I just came across this chat transcript with Anurag Kashyap, the maker of No Smoking on rediff. A fair number of questions in the chat are from people seeking an explanation for the events in the movie. For those of you who are interested, I have reproduced parts of the Q&A here.
Q: I loved Black Friday and watched No Smoking. I must say it is a different movie, but just couldnt digest it. Am still wondering what the story was.
A: It was the story of arrogance vs super arrogance.. it was about freedom to choose vs the the censorship.. freedom loses in the end… they take your soul away
Q: I really liked the movie No Smoking. At least a relief from the monotonous love story boy-meets-girl genre. One thing I did not understand, the “atma” of K gets burned in the Prayogshala and it shows K can’t remember anything. But, how come in the next scene he wakes up with his fingers lost and searching for some other smokers to quit smoking? Please let me know.
A: When K falls into the water in the police station his soul and body go on two seperate journeys.. by soul i mean the internal agony of the man.. soul is confused, tortured, doesn’t know what’s going on and then is burnt in hell.. that’s the state of mind of the Man.. what wakes up is the body.. the body when wakes up finally calm because the internal torture has ended realises his fingers are cut.. have you realised that the fingers we use to hold a cigarette is also used to hold a pen.. holding a pen symbolises writing that is freedom of expression.. which is why abbas having lost his fingers had lost his soul..he never realised his fingers were cut because the internal pain was so mind numbing that the external pain stops hurting.
Q: And one more question why K’s finger was cut off in last scene despite of “Shudikaran” of his soul???
A: That was the body… without the soul
Interesting. It doesn’t explain everything, but it does make it a bit clearer.
I remember wondering, while K was descending through the multiple staircases into the Prayogshala, whether this was going to be an aversion-therapy type experience like in A Clockwork Orange. Then I got lost in all the surrealism and didn’t think about it. From what Anurag says, it seems that there is indeed a thematic similarity here. Not so much in terms of using aversion therapy, but in terms of the general idea, which is this: If you do not have freedom to choose evil, what virtue is there in being good?