Hi, I'm Dilip. I'm an atheist. I'm also a stud.
Hi, I'm Nargis. I'm a nun. See that bird fluttering over the superimposed image? That's my dil, trying to break free. Enjoy the angst!
Some films defy categorization. Films such as Dil Se and Awaara and now, Jogan (Yogi/Mendicant/Nun*). Neither mainstream nor arthouse, these films are difficult to describe, to pin down, because we can't compare them to anything else. They just are... how they are.
The story of Jogan is simple. According to the title credits, it was written by "?" - perhaps it's a traditional fable? Village atheist, Vijay (Dilip Kumar), is content with hanging around and avoiding the temple. One day, a traveling mendicant arrives - and this ascetic is none other than the gorgeous Nargis! Vijay is positively smitten, and suddenly going to temple doesn't seem like such a bad idea. However, the presence of a brooding hottie severely disturbs St. Nargis' peace of mind, and she repeatedly requests that he take his brooding butt and sit outside. He does, but then leaves flowers on her doorstep and engages in other manner of cuterie. St. Nargis' detached serenity just goes all higgledy piggledy.
As Joss Whedon would say, he is starting to damage her calm.
When Vijay confronts her about the turmoil in her eyes, and asks her why she gave up the material world, she narrates a sad and sweet story when she lived as the secular, frothy Nargis we all know and love. The present tension between religion and securalism, theism and atheism, and to hottie or not to hottie ends on a sad, symbolic note.
We definitely haven't captured the vibe of the film - which is deeply rooted, enigmatic, Zen-like (if we may mix religions). It's... just difficult to write about, as we've never seen anything even resembling it. We can only liken its profound emptiness to the feeling we got sometimes reading J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country, which was similarly thoughtful and vast.
Sometimes nuns can doubt...
...and atheists can worship.
Jogan treats its story with the softest of touches - neither the atheist nor the ascetic are demonized for their choice, though their choices are gently explored. In one touching sequence, a holy man arrives at a courtesan's parlor where Vijay is lounging. Everyone hurries to greet the ascetic - Pranaam, Gurudev! Namaste! - and, embarrassed, they urge Vijay to do the same. Vijay is reluctant, he keeps his eyes lowered and says, Log mujhe nastik kehte hain. (I am called an atheist.) The holy man and Vijay banter and tease each other, and the ascetic praises Vijay's atheism as a form of secular humanism and an ultimate search for love: "I am an atheist like you, I am constantly searching for God. God is truth, beauty, happiness. I search for these things in the huts of the poor, you search for them here [in the courtesan's parlor]. Lord, your soul is in search of someone. Someday you'll make room for God in your heart." Smiling wryly, Vijay finally greets the ascetic, Pranaam, Gurudev.
Similarly, Nargis' choice to become a wandering nun is gently questioned by the head nun. When Nargis arrives at the nunnery, having escaped from her home, hurt and upset, she asks to seek refuge in God. The head nun warns her that becoming a mendicant is not something to rush into, it's not something that happens just because you "give up" on the world. Still, Nargis insists and the head nun yields. Throughout the film, a perturbed Nargis chants the peace (shanti) mantra, seemingly to little effect - but we don't think the film is necessarily showing the meaninglessness of religious devotion. Rather, by our reckoning the main message is finding the happy medium, a flexible yielding between the purely areligious and purely devotional life. Vijay and Nargis' character are both very young and passionate about their beliefs, and yet these beliefs - while ostensibly deriving from choices made for their own happiness - seem to give them nothing but trouble. Why not just give a little and not be so inflexibly atheistic/ascetic? Gosh!
The relationship between this little firecracker and Dilip was adorable.
Dilip the atheist searching for God in the courtesan's parlor. Are you loving this movie? We are. Note the super-tight close-ups and the fact that they're both in each other's faces.
Both Nargis and Dilip Kumar do a very good job in their softspoken, sweet interactions. Dilip mostly maintains the same vibe throughout the film - dreamy-eyed and lovelorn - while Nargis demonstrates her formidable range as the ghost-like mendicant versus her former, high-spirited self. Watching her transform from one into the other is really quite sad.
The film's aesthetics, as we said, were hard to pin down. There were some cute, blunt symbols: such as when Nargis, after first meeting her admirer, escapes to her room and the picture of a fluttering, caged bird is superimposed over her. The director also favored incredibly tight close-ups coupled with minimalist composition, all contributing to the Zen look. Another really interesting thing: this might be the shortest Hindi film ever, clocking in at a mere 1hr 45min! Canst it be POSSible?! Just another thing to add to the list of Why Jogan Is So Unique.
Oh Lord, can't we be friends?
* So we're using "nun", "mendicant", "ascetic" and "holy type person" interchangeably in this review. If you are any of the previously mentioned and wish to complain, please take it up in the comments. We love those.