No Smoking

This piece comes after watching No Smoking and needs some further background on how I came to watch the movie in the first place.

So, I watched Gulaal and was fascinated. And as it happens every time I am fascinated with a movie these day, I came back and started researching on the director. I knew Dev-D was also from the same director, but it did not give me the same kind of high that Gulaal gave. So, the research started after Gulaal. And I landed on PFC (Passion for Cinema) website. The director Anurag Kashyap is an active blogger there and also responds to the comments quite frequently. I was hooked on to the site his blog over the weekend and read through several entries. His writing has a “this is my opinion and if you don’t like it, you have a clear option – don’t read it” attitude and resulting honesty, which I appreciate. So, I read up most of his posts.

It is during this reading and research that I figured that we, average movie goers, would not have noticed it, but apparently in their world, the movie had sparked strong reactions. The critics had given bad to insulting reviews and the director had reacted strongly to them too. From there on, there is huge debate over the movie as well as whether the director should have reacted so. I will leave the latter part out for this post (and probably write another post on this). Instead concentrate on the movie.

Having read through the comments, reviews and bunch of director’s posts, I was curious enough to watch No Smoking. Found the VCD in Sapna Book Store (and not in newly opened Odyssey on 100 feet road, Indiranagar) and watched it as soon as I got back.

With some help from author’s article, Abhaya’s discussions and my understanding – here is my interpretation of the movie and where the story comes from:

  • We have a writer-director with two of his movies, made after years of hard work, facing many obstacles in absence of producer backing, not cleared by censors. He is angry and depressed. For him the system is powerful and hell bent upon changing him, if he wants to survive. And why change him? Because he is not what the powerful folks in the system think is ‘right’. So, he must change; else he has no rights to survive. But changing him is not easy. He has his soul – going strong despite his problems. The only way to change him is to rid him of his soul. But he wants revenge on the system. He wants to get back at the system. He still can not destroy the system, but he wants to laugh at them. It is in this context that this particular movie is written.
  • Before getting into the actual story of movie, let’s think of a slightly revised story. Suppose that Baba Bangali was not trying to rid K of his smoking habit. Instead he was trying to rid him of his art (yeah – suppose he was an artist). And the rest of the story was same. Does it now become easier to decipher some things in the movie? Here is a powerful system, who for some reason thinks that an artist is not the right kind of person for the society. So, the system will go any extent to ensure that artist no longer remains an artist. But art is his soul. The only way he could stop being an artist is by getting rid of his soul. His soul has to be snatched away from him. And that is what has happened in the movie. The soul is snatched away.
  • It actually becomes a rather simple story here. Because the relatively ‘liberal’ world we live in, we’d obviously be sympathetic towards the artist. We, the audience, can not get in the frame of mind of the powerful people of the system, who strongly feel that the artist needs to change, for whatever reason.
  • So to engage the audience with the conflict, the director could choose a more gray concept – say homosexuality. If the system is trying to rid somebody of homosexuality, is it fair or not? The debate is on the today’s world. It’d have brought some conflict into the mind of the audience. But even here, the impact is mild. You may not absolutely believe that system is right. Our homosexual character still remains more of a helpless victim, than an arrogant man of choice, who is up against the system.
  • Now that is not the motive of the writer. He is projecting himself in the character. He does not want to project a meek, helpless victim of system. He is trying to project an arrogant character – ‘Nobody tells me what to do’. Plus this arrogant characters needs to laugh at the system. And where is the system? Just a few characters in the movie is not enough to laugh at. So, he converts the entire audience into the system who thinks that K should change. How does he achieve that? Not by posing art or homosexuality as the problem. But smoking as the problem. Now, the entire audience is there in the skin of the system against K/writer. K should change. Of course, smoking is bad.
  • But K is arrogant and so is writer. Its about the soul. The same soul that we could have easily visualized as something that incorporates K’s artistic tendencies is now shown to be incorporating K’s smoking habit. For the arrogant writer, soul is essentially the person – with his pluses and minus – not something distinct, universal, not something always ‘right’. We find is easy to see that art is in his soul, but find it difficult to comprehend that smoking is in his soul. Because the soul to us is something right and pure – that’s how we popularly use the word. But whose right, what purity? The writer has made the soul individual. You find all this bizarre. Fine. The writer of the story does not care. He has achieved what he wanted to achieve. He has made you the part of the system who wants to change K. You are suddenly guilty of taking away the man’s soul and probably forced to feel bad. And if you are uncomfortable with where you are, he is laughing. He has taken his revenge.

Now, that I have written it, I am wondering if my interpretation (or rather its expression here) has not become more incomprehensible than the movie itself.

But if the above makes any sense, I guess as the audience you can only say ‘what the hell’. How can he do that to me? Well – he has done it. That’s why it is an arrogant, self-indulging piece of work, as the director and the critics both agree. Someone may say that this is not fair to the audience, but that’s not reason enough not to create such work.

Finally few disclaimers:

  • This is purely mine (and Abhaya’s) interpretation. There is no claim that this is what the movie means πŸ™‚
  • This interpretation does not mean that the movie says that smoking is good or harmless. This aspect is immaterial in this interpretation actually.
  • The thought process outlined here is something that helped me understand it. This most certainly was not director’s/writer’s thought process.
  • The movie is also supposed to have borrowed concepts from some movie and/or book, which I haven’t seen/read. So, my interpretation remains solely based on the sources cited earlier.
  • I am an average movie-goer, who likes to see good and different cinema, but does not appreciation for all possible kinds of genres, experiments and techniques involved in movie making. So, the interpretation could be limited by that.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , by Jaya. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jaya

Jaya Jha is an entrepreneur, a techie, a writer and a poet. She was born and brought up in various towns of Bihar and Jharkhand. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow, she realized early on that the corporate world was not her cup of tea. In 2008, she started, one of the first print-on-demand publishing platform in India. She currently lives in Bangalore and divides her time between writing and working on her company's latest product InstaScribe ( with a vision to make it the best e-book creation tool. Blog: Twitter: @jayajha Facebook:

11 thoughts on “No Smoking

  1. No soul in this world should act/react as it likes in my opinion. The effect of being an arrogant smoking soul is adverse. The way of living peacefully …. without ill effects to others is mandatory. Smoking may be the writers’s soul, but it not only injures him also injures the person next to him as badly as he is….So the soul has to be in the system or will be evacuvated out of the system. And above all the system should not have smokes at all…

  2. Jaya, Can you have a post about your feeling of being a entrepreneur….? After seeing the other startups in Tatanen or in some context or in your day today life or wherever appilcable, Have you ever felt like below
    1. The business (Book printing) you opted is a wrong/right decision..
    2. Might have reconsider the other business options like Consultant, agriculture, advertisement company…

    If you have had felt positive…Can you list the points that boost your confidence…
    Also, if you had negative thoughts, the point you may need to organize, wanted to restucture, etc….

    In simple words the pros and cons of your business and the comparision study of the other startups with your business in today’s fast world. What the kind of audience you are attracted to?

  3. @Mala: To be honest, this is too early to start analyzing my own business with these perspectives, at least in public πŸ™‚ Internally, of course, you have to keep analyzing yourself to see where you are, where you are heading to etc. But that’s the part and parcel of the business.

  4. I couldn’t agree more .. I like Anurag Kashyap from his Black Friday days … was waiting for ‘Paanch’ for a long time only to be satiated by its songs (good music btw). I like self indulgent people and why not? In that case classics like ‘Citizen Kane’ would have been there … instead of being ravaged by a directors ego why not appreciate his ego and try to peep in what he/she says. For me no-smoking is not about smoking but its about individuality which society is very scared of.

    Aren’t they?

  5. Jaya, you’re thinking of the “soul” in a very materialistic sense here. It’s not limited to things like smoking, or art, or sexual preference. It’s actually the personal liberty of an individual. For K it’s liberty to smoke where he wants it (let it be the bathroom) or how often he wants it. For the director, it’s the liberty to make a movie the way he wants it without having to worry about the censure board, producers ambitions, or the reaction from the audience. When K gives in to the pressure from the Baba as well as from the society he’s shown to loose his soul. That’s what happens when an artist has to compromise to his craft because of the censure board and/or pressure from the producers. He looses his creative liberty. The soul of art.

    The movie (as I’ve commented on my post about this movie on my blog) doesn’t care to elaborate these points explicitly. It’s like throwing someone in the water and hoping that she will learn how to swim. Not surprisingly, a lot of people drowned (i.e. did not get the movie and hated it hence).

  6. I like the starting point of your interpretation, i.e. the context and the equation between the character and its creator. However, I do not agree with the rest of it.

    I think to appreciate truly the achievement that this movie was, one needs to have read Kafka and able to have understood at least a bit, and appreciated a lot. For me, this is Kafka on screen – and with tremendous clarity. If you read Kafka you will know how difficult it is to imagining afka, let alone filming his world in flesh and blood.

    There is a very easy given – “K”, Almost all of Kafka’ protagonists in his novels are called K. But that is just a simple one. The entire setting, the non-demarcation between real and unreal, it’s just so brilliantly put together that I am sure Kafka himself would have loved it.

    However, as far as the elements of the story go, I guess the movie is basically about what it purports to be, and i.e. smoking. A smoker, almost a good 80 % of them, know how terrible it is to smoke. Believe it or not, there are some really honest attempts to quit which fails. It is an artists creative way of portraying that frustration in a total Kafkaesque way. The ‘soul burning’ part which happens because he fails to pay one rupee to the Baba is to show how the failure to take that one last step to go cold turkey ultimately effects the very being of your soul. The soul wants to talk to you and tell you not to smoke but cannot because that one percent is lacking. In any case, that’s my interpretation. People give a lot of meaning to Kafka as well but I believe he was simpler than people make him out to be. Same about this movie, except that simple is not to be confused with the quality. I believe it to be the best Indian cinema has ever produced.

  7. Dear Jaya,

    I have not seen ‘No Smoking’ but I intend to, for the same reasons as you mentioned. After watching Gulaal I wanted to know more of Anurag’s work and ended up on youtube. I found a talk by him instead given in IHC, Delhi on ‘No smoking’. The director openly talks about his frustration with the censor board. I was amused by the sarcasm and wit behind the motivation for ‘no smoking’. It was a reaction to the move to ban smoking on the bluescreen. He got felicitated by the health department for a movie which was anything but a message to not smoke. He also confesses that the only reason he took John Abraham for the movie was to get the movie released.

    Anurag is different and quite capable of rubbing people at the wrong end. After experiencing Black Friday and Gulaal, I have come to rate him quite high. He inspires me and I think the jolts he gives to conformists [such as me] is more than welcome.

    In case you are interested in his talk at IHC, here it is –

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