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Movie about moviemaking

A still from the movie Khamosh  

The bipolar filmography for the year 1985, like that in most ofthe bad, old 80s of Hindi cinema, was dotted with lowbrow cinema marked by sleaze, mindless action, fantasy and melodrama like Adventures of Tarzan and Saamri. It also made some bold attempts at depicting issues, such as Prakash Jha’s Damul on bonded labour. But the biggest hit, Raj Kapoor’s last film, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, fell more in the first category than the second. There was, however, an important 100-minute murder mystery which, if it had gained enough attention, could have set the trend for thrillers for the rest of the decade. It was Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh, a movie that completes 30 years this year.

In the era of the Internet, where there are too many films chasing too few audiences, this is one movie that haunts you at a subconscious level without calling too much attention to itself. Perhaps its low-key nature is the reason it was hiding in the oblivion for so long, waiting for discerning viewers to discover it.

The opening credits are marked by the absence of the names of the actors. Featuring a pitch-black background and punctuated with the theme motif, Vanraj Bhatia’s low-note riff, the credit sequence glides along, sans any glamour. The first look at it gives one the impression of it being a telefilm.

The opening scene is a perfect contrast to the credits. In a spot that comes across as a tourist location, we see Amol Palekar and Shabana Azmi, an unlikely cinematic couple for a thriller. Their names, Vijay and Niloufar, their attire, their dialogues, lend themselves to easy interpretations: He is a city dweller on a visit to the small town, she a native of the town. Her friend has been betrayed in romance, perhaps murdered, and she feels she may face the same fate. Amid this, we hear the voice of a director. Is it the director of the actual movie we are watching?

We realise in the next scene that it is a movie within a movie. A movie, typical of the 1980s, called Aakhiri Khoon, is being shot in Pahalgam where a 15-member crew has assembled. It looks as if the director of Khamosh istaking a dig at directors of the period.

“I surely was,” says Vidhu Vinod Chopra, in a short telephonic conversation with The Hindu. He explains that his aim was to break the barrier between art house And commercial cinema. And, in hindsight, it looks like he succeeded. Khamosh is a tightly-woven, songless thriller. Such movies in the past, Kanoon and Ittefaq, had either needed star-power or melodrama to sustain themselves. Khamosh claimed to be a mainstream movie but the actors chosen, Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Pankaj Kapoor, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, were ones usually associated with art house cinema. For a suspense movie, it neither had a hero nor a detective to solve the mystery.

As the movie progresses, we realise that Chopra is juxtaposing Khamosh with Aakhiri Khoon. As the murders that are supposed to form the part of Aakhiri Khoon’s script start seguing into murders at Pahalgam, the shooting spot, we realise that an ambitious Chopra is trying to have a conversation with the directors of the period. He is not just making a thriller. He is making a point, both on how not to make a thriller and how to make one. This idealistic newcomer from the Film and Television Institute of India is trying to not only expose the creative bankruptcy in the film industry but also suggesting ways of making a slick thriller on a shoestring budget.

Following the first murder, we are shown close-ups of all 15 members of the cast. Each character looks equally guilty; each character has a motive. There is no ‘hero’ or detective to solve the crime. The lead (Naseeruddin Shah), who is not part of the crew but who comes into the picture some 25 minutes into the film, is shown to be as much a victim of the plot as the rest.

As members of the crew start getting murdered, an element of mystery starts building up. It is the kind of mystery that invokes fear rather than thrills, helped by references like that to the shower scene in Psycho. As the pitch of the background music is progressively raised, we are reminded of the kind of horror movies Ramgopal Verma came to be associated with later, like Raat and Bhoot. The likely presence of a supernatural force looms large. Thankfully, there are no songs or romantic sequences to dilute the essence.

One place where the film lets us down is in the last five minutes, when the crime is finally solved. It is here that the presence of a detective, along the lines of, say, a Byomkesh Bakshi, would have helped.

Perhaps it has got to do with the genre itself. Satyajit Ray considered Chiriakhana, with Byomkesh as the lead protagonist, his weakest film. He explained his aversion for whodunnits to his biographer Andrew Robinson when he said that such movies become very static at the end because the murderer is made to explain his motives to the audience. Khamosh falls into the trap. Leaving some of the dots unconnected for the audience may have been a better idea.

Does Vidhu Vinod Chopra intend an anniversary release — considering that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron Yaaro, another film which he was associated with, had a re-release? He says he will consider it once his next movie Wazir is out.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 8:31:50 PM |

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