Pankaj Sachdeva, on the narrative significance a journal can play in a film and how Bollywood uses it
Franz Kafka once wrote, “One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer.” A diary is a kind of a memoir where the writer records his experiences and significant events of life on a periodic basis. It is the most honest account of the writer’s feelings about his/her life. Diaries in films have been as popular as letters. They have been often used as a tool for a flashback to a different story. If diaries did not exist, cinema would have to find other ways of time travel. It is a common saying that one should not read someone’s diary; however, it is hardly followed, at least, in films. Diaries are also important for character development as they tell us more about the dreams and the aspirations of a character. And, sometimes, a diary is just a prop. Some films are also a kind of a diary in a way, where the storytellers show us some of the events that shaped them as an individual. However, that is a research topic for some other time. For now, I enlist some of the instances of the use of diaries in Hindi cinema.
A British woman Sue wants to make a documentary film on the freedom fighters of the Indian independence movement in Rang De Basanti (2006). She is determined to make the film that is based on the diary entries of her grandfather who was posted as a jailer in Lahore for the British Indian police. The diary of her grandfather provided real conversations that he had with leaders, such as Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, and Rajguru.
In Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), Akira gets to read the diary of Samar after he rescues her from the freezing waters of Pangong Lake. The diary is a flashback to the love story of Samar and Meera, and how Samar became The Man Who Cannot Die. Akira, who belongs to the generation of ‘instant make out and instant break-up’, is deeply moved by his story and hopes to get a similar kind of love in her life. Flashback to a different story was also seen in Humari Adhuri Kahaani (2015) where Hari leaves a diary for his son which details the story of his wife Vasudha. In Zubeidaa (2001), too, a son finds the journal of his dead mother where he learns about the life of his mother through her poetry and her words. Likewise, in Ankahee (2006), a father Shekhar gives a diary to his daughter Sheena in which he wrote about all the incidents that led him to break up with Sheena’s mother. A police inspector finds two diaries, one for the year 2005 and another for the year 2006, when he visits Sanjay Singhania’s home in Ghajini (2008). The diaries chronicle the events of the two years detailing the journey of Sanjay from a rich industrialist to a criminal seeking revenge for his dead girlfriend.
In Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Rohit keeps a black diary with him; the contents of which Naina is intrigued to know about. The diary plays an important part in the film later when a furious Naina finds out that Aman helped Rohit in setting her and Rohit as a couple. To save the situation, Aman makes up the contents of the diary where he starts speaking about Naina as Rohit, though Rohit did not really write anything like. Through this, Aman expressed his own love for Naina by imagining himself as Rohit. Mere naina meri Naina ko dhoondhte hain. Even in the film’s title song, for some moments, Aman pretends be Rohit; if only he could really exchange his places with him. Kaash main tumhari jagah pe hota. Kaash.
In Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), a jovial Imran kept a diary with him, and his friends used to wonder about as to what was so secretive about it. It is later that he tells them he writes poetry in his diary, and just before they race with the bulls, he vows to get it published for everyone to read. The aspect of writing poetry was also seen in Udaan (2010) where a stifled Rohan wrote poetry in his diary but it was burnt by his autocratic father, who wanted Rohan to follow his footsteps instead of becoming a writer. Haider, a student of The Revolutionary Poets of British India writes his own poetry in his diary in Haider (2014). His girlfriend jokes with an army officer that he can check that he is engaged to her by reading Haider’s diary; all his poetry is written for her.
In Astitva (2000), Shrikant Pandit writes a daily diary entry. When his wife Aditi receives an inheritance from her dead teacher, who had taught her music decades ago, he becomes suspicious. He goes back to his old diaries, and figures out that he could not have been the father of Aditi’s child, whom he raised as his own son. The diary gives him the proof that he was not in the country during the period Aditi could have become pregnant making him realize that Aditi and her teacher had an affair. A courtesan Sahibjaan, by some chance of fate, reaches the tent of forest ranger Salim Ahmed Khan in Pakeezah (1972). In his tent, she reads his diary and eventually finds out that he is the same man who had once met her in a train compartment and had written a couplet on her beautiful feet. Anand (1971) begins with a felicitation for Bhaskar, an oncologist, who has written a book titled Anand. Bhaskar tells everyone that the book is not a work of fiction but taken from his own diary and related to his experiences with a real person named Anand.
Simran writes about her dream man in her diary in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). The man is unseen, unknown―andekha, anjaana―yet she feels she knows him quite well. She starts tearing the pages of her diary, after she realizes that she is not even allowed to dream about someone as she is supposed to marry the son of her father’s friend. In Europe, she meets a philandering Raj, who strangely uses the same words―andekha, anjaana―to describe the face of his dream girl, reminding Simran of her words in her diary. In Milenge Milenge (2010), Priya also writes in her diary about her dream man who has no bad habits. She goes to Bangkok and runs into Amit, a man who has the same bad habits that Priya hates. Amit steals the diary of Priya and pretends to become like the dream man about whom Priya had written in it. At some point, Priya finds out that he stole her diary and Amit is not really the man he pretends to be, and she breaks up with him. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Nandini has three things in her room―yellow flowers, a chandelier, and her diary. An Italian student Sameer comes to learn music from her father and is put in Nandini’s room where he reads her diary in which she wished that he gets lost before he reaches their place as she did not want to vacate her room for him.
The diary makes an appearance in the realms of law as evidence in Mera Saaya (1966). Thakur Rakesh Singh questions his wife’s impostor Naina that if she is really his wife, where is the diary that his wife Geeta used to write every day. Naina fails to answer, and is, eventually, sent to a mental hospital. The diary is later found hidden in Naina’s clothes that Geeta had kept in her cupboard. The diary plays a role in identifying Geeta. In Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh (2016), Vidya says that she loved to write on a variety of topics; after eight years, she felt like writing again. After her accident, Inspector Inderjeet Singh visits her home and finds her diary which he collects it as evidence. He reads her diary and learns about her past where she worked as a government clerk in Kalimpong.
In Bodyguard (2011), a mother leaves behind a diary for her son in which she had written how she had betrayed her friend. Maya marries her friend Divya’s lover Lovely who thought she is Chhaya, the girl who was in love with him. After being diagnosed with a health condition, Maya chronicles her betrayal in the diary and dies. Eventually, Lovely finds out Divya was Chhaya when he reads Maya’s diary after his son throws it in the dustbin. In Phobia (2016), Mehak finds the diary of Jiah Khurana in an apartment where she temporarily moves after she is diagnosed with agoraphobia due to being sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. The diary entries make Mehak suspicious of her neighbor Mannu as she believes that he killed Jiah.
The diary has also occurred as a medium of identification of past life, as seen in Love Story 2050 (2008). Zeisha, a popular singer in the year 2050, is able to remember her past life by reading the diary of Sana. Zeisha was the reincarnation of Sana, and saw flashes of her past life when she met Sana’s lover Karan.
In The Lunchbox (2013), Ila finds an old diary of her grandmother while going through some of the old items she had brought along with her during her wedding. She finds a recipe of tinde (spring apples) which she thinks Saajan will like and sends it to him in the lunchbox. A sensitive Shutu in A Death In The Gunj (2017) writes passages from his favorite books and his favorite words in his diary. He draws frogs in it, and also keeps dead moths in it. The diary becomes his way of sharing and remembering the things he likes, which others in his family don’t understand.
A physical diary is usually the most popular form of writing a diary. However, there have been other interesting and non-conventional ways of documenting one’s life. One of the most novel ways of chronicling diary entries was seen in Cocktail (2012) where Veronica used to record her feelings in front of a camera every night. She used to talk freely about how her day went and her state of mind at that particular moment. When her friend Meera goes to her room, she can see the projection of Veronica’s recorded video entries on the walls. This format was also seen in Dhobi Ghat (2010), also titled as Mumbai Diaries. An artist Arun moves to a new apartment in Mumbai. While unpacking, he finds a small container belonging to the previous tenant. In that, he finds three video tapes, which are video diaries (technically letters; however, taking the liberty to call them as diaries as the film’s title says such) of a girl named Yasmin. She has made them for her brother where she shows him her life in the city of Mumbai. Arun watches them and becomes deeply connected to Yasmin, eventually finding out that she committed suicide. In another unique diary format, a newly married wife Sharada enters a strange room where she reads the events of her husband Anand’s life on its walls in Red Rose (1980). The room becomes a diary that documented the turning of her husband into a misogynist serial killer of women. Though there has been a proliferation of digital devices in the last decade, there have been only a few instances of digital diaries. In Dil Mange More!!! (2004), Nikhil reads his neighbour Shagun’s diary on her computer where she had talked about his love for him. After reading it, he proposes to her. In Always Kabhi Kabhi (2011), a school girl Aishwarya used to write her diary on her cell phone. After an accident, she goes into a state of coma. Her friends receive a ‘diary alert’ on her cell phone. They figure it out that it was a diary that she used to keep writing on her cell phone all the time. They take a print out of it and read it where Aishwarya had talked about her feelings on her friends.
Unlike all the other cases, where a diary is primarily the medium of expressing one’s personal thoughts, diaries have also played a role in other situations as well. In Don (1978), a red diary of Don plays an important role throughout the film. This red diary contains the names and contacts of all of Don’s associates. The diary is a crucial piece of evidence that helps in establishing the identity of the underworld kingpin Vardhan. In Don (2006), the red diary was replaced with a disc. In Gumnaam (1965), a group of people connected to a crime finds a diary while having dinner. In the diary, the writer sends a message to the people that he is going to kill all of them, one per day.
There have been quite a few other similar items that the characters have used to express their thoughts and document their life, though they cannot be called as diaries. In Taare Zameer Par (2007), an artistic Ishaan creates a beautiful flip book in which he draws himself along with his family. While flipping, he becomes slowly separated from them, just like in his life, where he is sent to a boarding school due to his poor grades in school. In Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017), Bubla and Bindu create a mix tape, not of their favorite songs, but of songs that played a significant role in their life, and that remind them of a momentous occasion of their life. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), Bunny records his travels in his memory book. He puts nuggets of information and pictures of his trips in it, while living his dream of traveling the world.
As always the usual caveats apply that the above is in no way an exhaustive list, and there are a large number of films that have a diary but are not covered here. These are only a few instances from the vast universe of films, with a bias towards more recent films. As the world adapts to newer technology and with people having shorter attention spans, diaries in the real world are changing to newer formats, such as tweets, blogs, and snaps. It will be interesting to note how our films adapt to these new formats in storytelling. As cinema lovers, we will be watching.