banishment!  That is what it is.  There is no other way of putting it. 

I thought the ghost was the star of the film until the last few minutes.  Village elders drag Bhanwarlal to the king so that he can decide who the real Kishanlal is.  They meet a shepherd played by Amitabh Bachchan.  He provides the ideal solution. 

I say Paheli is a film is about us because the shepherd questions certain things we hold dear.  Wait a minute.  Is that a real shepherd or a ghost shepherd?  Good lord!  I think I’m seeing things.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.



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