The year was 2007. Akshay Kumar was ruling the box office with his slapstick comedies like ‘Singh Is Kinng’. Formulaic cinema was working wonders. That’s when India’s resident maverick Anurag Kashyap dared to release ‘No Smoking’, a surrealistic neo-noir psychological thriller based on a Stephen King short story named ‘Quitters Inc.’. Kashyap managed to give the story an Indian spin and created a genuinely baffling film. But it turned out to be a little too ahead of its time. While it received accolades overseas, neither critics nor audiences back home warmed up to it, which is a travesty. It is a divisive film, hailed by some as a Lynchian masterpiece and has garnered a niche fandom who marvel at its cryptic nature. while others bash it for making no sensible connection between its sequences and only existing to baffle its viewers.
Nonetheless, it is an intriguing film which requires some light to be thrown upon it. Fret not, in this piece, I try to explain the plot, meaning, symbolism and possible interpretations of the film. An obvious spoiler alert is necessary for the uninitiated.
The basic plot goes like this: ‘K’ is a 30-something affluent, narcissistic, arrogant, Patrick Bateman-esque alpha male who is a little too addicted to the ol’ sutta. His wife Anjali chides him incessantly on this habit and wants him to quit. K’s friend Abbas, who lost his fingers in an apparent accident, and his doctor, whose mother is on her deathbed, offer to set up an appointment at a rehabilitation centre called ‘Prayogshaala’ (‘The Laboratory’), which they claim will surely rid K of his habit. After Anjali leaves him, unable to take the strain K’s addiction places on their relationship, K relents and decides to check out Prayogshala, an omniscient shadow organisation headed by Shri Shri Prakash Guru Ghantal Baba Bengali Sealdahwale (Paresh Rawal). The organisation uses fear and psychological manipulation. Each time a patient gives in to their urges, something heinous happens to them (which was what had happened to Abbas and the doctor).
The plotline gets blurry after both Arjun’s wife and brother die due to either his actual or perceived lack of control, and he wakes up in a Siberian army base, which is a familiar site of his nightmares. As he has already given into his vices thrice, his soul ends up being separated from his body (which, cryptically explained, is the punishment for smoking the fourth cig) and in a room full of ragged souls when he jumps into a bathtub in the middle of nowhere. After he sees his own (apparently soulless) body staring at him, unaware of his existence, his body goes through a series of haphazard events, after which he wakes up in his own bed, besides his wife, who’s very much alive, and missing two fingers, like Abbas. As the films ends, he’s seen convincing another friend to join Prayogshala.
The Possible Interpretations