Blow hot, blow cold. Chilly Ladakh icescapes are contrasted with the sun fried vistas of desert lands. Horses neigh, furry birds are felled by special-effects bows-and-arrows, a VFX snow leopard snarls, bespoke ghagras swirl, chorus dancers are in a permanent state of twirl, and the Rajasthani havelis are bedecked with flowers and beauteous bric-a-brac. All quite, visually sumptuous.
Sadly the slim content doesn’t quite match the overloaded style, reducing the legendary Mirza-Sahiban legend into a barely sufferable yawn fest. Even at a running time of merely two hours-and-some minutes, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, scripted by Gulzar no less, taxes your patience. To say that the storytelling lacks soul would be too simplistic.
To me it looks like a classic case of love’s labour squandered. At innumerable junctures, you can sense that Mehra and Co. are striving to rise above the commonplace, broaching the subject as a magical, mystical tour, alloying a bygone era with the contemporary here and now.
Sorry but the restless shifts from the distant past to the present – emphasising the point that love continues to be a many-hazardous thing, especially if a couple belongs to disparate social strata -- doesn’t quite gel. Overall, the outcome is choppy, incoherent and more artsy than absorbing, prompting you to check if your wrist-watch needs a battery replacement.
The timeless past is vivified by a Games of Throne-style combat -- at a bird hunt --between the all-powerful potentates and a scruffy archer from the wrong side of the snow-tracks. No medallions for guessing who wins. Finito. A princess, apparently the chief guest at the event, and the archer fall in love. Oh oh, that spells doom-and-gloom.
Zip zap. Cut to aaj kal ka Rajasthan where childhood sweethearts, Suchitra and Munish bond over laddoos in the school classroom. Not done. The cherubs are pulled up by a teacher for goofing on their homework. Next: in a fit of hyper rage, the pre-teen Munish shoots the teacher fatally with a pistol and is trucked to a remand home. Rightfully so methinks. Hum-ho.
Smartly, Boy Munish escapes from the remand home, courtesy a guard whose attention is diverted by a football game. Really. Anyway whatever, years later Munish has grown up under the benign care of a Muslim Chacha Rahim-type of ironsmith (Om Puri in a half-hammered role), has been renamed Adil and serves as a stable-boy at the nearby royal palace. Erm, you know what to expect. In the tradition of that vintage song, “Bachpan ke din kabhi bhoola na dena”, Adil (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) meet up again to assert that there’s nothing quite as potent as one’s first love. Right.
Only, it’s emphasised that Suchitraji’s the daughter of a Shakespeare-spouting ex-police commissioner (Art Malik) and Adil bhai’s merely abechara menial. Recognising each other thanks to their body tattoos, Adil and Suchitra are now in the throes of passion (read torrid smooches), a twist in the plot which leaves Suchi’s blue-blooded fiancé Karan (Anuj Choudhry) out in the cold. He’s outraged, he trembles. By contrast the poor village girl (Anjali Patil) who adores Adil, doesn’t. She’s the sacrificial sort you see, there to resort to extreme measures before the climax unspools. Cool?
Hardly, the plot lacks surprises. If there’s any novel element at all it’s those segments from the past popping up to theorise that romance is no bed of roses since the lord-knows-how-many-centuries. Come to think of it, if those allegorical flashbacks (if they can be called that) were to be excised, it wouldn’t make a whit of a difference.
Here’s a device which was used splendidly by Harold Pinter’s script for The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), adapted from the John Fowles novel. Here the intercutting parallels between the then and now, point towards the reincarnation theme, abstrusely. Lingering shots of an ancient wall fresco, showing a semi-abstract artwork, hardly help the credibility factor.
Undeniably, Mehra is a master craftsman. The shot takings are awesome and the colour palate a banquet for the eyes. Polish cinematographer Pawel Dyllus’ lensing is of the highest order. Not so Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s folksy, ethnic music score which is blasted from the speakers relentlessly. As for the stylised choreography it seems to be straight out of an experimental stage musical, with slithering limbs and pretzel bodies , not to forget a dash of erotica.
Okay, so what about the lead pair who make their debuts? Despite the disappointing film, Harshvardhan Kapoor establishes an iron-strong screen presence. Unconventional and intelligent, he doesn’t play to the gallery at all, opting for an intensity which hasn’t been seen in years. Communicating with his piercing eyes and silences, clearly a star-actor is born. A long-distance runner, he avoids a first-timer’s mandatory display of dancing skills and excessive body display. Rather he internalises his character to the point of implosiveness.
Newcomer Saiyami Kher is more than a welcome addition to the league of extraordinary young heroines, conveying the vulnerability of a girl-woman caught in a world not of her making. Fingers crossed, she should go places. Of the supporting ensemble, Art Malik, Anuj Choudhry and Anjali Patil are impressive.
Now you might wonder how Harshvardhan and Saiyami can be impactful if the rest of Mirzya is off-putting? Just goes to affirm the freshness and conviction they place in their roles. In the event, you do connect with their acting sparks. Nothing can stop them from going beyond Mirzya.
All said and endured, you might want to know whether to see or not to see. To check out the newcomers and the technical razzle-dazzle, why not? For the rest of Mirzya, go at your own peril.
Image Source: facebook/Mirzya