Dir: Sabiha Sumar
Cast: Kirron Kher, Aamir Malik, Shilpa Shukla
In conversation with a friend, a visibly disappointed Ayesha (Kher) casually mentions, “If your son cannot be yours; who can be?”
She obviously refers to her once innocent and sweet boy Salim (Malik), who’s turned a religious fanatic. Also, her supposedly protective Sikh family in pre-partition India, who had preferred to abandon her, force her to commit suicide, lest she face the horrors of being a non-Muslim girl left behind in Islamic Pakistan.
Reportedly, a large number of such helpless women were forced to jump into wells in 1947, the plight that Ayesha – later abducted by Muslims — decided to escape from, to begin life anew instead.
This unfortunate chapter of a shared history — convenient to be relegated to the sub-continent’s repressed memory — was also the basis of Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s immensely watchable adaptation of Amrita Pritam’s novel Pinjar(2003).
What’s phenomenally pleasing here is how Sumar strings together the story of a middle-aged Ayesha in a village off Rawalpindi to examine another extremely pertinent premise — of the growth of fundamentalism in Pakistan post-General Zia’s regime.
Like gradually yellowing leaves, through transformations in the general atmosphere in the village and Salim (reminiscent of Udayan Prasad’s My Son, The Fanatic), Sumar shows a relatively liberal nation’s youth systematically indoctrinated to revel under the debris of phony religious championship.
The purpose of Zia’s mass ‘Islamisation programme’ was of course to win support of clerics and ensure legitimacy to his own military rule.
Also, it feverishly fed the American-led ‘jehad’ in Afghanistan, a later repercussion of which was the ‘foreign sponsored’ terrorism in Kashmir in the late 80s.
That this well-knit screenplay (Paromita Vohra) attempts an ably researched fictional account without passing apparent judgments, almost akin to a ringside view expected of great documentaries, deserves most praise.
In that respect, to not say enough about actors who aid this process would be an extreme disservice.
Kher’s restrained and moderated dramatics clearly attains her the kingpin status of the best performer of the year.
And quite in line are her supporting cast, right from an old, affable broadminded barber to the young lead pair — Malik and Shukla — who often blur lines between the character and the actor.
In that respect as well, to spot certain evident holes in this well-shot pic almost tantamount to nit-picking — lack of an effectively lilting background score, presence of coloured television sets in 1980, Rawalpinindi….
Saying it at the cost of sticking out a ‘slaughterable’ neck, this is the most significant film to come out of the Indian sub-continent in recent memory.
It deserves a watch, oh most definitely.