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Director : Lyrics : Starring :
Kirron Kher, Aamir Ali Malik
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Just when you thought that with M.S.Sathyu's "Garam Hawa", Deepa Mehta's "1947-Earth" and Chandraprakash Diwedi's "Pinjar" the great and poignant partition trilogy had concluded, Sabiha Sumar's "Khamosh Pani" comes along to rock the boat.
It's a small, almost frail film held together by a great inner strength of conviction. In some details, "Khamosh Pani" is exactly like its protagonist, the spirited Ayesha (Kirron Kher) who's at once a prototype of history's casualty and a fiercely individualistic woman who has survived political and personal holocausts...only to be defeated finally by forces that sometimes flourish in our very backyard.
For a while this extremely austere view of history's mysteries seems to say nothing about the tragedy of India's partition into two ill-conceived nations that we haven't already heard.
It would be a mistake to see "Khamosh Pani" as being divisible into two or more parts. There's no pre- and post-interval half, no real beginning and certainly no end to the story of a life lived in the hope that one day all the contradictions of life would come together in a cohesive existential statement, if not in this world then the other.
For a while, Sumar's politically fraught plot simmers in the discontent of lives lived at the fringes of history. Set in 1978 and shot on location in a village called Charkhi in Pakistan, we see Ayesha and her son Saleem (Aamir Ali Malik) not affected in any direct way by the country's bloodied past...
Until divisive fundamentalist elements descend on the peaceful village to divide people, just as India had been splintered in two uneasy halves in 1947.
"Khamosh Pani" doesn't just ask us to learn from our mistakes. It also tells us that mistakes are inevitable and we must learn to live with them. Ayesha's idyllic nuclear world of parent and child comes crashing down when Saleem turns progressively fundamentalist until, torn between his duties as political activist and son, he pushes his mother over the brink...
The lyrical and lucid simplicity of Paromita Vohra's screenplay should not, and must not, be mistaken for a simplification of the historical processes that constitute the contemporary reality of the subcontinent.
Inside its folds is a warning and a wakeup call to fundamentalist elements on both sides of the India-Pakistan border.
The story of Ayesha, torn between her past and present, is told in a tone so casual the audience could miss the point of it. The director goes through the dusty by-lanes of the village with a sprint in her narrative, picking up pieces of people's lives that are strewn in invisible mounds of history.
There's the happy-go-lucky barber who wouldn't give a damn for fundamentalist forces if they didn't knock on his door. "Every time elections are announced, my business goes up because everyone's hair stands on end," he guffaws.
Though the narrative makes it a point to discover the lighter side of fundamentalist politics, Sumar's film imagines fundamentalism as a toxin polluting and finally destroying the well of life.
As Ayesha's son journeys from political innocence to complete initiation into the rites of fundamentalism, he unknowingly destroys everything precious in his life.
A literal wall grows between Saleem and the school-going Zubeida's (Shilpa Shukla) idyllic romance. Sumar shows Saleem's dithering conscience in fleeting scenes such as the one where, after thinking of buying a watch for Zubeida, Saleem throws a longing look at reams of colourful cloth in the market place as his friend lectures him on the irrelevance of mush and love in politics.
Ironically, while Saleem makes an unclean break with his past it's finally the jilted Zubeida who carries her ex-boyfriend's mother's legacy forward. At the end, as fundamentalism sweeps across her nation, her determined expression says it all.
"Khamosh Pani" is a film that makes a comment through hints and gestures. Condensed into 90 minutes of playing time, the director's tremendous sense of historicity is imprinted in every frame of the plot, which in some distant and yet distinctive way reminds us of Yash Chopra's "Dharmputra". In that film, the mother and son, played by Mala Sinha and Shashi Kapoor, were torn apart by the religion and politics of partition.
While Chopra's film was a well-designed melodrama, "Khamosh Pani" cuts across the polemics of politics to go deep into the wounded hearts of those who are casualties of history. Sumar gets illimitable support from her cast of virtual unknowns. The only recognisable face is that of Kirron Kher. And she's so transformed by the trauma of her tale that we stop seeing her - and the film - as belonging to any one specific global group.
"Khamosh Pani" wears its angst lightly on its sleeve. Like the uncomplaining water, which finally swallows the protagonist, the film stands apart from its characters to let them create their own spatial harmony within the given theme of dissonance and destruction.