Monday, October 12, 2009

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi by Sudhir Mishra

The film is a better-than-average reiminiscence of a particulary troubled period in modern India. While the 60s (or Sexties, as it is sometimes called) were times of experimentation in the US, in India the youth were waking up to the fact that the promise of freedom had failed, that repression continued in old and new forms. While in the US, the protests against the state were mostly non-violent and non-ambitious, in India the violent Naxalite movement aimed at nothing less than the overthrow of the state apparatus. In recent years, the Naxalite movement has lost much of its ideological high ground, but it is still a grave presence in many tribal and poorer regions of India.

The three main characters in this film differ in their dedication to "change". Siddharth is an idealist, committed to bringing about change, violently if needed. Geeta, who eulogizes and loves him, lives in his shadow. Vikram, hailing from a middle class family, rejects all this talk of "change" and works the system to become wealthy and powerful.

The film is interesting in that it traces the three characters' uncertain trajectories. None ends up in a place they had wanted in the beginning. The cost of waging a war against the organized militia of the state is brought out in sharp focus as it breaks down relationships, makes even the toughest of spirits resign in defeat, and leads to horrendous and callous violence.

Siddharth admits defeat and moves back into the mainstream. Vikram is the victim of circumstances, driven by his love of Geeta. But it is Geeta who finally finds her place in the world. She is one of the strongest women portrayed in recent Indian cinema. Self-assured, never wavering, anguished at times but still not losing hope, she emerges from a life in which she has been living in a shadow of one man after another, and is an elevating presence by the end of the film. One looks forward to more performances from this talented actress.

A rather realistic (and pessimistic) portrait of politics and the police is presented. Patronage still runs strong in modern India, and therefore it is modern only in name.

The direction is good, with attention to detail, but I am hesitant to call it flawless. I seem to feel that editing in Indian art films has actually become worse over the years. Dialogue delivery is at times forced, and gestures (especially laughter and eye movement) are frequently not well-timed.

What also jars is the profusion of English dialogue. I am not sure about the reason why Geeta is depicted as more comfortable in English (and hence the letters to her, written by Vikram and Siddharth, are in English) but not only is this a distancing choice, the accent and facial expressions of Geeta end up portraying her more as a Westerner living in India rather than an Indian girl struggling with family, society, culture. Geeta gives up her marriage almost without any trouble, has a child out of wedlock without any eyebrows being raised, and in general lives with nary a care for social customs. This was the only unrealistic part of the film. It doesn't ruin the film, but I daresay that her character is unrelatable for most Indian women. It is convenient that she is shown as having grown up abroad. A contrast to her character is that of Sujara Chatterjee in Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa (Govind Nihalani, 1998), who struggles with a repressive family structure in addition to a repressive state.

There are numerous small characters in this film which are curious and realistic, but don't lend much to the narrative. The narrative is therefore loose. I consider one of the director's earlier films, Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin, which I had the good fortune of catching on television in my adolescence, a much better and tightly narrated film.

The posters of this film are hugely disappointing. They are fashionable and glittering, instead of provocative. Judge for yourself.


balpreet said...

I agree with most of your reaction to the film. Most of it sounds familiar.
My own memory of this film is hazy... The only thing that I wanted to bring back from the film was most of its music, the title track and most of the running tracks....
I loved Vikram (Shiney) and as a natural hopeful, I yearned that he gets his love. Eventually, in the fact of insanity of his own and Geeta's surrender to the ways of the world, when it does amount to something like that, it saddens.
I always try no to watch this one again... because even I wish to refresh my memory by watching it as a cinema lover, I don;t wish to delve into a reality so dark and hopeless and melancholy...
Faith, faith building... we need cinema like that. or i need cinema like that.

cg said...

this is one of the indian movies that i cared to watch muliple times..i actually adored Geeta's character in the film and hmmm unrelatable..not really! and yes the music, especially 'bawra man' is worth mentioning if we talk of this film.
i sort of enjoyed the westernized touch in the main characters. and it makes sense in a way that since the families are shown to be well off, these youngsters had the luxury following thier passions.