Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi

Rohan Shivkumar of Anarchitect offers a tantalizing glimpse of a new Indian film: Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi (Dir. Sudhir Mishra, 2003).

Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi

The film's title comes from a ghazal by Ghalib:

Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi Line 1
Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi Line 2
A thousand desires like these, each worth dying for
Many are filled, and yet as many remain.

Read Maithili Rao's review below, and you will not want to miss the film if it comes to a screen near you.
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is an unconventional triangle with no single hero dominating the narrative. It is an open-ended graph of shifting relationships between three friends, two men and a woman, and not a rigidly enclosed triangle of formulaic romance. Two abiding themes -- the play with time and the changing psychology of people over a given time -- surface in practically every film [Sudhir] Mishra has made and they come together with near perfection in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. He uses his Masters in Psychology to flesh out characters conceived in the round, a novelistic trait that film-makers so often overlook in the pursuit of the perfect image for its own sake.

So, it is time to meet the three protagonists as they graduate from a prestigious Delhi college and get inextricably drawn into their closely observed lives. Siddharth Tyabji (Kay Kay) is the emblematic representative of secular elitism: obviously the son of liberal Leftists who married across the communal divide. His dilemma is typical of his class, afflicted by the peculiar predicament of bearing a Muslim surname but unable to speak good Urdu. No one is more aware of this existential irony than Siddharth himself. He is the idealist looking for a cause in the ideological vacuum of a Delhi polluted by politicking. This is a Delhi society where class and education count more than ethnicity and language.

Geeta Rao (Chitrangada Singh) is the brilliant daughter of an eminent scientist, who, for all his eminence, clings to his South Indian conservative ways. Geeta has this innate ability to live easily in many worlds, a seeming epitome of the high-achieving modern woman. From the Telugu-speaking orthodox home complete with an extended family to the trendy set she hangs out with, and then on to Oxford for higher studies and finally to a strife-worn Bihar village... she traverses them all in the course of an eventful life, driven by her singular passion: Siddharth.

If Siddharth is the love of Geeta's life, Siddharth is in love with his great cause: bringing revolution to the parched land and disenfranchised peasants of Bihar. He gives up the cultured ease of Delhi to join the naxalites. His gentle, scholarly father watches helplessly -- he cannot approve but neither can he forbid, for he understands Siddharth's commitment to his chosen cause for which he is willing to pay any price.

Watching this drama from the sidelines is Vikram Malhotra (Shiny Ahuja). If his friends inhabit a rarefied realm of passionate idealism, Vikram is the point of identification. He is himself and yet, everyman. He is the typical small-town boy, desperate to acquire the cosmopolitan sheen that comes so naturally to the elegant Geeta and sophisticated Siddharth. Vikram is in a hurry to distance himself from his father's legacy -- a small-time, small-town politician who retains his idealism for which the son has nothing but contempt.

But watching the political process at first hand has given Vikram an invaluable lesson: how to spot, then court and win the politico and the party that is calling the shots at the moment, but without burning his bridges to previous denizens of the corridors of power. From artful survivor to smooth operator with high connections to independent purveyor of power is the fascinatingly familiar trajectory that Vikram's career takes. He knows everybody and apparently, everybody knows him too -- the more important part of the power transaction. Vikram's transformation from uncertain small-time guy to the assured, if oily, power-player, is wryly funny and precise in finding the satirical target.

For all his pragmatic survival skills that make him somebody over the years, Vikram is desperately in love with Geeta. And how this love stays with him -- even after Geeta returns from Oxford, becomes a journalist and endures an unhappy marriage and finally, throws in her lot with Siddharth, a man hunted by the police -- is Vikram's path to redemption. He is jealous of Siddharth at one level, specially when he finds out that Geeta has been using her journalistic cover to meet the fugitive activist and has an off-and-on affair with him. At another level, Vikram has a reluctant admiration for a man who has the courage of his convictions. When it comes to the crunch and Siddharth's life is in imminent danger, it is Vikram who uses his connections and comes to the aid of his one-time classmate and rival. (Maithili Rao "Mapping a Political Era," Frontline 22.5 26 Feb. -11 Mar. 2005)
Mishra, who has a banner of Che Guevara in his living room, says: "He [Che] had a dream, and every dream which talks of a better future inspires me" (qtd. in Mohammed Wajihuddin, "Join the Fight," Screen 20 Apr. 2005).

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