TALKING FILMS

Angry students, clueless teachers and the colour red: Ketan Mehta’s ‘Holi’

The 1984 movie, based on the Mahesh Elkunchwar play, resonates with the situation across college campuses in the country.

How should dissent be addressed? Holi (1984), based on Mahesh Elkunchwar’s play of the same name, begins with Jehangir Choudhary’s handheld camera peering into the squalid rooms of a hostel where students have gathered for an all-night drinking session. The camera moves stealthily like a private investigator through the hallways of the college campus, filming students who are waking up after a night of revelry. The apparatus appears to be looking for evidence of their immorality, just like the politicians who believe that the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in Delhi is a hotbed for anti-national and libidinous activities.

The students in Ketan Mehta’s movie find out at the break of dawn that they don’t have a holiday on Holi. Instead, they are supposed to attend classes and a function to honour the founder of the college. They are in no mood to comply. So what do these rebels without a cause do?

They rant against the educational system, which they term a slave factory, they indulge in petty scuffles in the canteen, they rag fellow students, they destroy campus property. They seem to have no direction, are fed up with a didactic curriculum and uninspiring teachers, and loiter around the campus seeking romance.

In real life, such a situation would involuntarily allow politicians to meddle with college management committees. In an early scene in the movie, an agitated Om Puri, who plays the college principal, challenges an idealistic professor played by Naseeruddin Shah: “Will you be teaching me how to run the college?”

In a recent interview about Holi, Mehta said he was inspired by a strike at his alma mater, the Film and Television Institute of India. “I made Holi in 1984 which was about internalised violence which society imposed upon students,” he said. “There was a strike at FTII when I was a student there. I was reliving the experience through the movie.”

Aamir Khan and Kitu Gidwani.
Aamir Khan and Kitu Gidwani.

What was true then is also true now of the current state of student politics. Holi paints a grim picture of the consequences of challenging an educational system in which the liberty to pursue a creative vocation is stifled and dissent is firmly discouraged as a form of expression.

The film encapsulates in a day’s events the many anxieties of young men and women who are dissatisfied with their socio-political environment. Their protests lead to a dramatic climax that puts an even bigger question mark on their future.

Apart from starring Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Deepti Naval and Paresh Rawal, all of whom are stellar, the movie launched the careers of several raring young actors, including a loutish Aamir Khan (credited as Aamir Hussain), Neeraj Vora, Ashutosh Gowariker, Amole Gupte and Raj Zutshi, and Kitu Gidwani as Khan's girlfriend.

Filmed in fluid long takes, a style that was later used by Gus Van Sant in his school tragedy Elephant, (2003), Holi is an early entry in the campus docu-drama genre and worth revisiting on a day of merriment.

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It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

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March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

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Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

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Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.