Readers Write In #316: On Parinda…and the flight of those pigeons

Posted on December 26, 2020


(by An Jo)

Spoilers galore

‘Parinda’ released in 1989, was one hell of a crimemovie from the Bombay film industry on Bombay and one that shook and held its audiences by the throat and screamed—albeitcoveredin its veneer of ‘subtlety—a violence so unleashed, that one could feel iteven more after-the fact.

The way Nana’s Anna is introduced, more importantly, the under-belly of Bombay is introduced, is awe-inspiring to-date. Right from the topographical view of Bombay during the initial credits—with a terrific usage of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ piece— in its neon-light nights to graduallycutting down onto Nana’s ‘Anna Seth’ office and Rama Reddy (Kamal Kapoor) and Shiva Subramanyam’s ‘Francis’ wiping a knife decorated with blood after killing a non-decrepit man [Vidhu]; director Vidhu Vinod Chopra sets a broody, grimy, and a grisly atmosphere of the metropolis. In those days, we weren’t introduced to such kind of ‘introductions.’ It’s the brilliantcamerawork that deceives us: It gives us a topographical view of the most important city in India, and then cuts it down to size to showing us non-touristy parts of the city! And so smartly, Vidhu emphasizes on the importance of geography as well in the movie: When the dead body is buried amidst an avalanche of coconut heads, Abdul Khan (Suresh Oberoi), the menacing, flutist murderersays, ‘Who gaya, Worli ki gutter mein’, and when he lays his hand on Anupam Kher’s police inspector, ‘Prakash’ it lays the foundation for what is essentially a Bombay story. It is a re-visited but sub-verted ‘Deewar.’When Nana tells Jackie, ‘Bandar Naaka le chal’ guiding Anang Desai’s corrupt cop, Vidhu, and cinematographer Binod Pradhan almost lust over the scene. There are shots, first, of Jackie’s Kishan adjusting his car’s rear-view mirror, a local riding by, and then, he rides parallel to it towards a dead-end. A very symbolic shot when viewed from the perspective of Kishan that he is one arm of the hydra-headed monster; he’s got to go back to Anna; and he’s fine with that.

What’s most important, and stunningly captured, is the wayBombay city is introduced; and how the characters are revealed within the confines of Bombay.Pray, what’s so striking about Rama Reddy? [The last name is only revealed by the police inspector.] He goes to the Babulnath Mandirriding his decrepit 2-wheeler; sees Iqbal talking to Kishan, and a few sequences later, he’s kidnapped on the very spot and in almost a Shakespearean plot, a shot of a bribe being forced on him with Musa (Tom Alter) is taken with him wearing chappals: Well, that pic is enough to drive Anna into a frenzy. But what drove the audience to a frenzy is the stark simplicity of this gangster, the one who could board any local, any bus, visit any hospital or temple without so much as raising an eyebrow. It begs the question, why the hell would anyone want to be a gangster where one’s life hangs by the thread everyday one steps out if this is the way one’s going to live?

When Anil’s ‘Karan’ finally decides to get a job in a ‘bada’ company, it is superb to see Jackie’s expressions; it is ironic – even though he is living in a world used to duplicity, he can’t recognize his own brother’s motivations and machinations! What is more important, is how Vidhu cuts that scene from the Malabar Hill flat’s balcony to when a shocked Kishan faces Anna! And how superbly and casually Suresh Oberoi explains the passing criteria of Anna’s version of JEE/IIT exams – ‘Ek Aadmi ko maarna hai bas; who marega toh tum pass huega.’

It is in the next scene, that takes Karan from a wannabe to someone who transforms into a blood-thirsty animalandIqbalinitiates the cycle.And Kishan knows, he knows that the lives are changed forever, and hangs on to a railing shocked. And then, there is that unforgettable scene where Kishan tries to explain that such things happen on Bombay streets often; and nobody cares. Before that, Anna plays the good-cop and bad-cop to Kishan and Abdul, stressing that business always wins. You get the gist there regarding Anna’s background with his wife and kid.

There is poetry in violence, a deliberated poetry especially in the initiation of violence, and as Martin Scorsese has captured it in many of his films, Vidhu takes his own sweet time when Anil volunteers to shoot Musa at the Marriot. Abdul pulls Francis by his arm and tells him, ‘Goli Karan chalaayega.’ And then there’s the close-up shot of a beer-bottle’s cap being opened and Binod capturing in slow-motion beer being poured and Anil staring at the glass. For a fleeting moment, the audience can feel a gamut of emotions as though once the glass is full, there is no coming back for Anil, and even more so, there’s no coming back for the audience. Karan is initiated into the cycle of violence, and so are we – just as Karan himself predicted and told the same to Kishan on his boat. Once Karan shoots Francis, it becomes easier, as Abdul had educated him, to graduate to the next murder. And so, the murders of Rama and Abdul become easy, with Abdul’s being the most dramatic both cinematically as well as in Karan’s by-now warped mind engulfed with vengeance. Karan betrays an almost sadistic pleasure in killing Abdul – and it makes sense; Vidhu portrays him as the most cold-blooded and cunning of the three. With Abdul being able to handle a flute and a knife or a gun with equal dexterity, it makes sense that Abdul’s killing is captured, well, almost like a symphony.

One of my favorite scenes is the one modeled on DEEWAR’s signature scene. While Bachchan’s scene had societal unrest mixed with his own issues regarding his father’s betrayal of ‘principles’, the face-off scene between the brothers in PARINDA is completely personal and embodies survival-at-all-cost theory. There’s a stunning line that Jackie yells back when Karan tells him he didn’t ask for all the material niceties of life bought with Kishan’s illegal activities – ‘नहींचाहिएतोलौटादे, लौटादेमेरीजवानीजोजैलकीदीवारोंकेबीचगुज़ारी! लौटासकताहै? It is a fantastic scene where it is all about one’s and the next of kin’s survival. [Kishan is hardly thinking of anyone; he is even fine with their common friend Prakash being killed as far as Karan is left alone by Anna. Karan has no answer to Kishan’s anguished cry.]

Each performer revel within the time and space given to them, whether from Shekhar Kakkar’s Iqbal [‘Khopdi’ from NUKKAD] to Anang Desai’s corrupt cop ‘Mirani’ to all the way, of course, to Nana and Jackie. Madhuri (Paro) is terrific and natural with hardly any embellishment playing a guileless, idealistic character. Despite minimal make-up, she makes us feel her loss. She is ethereal in this beautifully shot and scored song penned by Khurshid Hallauri, lifted from Leo Sayer’s track.  Vidhu, infact, uses Madhuri’s Paro as one person that keeps idealism alive somewhat till the end – despite her brother’s murder, despite the shadows of the underworld and its murky characters hovering all around her. Anil plays Karan effectively keeping his ebullience in check and maintaining a balance when shifting between playing a virgin-murderer and a treacherous rat to Anna. Jackie is fantastic and it is history that he won the Filmfare award for best actor. It is a joy to see him traverse through the pains of having to bear the burden of being the ‘older’ one. With the right amount of physical volatility and emotional scars expressed through anguished screams and pleas and hopelessness, he hits the audience with superb notes throughout the film, providing a perfect marriage between his inner demons and that of the city’s/Anna’s ‘dhanda.’ And then Nana is the icing on the cake with his brilliant turn as a pyrophobic, short-tempered, cold-hearted but hot-blooded gangster. Each facial expression and body language of his screams mania in a manner rarely seen in Indian movies. It is a cunning performance where he masterfully manages to wed the idiosyncrasies of a gangster to the realism at hand. When he yells ‘ध्नधेमेंकोईकिसीकाभाईनहींबहेननहीबीवीनहींबच्चानहीं’he bloody well means it and shows it. This is one of Nana’s finest performances after Amol Palekar’s ‘Thoda Sa Roomani Ho Jaaye.’

The true scene-stealeris however Binod Pradhan’s cinematography. His use of high-angles, lights, shadows, is pure masterclass. From Nana’s fiery, tortuous death on a swing, to the introductory shot of Anna, to Madhuri’s introduction in a morgue from a top-angle, to capturing the Babulnath mandir’s serenity and the thematic shots of pigeons flying away at Dadar Kabutarkhanaas though they mirror Kishan, Karan, and Paro’s longing to unshackle themselves from Anna’s vice-like grip on their lives, to the introductory shot of Musaon a water-tank on Antop Hill spread beneath by slums, to the shots in Karan’s Malabar hills flat where he beautifully separates the ideologies of both the brothers through a ‘Deewar’, a wall to the sheer madness and revelry of the  New Year celebration at the Gateway and Taj, and of course, the first night scene between Karan and Paro. All the myths and expectation/s of first night that we harbored since kindergarten based on the knowledge we had gathered from Hindi movies were smashed that day with Vinod’s shot-taking and Binod’s lights. Leaving everything to the imagination of the viewer, Vidhu shot a love-making scene so unique that its aesthetics is still unmatched. The colors change from bright yellow to blue and create a sensual atmosphere: Before Bhansali’s blue in SAAWARIYA, this was the only blue we knew. And again, Vidhu gives new meaning to ‘breaking the bed’ when Anna decides to sunset Karan and Paro’s lives on their nuptial bed. And through-out the film, Binod visually keeps referring to this leitmotif of sunrise and sunset utilizing Bombay’s landmarks, pigeons, and the waves.

The film, as I watched recently, has hardly dated. The one grudge – which I had even when I first watched it though too young to pen it – was that Vidhu always has had this problem of dumbing down some scenes: albeit unintentionally. These are the scenes involving the younger versions of Karan, Kishan, Paro, Prakash [Prakash wearing a cop’s uniform as a kid], and Anna [uttering ‘Accha, Bahut Accha’] or some of the kiddish gestures between Anil and Madhuri in a maturity-bathed song. In an otherwise taut, sharp-as-a-knife slicing through butter movie, these few, very few sore points do stand out. It is as though Vidhu wants to avoid masala but still wants to hang on to some vestiges of it and it isn’t convincing.

Parinda remains a landmark even after 31 years of its release, and is truly a collector’s edition, and a superb take on the megapolis and its shady lives and livelihoods; a grim, grisly, and visceral take keeping in mind the dramatics afforded by the medium of cinema.

Vidhu managed to turn the ‘city of dreams’ to a ‘city of violence’ in one fell swoop that served as a precursor to Ramu’s great outings in SATYA and COMPANY and continues to influence makers like Nikhil Advani and Motwane.


  1. Amitabh was supposed to play Jackie’s role. Amitabh rejected.
  2. Naseer was then called in but Naseer rejected it due to his issues with Vidhu during JBDY and Khamosh. [Who doesn’t Naseer have an issue with?]
  3. The movie was shot at a measly expenditure of 12 lakh Rs in 1989.
  4. Vidhu and Binod studied paintings of Van Gogh and Rembrandt as prep for cinematography for this movie.

Notable Locations:Antop Hill; Byculla Bridge; Kamani Oil Mills; Dadar Kabutarkhana; Gilder’s Bungalow; Dadar Kabutarkhana; Babulnath Temple; Holiday Inn; Mudh Island; Khar Danda Hanuman Temple, Gateway of India

References:–poetic-frames-of-parinda/20200525.htm – Sukanya Verma