TALKING FILMS

‘Padmavati’ proves that Bollywood’s kohl mine never runs out

The darkened eyes of Ranveer Singh’s character Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie signal sex appeal and danger.

Padmavati actor Ranveer Singh’s resemblance to Drogo from the Game of Thrones series has not gone unnoticed. Singh’s Alauddin Khilji and Drogo from the HBO series have many similarities – the exposed chest sculpted to perfection in the early prototypes of the neighbourhood gym; the rough garments that suggest a lifetime spent far away from refinement; the untamed ruggedness that both repels as well as reels in.

But most of all, the eyes have it. Khal and Khilji both have blazing orbs accentuated with black eyeliner. No woman misses the message here, especially when it comes to Khilji. He might be a marauding invader or an invading marauder, but he is also seductively dangerous and dangerously seductive.

Singh plays a heavily fictionalised version of the fourteenth-century Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s historical, which isn’t based on factual accounts but on a fanciful reading of the past. Padmavat, the epic poem from which Bhansali seeks inspiration, was written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi over 200 years after Khilji’s reign. The poem suggests that there once lived a queen named Padmini, for whom Khili lusted so intensely that he rode into her kingdom Chittor with his army to conquer her. Rather than give in to Khilji, the legend goes, Padmini and the other women in Chittor leaped into a fire. Lives were lost, but Raput honour was saved.

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Padmavati (2017).

Men with kohl in their eyes in real life or on the screen are by no means unusual, but they send out a few unmistakable signals. They are in the same category as men with long hair and pierced ear lobes. Such men are dandies in touch with their feminine side. They are from minority or marginal communities that have not been touched by civilising influences and do not follow common conventions on social dressing and comportment. They are not to be trusted easily.

Kohl-lined eyes are, of course, a sign of great beauty in women, and have inspired movie titles and numerous songs. Lyricists who deconstruct a woman’s beauty into her desirable components – hair, hips, the walk, the demeanour – never fail to mention the facial feature that has benefitted from an eyeliner’s brush strokes. In the song Qayamat Ke Kajal from Kismat (1968), kohl-lined eyes are compared to a cataclysmic event. In Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen from Baazigar (1993), the darkened eyelids, when combined with fair cheeks, a sharp gaze and loose hair, have the potential to ruin a man’s well-being.

Gulzar put it beautifully in the song Kajra Re from Bunty Aur Babli (2005), in which Aishwarya Rai’s hazel eyes are enhanced by make-up. The ocular theme that dominates the song results in the simple and insistent chorus, “Your kohl-laden eyes, your dark, very dark eyes.”

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Kajra Re, Bunty aur Babli (2005).

The kind of men who line their eyes in the movies include frontier types who lead rough lives in dusty places (Amitabh Bachchan’s Afghan tribesman in Khuda Gawah, 1992) or gypsy-like folk who exist on the edge of gentility and morality (Ranveer Singh as a Kutchi Romeo in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela, 2013). But most often, kohl-eyed men are criminals, gangsters or terrorists. Kohl here is meant to supply an extra layer of menace, in case the viewer has missed the point.

Amrish Puri’s already bulbuous eyes have often been lined with the black liquid in numerous films, and not only in Indian cinema. In Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Puri plays Mola Ram, a monstrous priest of the Thugee cult whose frightening appearance includes a tonsured pate, a necklace of bones, and kohl-lined eyes large enough to swallow a car or two.

Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

In Agneepath (1990), Amitabh Bachchan’s lined eyelids convey his hoodlum character’s flamboyance. Pankaj Kapoor’s malevolent gaze in the gangster-themed Maqbool (2003) is bolstered by his eye make-up. Prakash Raj in Wanted (2009) is both a gangster and a terrorist, and the kohl-lined look seems to be written into the contract.

In Dongri Ka Raja (2016), Ronit Roy’s hoodlum Mansoor seems to have an eyeliner tucked into his salwar-kameez. Shah Rukh Khan reaches for his kohl stick to more effectively play a bootlegger in Raees (2017).

Shah Rukh Khan in Raees (2017).
Shah Rukh Khan in Raees (2017).

Eyeliner is also as prevalent as Kalashnikovs and bomb-making material in the underground terrorist camps infiltrated by Kamal Haasan’s undercover agent in Vishwaroopam (2013). In fact, along with beards that reach to the chest, eyeliner seems crucial to ensuring membership into a terrorist group.

There are exceptions, and not all of them work. Arshad Warsi carries off the kohl look in Ishqiya (2010) and Dedh Ishqiya (2014) far better than Aditya Roy Kapur in Daawat-e-Ishq. Warsi’s Babban is a lovable thief with a larger-than-life personality that begins in his eyes and carries over to his luxuriant moustache and his clothes. Roy Kapur, in contrast, gains little from highlighting his peepers in Daawat-e-Ishq. The kohl here signifies nothing other than the filmmakers going overboard in trying to give the character a distinctive look.

Jaideep Ahlawat in Vishwaroopam (2013).
Jaideep Ahlawat in Vishwaroopam (2013).

The trickery associated with the kohl-eyed look is effectively demonstrated in Rudaali (1993). The serially unlucky Shanichari (Dimple Kapadia) finds that her eyes have dried up. She is unable to cry, even after her husband dies and her misfortunes pile up. Professional mourner Bhikni (Raakhee) gives Shanichari a tip: she pulls out from the folds of her sari her eyeliner, which makes the eyes burn and lets the tears flow.

When it is Shanichari’s turn to become a mourner, she doesn’t need the stinging kohl. The weight of her burdens reaches her eyelids, and she weeps with abandon. Glycerine¸ rather than kohl, does the trick here.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.