Film Review: No Smoking


Film: No Smoking


Director: Anurag Kashyap


Cast: John Abraham, Ayesha Takia, Paresh Rawal, Ranvir Shorey


Rating: 2.5


It is very easy to write off this film and equally tough to rate it. Simply because at one level it could be read as brilliant and on the other as mindless. 


Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking is a fantastical ride that is bizarre, surreal, weird and dream-like by turns. Look no further if this kind of ride spooks you or disinterests you. No Smoking, if anything is not for the faint-hearted. Or weak-minded. 


The story revolves around an arrogant and emotionally dysfunctional, cigarette addict K and the events that follow his addiction to the cancer pipe. Tired of his habit and resultant addictive behaviour, his wife leaves him and inorder to get her back he agrees to go to a ‘prayogshalla’ which promises to help him kick the habit. The events that follow are one imaginative ride into a netherworld of possibilities which combine the real, unreal and surreal in such a tight thread that it makes one’s head reel by the end of it all.


No Smoking is in the genre of European experimental films. It has a distinct voice and an even more distinct tone. The tone of the film is distinctly Kafka-esque and has been brilliantly maintained in its balance between horror, absurdity and funny. A bit here or there could have ruined it all but Anurag handles his plot with a tight rein that never lets you take what you are seeing for granted.


And that is the beauty of this film. The unbridled imagination and baffling amount of layers that stare at you are enough to make this an applaudable treat. The melting of the reality, unreality and surreality is as mellifluous as it actually is. Neither of the three have their boundaries and nor do they in the film. Yet, it comes together piece by piece in the end recalling Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, Kubric and other such masters of skillful screenplay. There are distinct influences of Pulp Fiction, An Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind, Clockwork Orange at work here. Even Spielberg finds his way, whose Schindler’s List Anurag gives a tribute to in a sequence where Ayesha Takia is watching the film and in John’s dream sequences of him being killed in Siberia by police. 


The movie is brilliantly scripted with a dazzling clarity of the various threads and how they would come together in the end. The references built into the story through defining moments speak loudly of our culture, consumerism, marketing, belief in mysticism denoting how rooted in reality is this surreal saga which pretends to border on the nonsense. 


However, the movie fails to connect to its audience precisely because of its superbly crafted complications and darkness. The twists, cuts and back and forth between time and spaces leaves the audience completely baffled by the on-screen happenings. There is no pattern to the structure, linear, cyclical whatever recalling Pulp Fiction in the way events disjoint and join themselves back. What remains is the absurdist Kafka-esque ambience that is intensely personal and detached at the same time. If only for this experience this movie is a must-watch.


Performance-wise it’s a John Abraham movie all the while. And he delivers. He lives the role and makes one experience the arrogance, stubbornness, helplessness of K from the beginning without making him a pitiable character. Ayesha is good enough in a limited role and so is Ranveer. Paresh Rawal sails through his role, with his typical panache, completely in control of his character, merging the evil with comic, complementing the tone of the film.


Technically, No Smoking is brilliant. Cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is as imaginative as is art direction. Wasik Khan and his team scores in their production design which combines dreary with lively, and cramped with clear with élan. The sepia tones of certain sections of the film are a fantastic touch that enhance the dream-like quality of the film. Superb editing by Aarti Bajaj moves hand in hand with the pace of a narrative which is so sane yet so crazy. Vishal Bhardwaj’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics heighten the grey-black tone of the film. ‘Phoonk De’, especially is one haunting track that is trademark Vishal and Gulzar.


No Smoking is not your average movie meant to supply a few thrills and chills. Yes, they do exist but will find an audience with a very decided and niche segment of viewers who like and understand the language of experimental cinema. If you like a film that, even though you don’t seem to understand, yet resonates within you long after you think you have forgotten it, then No Smoking may just be your idea.