For someone who credits his “teachers” Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul in the closing credits, Rajat Kapoor has paid a rich tribute through his film. It is difficult to slot Ankhon Dekhi in any particular genre. The story of a man who does not accept anybody else’s truth except his own has as many philosophical connotations as humorous situations.
What do we consider true? An apple falls from the tree because of the law of gravity. We accept that truth. But who tells us it is true? Do we know gravity in person? Can gravity be felt, seen and heard for it to be acknowledged as the absolute truth? For that matter, is any truth absolute at all? In pretty much the same way that language is an acceptable construct without which we cannot communicate and, therefore, pronounce according to conformity. Who’s to say the pronunciation is absolute? Is ‘paper’ spelt that way because we are sure of it? Who has actually told us that p-a-p-e-r stands for ‘paper’? Who, really?
Ankhon Dekhi celebrates this spirit of questioning the truth, the need Bauji (Sanjay Mishra) feels to experience everything before accepting it. Embodying Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” of putting “thinking” before “knowing”, Mishra fleshes out a character that all of us have known at some point or the other. Put that way, Kapoor has made a dense philosophical statement on celluloid, somewhat akin to Kamal Swaroop’s Om-Dar-Ba-Dar. That, however, would be a fallacious conclusion to arrive at.
Despite their similarities — in both being a statement of rejection, of antithesis paving the way for synthesis — both films are as different as apples and peaches. Unlike Swaroop’s cult phenomenon, Ankhon Dekhi is as real as it gets. There is no trippyness here. Bauji could be anyone’s uncle at anytime, anywhere, and it would still have made sense. His eccentricities would still elicit laughter. His concerns would still remain genuine. That Kapoor chose to put him in a lower middle-class family in purani Dilli says a lot about the director’s belief in his subject.
The whole area of Fathehpuri comes alive with every member of Bauji’s family — from the doubting-yet- doting wife played by the excellent Seema Pahwa to the understanding-yet-exasperated daughter Rita (Maya Sarao). Bauji’s land is strange and layered; it might have room for a myriad questions and apriori emotions, but it also has room for filial and worldly ties. It is, after all, the oft-romanticised-but-seldom-so- romantic world of Delhi-6. Others have tried, but have been lured into its lanes so much that they forgot those who lived in them. Kapoor brings out the everyman in these lanes, who blows out candles on a birthday cake and sips Fanta with bread pakoras. He looks through the tangled wire meshes to see the faces that have time for discussion on whether Manmohan Singh is really the prime minister.
Trapped in this real world, Bauji feels the burden of having to find his own path, yet he never feels that it is a trap. For him, all his life has been a roller-coaster ride of various emotions and phases, and hence, his own journey on the path of truth.
In fact, it is this very search for his “own truth” that leads him to quit his job and gaze at trees. It also drives a wedge between him and his brother (Kapoor), albeit a temporal one. It also draws him to the world of cards and gambling, which in his world, is a “game of probabilities”. This world of immense possibilities is filled with fun and laughter, some intended, some sardonic. The world mocks him, as does the audience. It then understands him, as does the audience. But neither can give him wings to fly.
In this, Bauji is alone — or together — with Icarus. And Kapoor is likewise with Kaul and Shahani. Both are in good company. Raise your glasses, ladies and gents. This one deserves a toast of the wine you make from your own vineyard.