For me, Casablanca has been, at the very heart of it, a story of redemption, reconciliation and relinquishment. In the core of this alliteration lies Richard ‘Rick’ Blaine, essayed by the charismatic Humphrey Bogart, the owner of the most happening club-cum-casino in city of Casablanca. He’s a self-confessed Mr. ‘I-stick-my-neck-out-for-nobody’ non-sentimentalist who always finds himself fighting for the underdog. Bogart builds up his brooding charm by being constantly surrounded by smoke from his cigarettes (fun fact: the brand of cigarettes you see him smoking actually saw a monumental rise in sales after the movie came out) and armed with a glass of alcohol . His professes his nationality is that he’s a “drunkard”. You get an inkling as to the self-imposed principles Rick will end up violating by the end of the movie.
One of the best parts about Casablanca is its running time, the entire thing is over in just over a 100 minutes. Not that the director compromises on quality, rather, on subsequent viewings, you feel the impact of those brief shots all the more. The first time I saw Casablanca, I had been 11, and at that time, frankly, I hated the ending perhaps because it went against the principle of the ‘and they lived happily ever after’ storylines that both Hollywood and Bollywood churn out so frequently.
It’s only later that I understood why the movie remains a cult classic: it embodies the quote ‘if you truly love something, set it free’. In this case, of course, setting the lady in question (Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund) free is for a higher cause of sacrificing for the nation so that her husband ( Paul Henreid as Victor Lazlo) can carry on the good fight against the Nazis.
PLAY IT , SAM
Rick and Ilsa are shown to be acquainted previously in Paris, their relationship embodying all the characteristics of a whirlwind romance. When the Germans storm into France, Rick arranges their escape, but his lady love seemingly ditches him at the last moment in that quintessential ‘Bollywood’ way- standing in the rain with her ticket.
She returns to Rick’s life (of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine), this time accompanied by her revolutionary, anti-Nazi husband Victor Lazlo. She asks Sam, the piano player at the casino (another Parisian acquaintance), to play the song, ‘As time goes by’. Rick hears the tune and storms out of his office demanding that the song stop. Eyes meet, hearts go aflutter as the background music dissolves into one sharp chord. And in that moment, the love and regret in the ex-lovers’ expressions stays with you throughout.
The Last Two Exit Visas. Victor and Ilsa are trying to get them so that they can leave for America and Victor can continue his underground resistance movement against the Nazis. The Nazis (represented by the Major Heinrich Strasser and his drinking buddies) are making sure that Victor doesn’t get them. Rick has them.
Ilsa tries to acquire the exit visas from her estranged lover first by begging, and later by pointing a gun at him. And herein lies my (only) problem with the movie. Bergman’s Ilsa remains in a constant state of confusion about what her next step should be, especially when she has to make the choice between Rick and Victor. Perhaps this can be partly attributed to how the movie was shot (the script was developed in tandem with the filming, and the actors themselves were unaware as to what the ending would be). Nevertheless, Bergman looks luminescent throughout the film and her eyes literally convey a thousand emotions in every scene.
This scene gets a special mention because it reminds me so much of the passive-aggressive antakshari games we see rival families playing in Hindi TV shows/movies.
Victor Lazlo, who has been established as something of a Czech Subhash Chandra Bose, walks into Rick’s bar and sees the Germans playing Die Wacht am Rhein (think “Vande Mataram” during an India v/s Pakistan match in Lahore). Lazlo retorts by singing the French national anthem and the entire bar joins in. It’s exactly like the scene where Shah Rukh Khan’s kid starts singing the national anthem in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. #PatrioticFeels
The beauty of Casablanca is that it is intransigent: the theme, the acting and even the set up. The love triangle doesn’t seem cheesy or forced and the actors compliment each other beautifully. As Rick puts it at the end of the movie, once you complete your first viewing ‘ it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship’.
-By Gauri Gaur