“Look up the word ‘bizarre’ in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean dark. Was Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind a dark film? It was bizarre. No dictionary in the world says bizarre means dark or vice versa. This is the problem with Indians; they come with fixed notions. What is the definition of dark? Tell me!”– An exasperated No Smoking writer/director Anrag Kashyap in an interview
DIRECTED BY: Anurag Kashyap
FEATURING: John Abraham, Ayesha Takia, Ranvir Shorey, Kiku Sharda, Paresh Rawal
PLOT: K, an arrogant businessman and highly-addicted chain smoker, agrees to enter a smoking-cessation program after his wife threatens to leave him. Going to the address his friend gave him, K is led through a labyrinth and forced to sign a contract which specifies that his loved ones will be harmed in increasingly severe ways every time he smokes a cigarette. Naturally, K relapses into smoking and is caught, eventually winding up trapped in a nightmare world.
- The script (at least its early sections) bears some striking similarities to Stephen King‘s short story “Quitters, Inc.,” which was previously a segment of the 1985 anthology Cat’s Eye. The writer/director admits the story was an inspiration, although the credits do not mention King.
- No Smoking was Anurag Kashyap’s third movie, but the first one released in India. His debut, Paanch, was never released outside of international film festivals due to state censorship (for violence and drug use); his second film, Black Friday, a true crime story, was delayed while a court case was pending and released after No Smoking. He later achieved mainstream success with 2009’s Dev D, an adaptation of a popular novel.
- No Smoking was a colossal flop in its native India, where it baffled audiences with little exposure to psychological thrillers or surreal cinema.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The bathtub sitting alone on a snowy plain in Siberia, just in sight of what appears to be a Soviet-era gulag, which appears in dream sequences at the beginning and end of the movie.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hitler’s Indian buddy; Fosse’s cigarette cabaret; banana peel suicide
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: No Smoking isn’t quite what would result if David Lynch got a wild hair to direct a Bollywood film—but it’s a reasonable approximation. With its theme of bad men forced to forgo their vices against their will, it’s a bit like a Hindi twist on A Clockwork Orange, as well, only with more elaborate musical numbers. With the tropes of Indian popular cinema colliding against a Western-style neo-surrealist narrative, No Smoking is neither fish nor fowl; it totally confounded Indian audiences used to simple stories with happy endings, and it will probably confound you, too.
Hindi trailer for No Smoking
COMMENTS: Anurag Kashyap’s Advice for How to Stop Smoking in Five Easy Steps:
- Get professional help.
Are you a handsome, busy professional who smokes everywhere and forces little old ladies to leave the elevator when they complain about the smell? Do you have nightmares where you’re being held in a Siberian gulag without a cigarette? Is your wife divorcing you because you can’t make love to her without coughing up a lung and lighting up halfway through the act? Is your entire name a single letter? Then maybe it’s time for you to look into quitting your cigarette habit for good. But you can’t do it on your own. Try “the Laboratory.” You’ll need a referral. Your ex-smoker friends should be eager to give you one; they might even fight over the privilege. Now, head for the slums of Kolkata and look for a carpet seller with one good eye. He’ll show you to the secret passage. Climb down the endless stairs. The old women will help you if you get lost. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the paunchy shirtless guru, the dwarf, and the lady in the burka. Don’t forget to pay Baba Bengali’s very reasonable one rupee fee!
2. Involve your family and friends.
Do you have a cross-eyed friend with a hearing problem who recently lost a couple of fingers? Go to him for advice. If you have a doctor acquaintance who also wears a hearing aid, so much the better. The Laboratory wants your friends and family as involved as humanly possible in maintaining your abstinence program. Remember, when you smoke, it hurts them, too—maybe even more than yourself. Do you have a vulnerable sibling? Good. And what about your wife? Does she look exactly like your secretary, only with no glasses and a different shade of lipstick? That’s excellent. That way, if you lose one of them, her twin will be able to step right in and take her place. Not that anything will happen to your loved ones if you follow the program. Just follow the program. It’s in your (and their) best interest.
3. Take time out for music.
Your program is not all withdrawals and horrifying threats. Just like a movie, a good abstinence regimen should offer at least one major production number. Try to catch “the Bob Fosse” at a cabaret, where an androgynous guy and his smoky backup singers will dress up in tophats and do some numbers ripped off from an off-off-Broadway production of “Chicago.” If the music’s too loud, you can speak in speech bubbles. Don’t be alarmed if your wife and your secretary go to the bathroom at the same time. (Why should you care? You’re not having an affair). Just enjoy your Jameson’s and listen to that funky bass, and catch those lyrics… they might apply to your situation. “Every time a cigarette is lit, I burn… Embers inside me churn, I turn into smoke and slowly burn.” Wild, baby.
4. Remember the Holocaust.
This one may seem strange, but bear with us. Did you notice that Schindler’s List is suddenly playing on your television set? Have you ever considered the similarity between smoking cessation programs and concentration camps? Between rooms filled with cigarette smoke and gas chambers? If you are dreaming of smoke-free gulags, your subconscious has probably picked up on the similarities. As you walk to your first meeting at the Laboratory, you may notice silent men standing in sackcloth behind a grate that looks like a prison cell; pay them no heed. As long as you follow the program, this will not be your fate. The fact that your guru has a photograph of himself riding in a car with Hitler on the wall should cause no alarm; it merely reminds you of the seriousness of this endeavor.
5. Die to yourself.
“Soul-full, the body is divine. Soul-less, it is dead.” The inner soul (antaratma) is often debauched, like the lungs of the smoker. A strong mind can tame it, but if you refuse to control yourself and continue to give in to the body’s sullying desires and its need to poison itself with the noxious fumes of a burning weed, then realize that your antaratma and your body may have to be forcibly separated. This, of course, is a desperate measure, undertaken only in the most intransigent cases. It shouldn’t come to this, but if it does, expect to experience severe hallucinations, teleportation via bathtubs, time dilation, appearing in music videos with multiple Santa Clauses, spontaneous travel to the limits of the multiverse, incarceration in multiple universes, and the loss of your doppelgänger’s fingers. We advise working the program diligently to avoid such a fate.
Finally, note that although the Laboratory is omnipotent, they do make mistakes. It’s a risk you’re going to have to take.
That will be one rupee, please.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“No Smoking leaves you completely baffled and desperately looking for logic in its surreal sequences of John in a jaded jail, John in a tunnel, John in a bathtub, John in Siberia-like surroundings.”–Times of India (contemporaneous)
“The movie unfolds like a bad dream and spins into a downward spiral that’s unreal, incomprehensible and leaves you dazed… as you may have gathered, I still have no clue what the movie was about. And quite frankly, I don’t want to know.”–Prithviraj Hegde, Rediff (contemporaneous)
“…a real oddity, shifting gear after the first half-hour from whimsical melodrama to morality-tale-cum-psychodrama.”–Karl French, Financial Times (contemporaneous)
IMDB LINK: No Smoking (2007)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
No Smoking – The first 15 minutes of the movie (in Hindi), courtesy of the distributors
‘Our cinema is immature’ – Interview with Anurag Kashyap before No Smoking‘s release
Anurag Kashyap: No Smoking is a state of mind – Another Kashyap interview were he gives some broad notions of his intent with No Smoking
The director’s guide to No Smoking – Transcript of an online chat between Kashyap and his fans and detractors (in English)
Lashing from critics for ‘No Smoking’ hurt: Anurag Kashyap – No Smoking‘s director complains about Indian film critics’ unfavorable reactions to the film
DVD INFO: The 2007 DVD from Eros Entertainment (buy) is all-region with menus in English, although it is intended primarily for Indian audiences. The transparent chyron in the upper left corner of the screen is unobtrusive, but may prove disappointing to Americans used to distraction-free prints. Extras include the ability to jump to any of the movie’s six songs, two featurettes that restrict themselves to the making of the two main musical numbers, and advertisements for other Eros features.
The film is not available on Blu-ray or streaming services (outside of India, at least).
(This movie was nominated for review by “burner,” who called it the “weirdest indian movie ever made! seriously seriosly ABSTRACT!” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)