Reviews

Mirzya: ambitious tale of star-crossed lovers is a letdown

The new retelling of the old love legend of Mirza and Sahiban experiments with form but dissuades itself from questioning the underlying feudalism in the story



Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Starring: Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher, Anuj Choudhry, Anjali Patil, Art Malik, K.K. Raina, Om Puri

Run time: 129 mins

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya is a victim of some legitimate expectations than a prey to Sahiban’s perceived betrayal. Why did Sahiban break Mirza’s arrows? If this was the big central question that Mehra went about exploring in his reinterpretation of the Punjabi love legend then, for all the hope he kindled, the film doesn’t quite come up with any startling revelations, nor does it offer a radical, modern understanding of the tale. In a sense, without tinkering with the popular beliefs and hearsay, the film merely places the age-old story in new realms and periods — the primordial, elemental past of Mirza and Sahiban and the contemporary (and rather convenient) Rajasthan of Suchi and Munish (Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher); the expanse of snow against that of sand; the bow and arrows against the guns.

The film doesn’t aim to question or break down the underlying feudal construct and the power tussle over the woman inherent in the story; in any love story for that matter. It just accepts it as a given. Of course, this may be the reality even today in the times of khap panchayats and honour killings but some amount of renegotiation is what one would have expected in a retelling. Revisiting the folklore then becomes more like the scaling of a great visual ambition rather than an engagement with its core, more cosmetic than far-reaching. The usual sense of loss that permeates most tragic love stories is implied; the passion, intensity, fervour, anger, protest get scattered.

The feudal bent and hierarchies are gently maintained — the commoners against royalty, faithful servants, the colour divide (the fair princess against the dusky daughter of the ironsmith). The woman is spoken of laughingly as saamaan (possession) early on in the film; a property in the tug of war of male chauvanism. All this bothers because Suchi does come across as the bigger and far more interesting player in the drama — bright, whimsical, impetuous, fickle, a bit like Maya from writer Gulzar’s own Ijaazat (1987). Unlike Mirza, who turns curiously passive after one extreme, incomprehensible act of aggression, she is the initiator of things. The conflict between her family and the lover is not the only deal. She is also a woman in love with two men. How does one love walk away so easily from her heart one day? How does another step in so quickly? I urgently felt like hitting the pause button for the narrative to stay on with these predicaments a bit more, for the woman’s desire to get more play. Alas!

There are two other characters who share interesting dilemmas and conflicts. Karan (Anuj Chaudhry), the prince Sahiban is betrothed to, who loves her deeply to even put his life at stake but can’t quite reconcile with her affections for another man. Or Zeenat (Anjali Patil) who Mirza claims knows his rooh (soul). Then there’s the shared love of these two women for him. Yes, it’s all complicated and one keeps longing for these complications to get explored further but they get side-stepped. The four youngsters deliver within the confines of the film but Art Malik gets grossly miscast as the Shakespeare spewing cop father of Sahiban, the anglicised accent out of place and jarring.

At another level the most interesting and compelling bit about Mirzya — its musical structure — also becomes its undoing. The film plays out like a highly stylised, spectacular Broadway musical, it’s as though you are witnessing larger than life theatre on a 70 mm screen. One that can be very lush and absorbing for some (I was enthralled) but also distancing and isolating for most. So the scenes and dialogues get abridged, plot movement becomes abrupt, the dramatisation makes way for the songs to take the story forward. You can actually see the film in its soundtrack alone. It remains the mainstay and takeaway from the film. It’s a pity then that despite so much happening, so much aspired for in the film, in the end you don’t feel as though you have come back with something substantial. As in each of his films Mehra is not content with the usual, is highly ambitious with his craft but doesn’t quite hit the target here.

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