Love in the time of the EmergencyI watched Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi with about 30 other people in a cinema theatre meant for about 100. The rest of the potential cinema population was presumably watching Kaal and I hope that film was as interesting as the Sudhir Mishra one was to me.
The way an ordinary person of my profile in India learns about history is by chance. Perhaps you will meet someone knowledgeable about the past. Or you will stumble by a book or even a film that fills in areas of the canvas you didn't even know existed. For instance, I got to learn some of the most basic facts about the events of 1947 from Freedom at Midnight. The events of the Emergency of 1975 may be as remote to me as say the Mughal era; in fact I may know more about the latter. So it isn't surprising that a film like Hazaaron... won't set box office registers ringing, but it did set my mind aflutter.
The film is essentially a love story (however trite that may sound) set before & during the Emergency. Mishra doesn't go about analysing and dissecting the tumult of the times, but simply chooses to explore how all that affects his characters. Siddharth (Kay Kay), a radical from a wealthy family, Geeta (Chitrangada Singh), educated abroad and quietly worshipful of Siddharth, and Vikram (Shiny Ahuja), openly in love with Geeta and who "wants a way in". Into the power structure that is.
Threading through a Naxalite group in Bihar, commercialisation of palaces, venality, crime, supplication - the usual stuff of politics, then and now - we follow these three for about 8 years and get a sense of how it all must have been (and perhaps is). It is far removed from my current reality, but who's to say?
The story isn't of a kind that has a definite beginning and end, but describes a phase. No loss-of-innocence fable as well; almost of all the players know the score and feel the need for survival very strongly.
I was a little puzzled at the ending though, mainly with the abrupt transformation of Siddharth, for which I didn't see any adequate explanation. Sudhir Mishra wants to show a certain loss of morals in some as well as a contradictory strengthening of it among others simultaneously, so perhaps why the film ended the way it did. There is however, a sense of closure with what happens to Geeta & Vikram. The cynical & caustic imprint begins right at the opening lines of the film where the filmmaker follows a stock shot of the "tryst with destiny" speech by mentioning the technical fact that not the whole world was asleep when India woke to light and freedom - it was 2:30 pm in parts of America.
The performances are first-rate, and the meatiest parts are gobbled by Shiny Ahuja & Chitrangada Singh. Some of my friends didn't want to watch this film because of Ahuja after they apparently walked out of a screening of Sins (their explanation for being there was that they "strayed into it") in 15 minutes after watching him. If that was the case, well, he has paid for those and recovered his name here. Chitrangada Singh's uncanny resemblance to Smita Patil has already found mention in many places, and it is to her credit that her acting stands up to those levels of quality. Several good cameos including ones by Sandeep Kulkarni & Saurabh Shukla add ballast. This film could've only succeeded by such good actors supporting the storyline.
Much appreciated also was the score by Shantanu Moitra, especially with man yeh baa.nwraa. Trivia notes existed: the dedication to Mishra's former wife, the late Renu Saluja, a tiny appearance by Mishra himself and two fleeting references to "Ahuja" and "Tarneja" in the film being the most noteworthy.
The film is believably "Indian", respecting the diverse nature of players in such stories. There are no concessions to help you understand some of the subtleties, which helps the elasticity of this two hour film. All in all, quite recommended if you have the inclinations for such stories.