By Raunaq Saraswat
Anthologies can be at once discrete and overwhelming. Constituent stories can hover over distinct grounds while simultaneously complementing each other in drawing the larger picture. The intriguing bit about the genre, though, is in the degrees to which one story feeds off the other. Lust Stories had disparate narratives signifying ownership of one’s sexuality. Masaan had intertwined stories not affecting but interacting with each other. And quite in line with the queerness of the genre, Ludo, directed by Anurag Basu, deftly combines the singularity of the lives of four couples to produce a comical platter, one that slips very casually in the cloak of humour with subjects pertaining to a larger social discourse.
There is a thing or two to notice in the manner in which characters of the four running tales of Ludo are brought together under one umbrella, in that their connections are purely accidental and a matter of fate more than choice. Sattu guns down Bhinder at his palace, the parking lot of whom carries Manohar’s car. Rahul finds himself gaping at the naked body of Bhinder, astounded at the commotion around the secluded outhouse he had taken shelter in. Sattu abdicates him then and there, setting off a chain of events only to be entangled by the addition of new characters. In one sequence, we see Pinky shopping in the mall where Rahul works. Their lives remain largely unrelated throughout, except for the climactic scene where everything and everyone almost collides.
It’s imperative at this point to pause and reflect on the relatedness of those whom we deem as strangers and passers-by, for there may not be an apparent connect between you and the unknowns, but on some distant plane that is invisible at first and that unravels itself at a later time; your fate is tied together with some of those you haven’t known yet. And who may cross your paths unbeknownst. The web may sometimes turn ugly or violent but is always evolving to become intricate and complex. Ludo portrays the very interconnectedness of one with the other in its game of aspirations and conditions. How do we account in our lives the impact of those we aren’t aware of? Perhaps we cannot. Pinky, Aalu, Akash, and Sattu couldn’t.
Crookedness runs as a common thread across the players of the game, most of who indulge in some form of trickery in one way or the other. Notable amongst the troupe are the female partners, whose character arcs symbolize the deep-rooted elements of patriarchy, ethnicity and class. Pinky, for instance, comes off as a damsel in distress for the most part, turning to her good-old friend every time her hubby is in a spot of bother, almost exploiting the soft corner his friend bears towards her. She wails in pain upon listening to her friend’s advice to abandon her husband. “Vo mere pati hain,” Pinky cries in response. It’s another matter that she kills him point-blank later on after having exceeded her limit to tolerate.
Sheeja, who is a nurse, suffers from the divide of dialect. She is mocked for her inability to speak Hindi and is ridiculed for her South Indian roots. Her desperation to find homeliness is best reflected in her ecstatic outburst on meeting a fellow south Indian and in her joyousness at getting to dance to a Malayali song. Our natural language shapes our thought process and is pivotal in deciding who we become. The yearning to express freely in one’s own language is felt strongest in a culturally, more so linguistically, foreign region. Sheeja is, in effect, a representative of the same earnest desire to be herself.
Shruti comes across as the most intriguing of the lot, navigating her way through the matrimonial ads to pick the richest, most suitable groom for herself. The aid in her ride is Akash, who having fallen for her, persistently tries to convince Shruti to marry him despite the impossibility of him making good fortune ever. “Kam paiso main khush rehna mushkil hai. Par zyada paiso main khush rehna toh impossible hai,” Akash remarks in his failed attempt.
Shruti’s notions of marriage stem from years of conditioning, of telling a girl child that their only gateway to a good settled life is a fortuitous husband and doing everything to ensure they grow in that very direction. Even though Ludo doesn’t add much weight to the traumatic burdens an upbringing like this brings along, the short monologue from Shruti is telling in itself, in which she reminds herself that she is happy in marrying the businessman, albeit weeping in pain.
The comedy in Ludo rests largely on the shoulders of Aalu, the good-for-everything waiter who blurs the boundaries to fulfill his unrequited love. His love story, however, fails to rise above anything superficial and remains an unfulfilled trial at best, spurring humour aplenty. Another parallel plot that seeks to encash on the very idea of unreturned love sees the child Mini find an unusual companion in Bittu, the estranged father who isn’t known to her own daughter. The underlying messaging in their tale is inherently charming, largely due to the genuineness Mini brings to the table. On finding that her pet Cheeku is happy even in her absence, Mini abandons the desire to get him back. “Cheeku unke saath khush hai. Mujhe aur kya chahiye,” she remarks, in stark contrast to the demeanor of her partner-in-crime Bittu, who is on the run to reclaim her family out of his love for them, knowing full well that they cannot love him back. The question then at the heart of the explorations of the theme of love in Ludo becomes really this: does one need their feelings to be reciprocated in kind to love the other whole-heartedly and unconditionally? Mini did not. And subsequent to listening to her pearls of wisdom, Bittu also didn’t.
As for the voice artist Akash, one needs to take note of his commentary, peculiarly the statement when his puppet says that “Akash is the government, and he sitting on his lap, is the media.” Those familiar with the term Godi Media should understand the gravity of his words. We must also ponder whether such dialogues and others like “Cow has two functions, to give milk and votes” will be allowed in the post-regulation world of OTTs.
The essence of Ludo is in the game it borrows its name from. That everyone converges to one common point, no matter where and when they start. There are surely winners and losers, who are, as in the game of Ludo, decided essentially by the dice of fate. The narrations by Yamraj and Devdut reinforce the idea of interconnectedness, both with the known and the unknowns. It’s befitting to mull over the dichotomy of sin, and virtue Devdut keeps quipping Yamraj over. What after all classifies an act as a sin or a virtue? Does Pinky killing her infidel husband, who is simultaneously overtly patriarchal and responsible for her dismal state, make for a sin? Does Sheeba and Rahul’s stealing of a bagful of money to break free from their miseries count as a sin? Come to think of Shruti in the same light, and one shall wonder if her gold-digger like pursuits can be called sinful? Or, for that matter, we may even question the connotations that have come to be associated with the label of gold-digger; how correct are they? And who really is to be blamed if anyone?
A remark that is easily missable amidst the laugh out loud moments is that of the death-god Yamraj when he says, “Demons and Gods are mere narratives, created by the mankind to keep things under control.” Ludo, on a level, is a defiance to the same urge to control. Its characters ride daringly on the roller coaster of fate as it comes to them, repeatedly reminding us that “kismat ki hawa kabhi naram-naram, kabhi garam garam, kabhi naram, garam, naram, garam betaji.”
Raunaq Saraswat is a junior undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. He tries to write regularly but seldom succeeds.
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