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Human beings, in general, have a tendency to romanticise the past. To think of the days gone by as almost perfect. That includes not only the past experiences of places and people but also objects. Why else would we look back with such wonder at a four-poster bed or a vintage car?

Reality, however, mostly disappoints. We go back to the garden or house that we grew up in and suddenly it looks too small or shabby. We wish to recreate the innocence and magic of the past but are served with cold facts. Two things usually happen. Either, we realise that time and age have made the objects of our youthful remembrances fall apart. Like a beautiful village that once had vast green fields and tall, dancing trees but, is a charmless wannabe metropolis now. Or secondly, we understand that it was actually our imagination that had imparted that special something to the memory. Like a favourite book that had once seemed like the epitome of romance, but now seems just sappy and unoriginal.

This is why, I was wary of revisiting a story that had made a deep impression upon me, when I was quite young. A television serial called Farmaan (meaning Edict). I would recall, with misty-eyed pleasure, a few snatches of the dialogues or scenes but something would stop me from making an attempt to find the serial. Or, actually watch it. I was evidently fretful of being disappointed, of perhaps tarnishing a lovely memory.

I would remember a Byronic hero, a beautiful heroine, even the good-natured sidekick. Fragments of chaste Urdu would slowly float into my consciousness. Mostly though, I would remember the kiss. That spine-tingling, passionate, forbidden, purloined touch of the lips. At the time, I was too young and naive to know what that kiss truly implied. Yet, I could sense the trepidation of that stolen, forceful moment.

Now years later, I have managed to watch Farmaan again. Maybe, being cannonaded with images of languishing lovers on Valentine’s Day, sort of put me in the mood for a swooning romance. And, I am so glad I watched it. Farmaan tells such a thoroughly engaging tale. From the moment the lovely Aiman Shahab alights from the train and makes her solitary way to the royal abode of the Hyderabadi nawabs to the scene where love is finally expressed and embraced, it is a joy ride.

The serial is only fourteen episodes long and I cannot help but wish that it was a little longer. So completely immersed was I in the world of sweet Aiman and the intriguing Aazar Nawab. I was moved by the sad history of the gracious Bade Sarkar and the forlorn Waqaar Chand… amused and charmed by the happy-go-lucky Bashaarat Nawab. Even that damsel in distress, Rehana, or the sleazy and opportunistic Mukhtar Ali had qualities that made them real. But, no matter how much I would have liked to extend my emotional involvement with the story, I applaud the makers for having kept the proceedings so succinctly appealing, for having remained true to their vision, for respecting the spirit of Rafia Manzurul Amin‘s novel, Alampannah, that inspired the plot of Farmaan. Impossible to imagine such a thing in the present TRP-dominated telly world.

The other thing that gladdens my heart is the simplicity. The setting is suitably grand but does not look ridiculously opulent, in any way. Everything is real, the tall havelis, the exquisite interiors, the lakes, the forests. This is not a fake, glossy set. Thankfully. This adherence to historical, cultural and geographical accuracy enhances the cinematic quality of the production. And, the actors too look wonderfully genuine. Aiman‘s allure is potent enough without layers of makeup or weirdly showy jewellery. Her clothes showcase her taste and nature. Aazar Nawab is dashing and always well turned out. But the elegance is understated. As befitting one who is truly upper-crust. The author, Rafia Amin, was present during the making of the serial and she was the one who designed the outfits. This fact, I am sure, contributed to the authenticity of the outcome.

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Aazar Nawab has certain qualities of the quintessential Romance hero. He is wealthy and noble, passionate and enigmatic. He is moody and dark but suitably smitten. He is possessive too. Aiman too fits into the mould of the Romance heroine. She has the pluck to challenge Aazar Nawab‘s censures and barbs. But, she also has the hopeful naiveté of a young woman who cannot remain impervious to the flattering gaze of a handsome lord. There is a constant sense of a powerful attraction simmering between the two leads. Aazar sometimes teases Aiman Shahab by calling her ‘khawab’ (dream) and though she protests, she is more stung by his slights than disturbed by his scrutiny. The various romantic tropes in the plot could have turned the serial into a rather cloying mess. But, Lekh Tandon, the director, never allows the subject matter to lose its footing. The atmosphere is always plausible, the treatment is authentic. Honest.

Aiman and Aazar never really cross lines. There is verbal sparring and a few tantalising moments that border on intimacy but the suspense and decorum are always maintained. The restrained dialogues and visuals also keep Farmaan from becoming soap-operatic. At times, Aazar Nawab is likened to a predator. After one of their initial encounters, Aiman, who is perturbed by the nawab’s imposing persona, leafs through a magazine and stops to stare at a picture of a snow-leopard. Another time, while watching tigers at the Dandeli sanctuary, Aiman speaks of man-eaters other than the feral variety. This metaphor could have been misused. But, the point is only hinted at, never driven home relentlessly. This moderation of style and language is maintained throughout and it makes Farmaan so agreeable to watch. And, also to hear. The muted strains of neat Urdu is like music that is soft and perfectly pleasing.

The cast too, is perfect. Kanwaljit Singh makes a superb Aazar Nawab. Apart from being a talented actor, he has the height and persona to impart a certain haughty grandeur to his character. The pipe is maybe a wee bit overdone but it also shows his reserve. The smoke surrounding him is his defence against disclosure. Lest his feelings are exposed and he is made vulnerable. His dark past makes him resent any sort of weakness and hence, he is vexed by his own passion for Aiman. He rages over her friendship with Bashaarat and ends up taunting and tormenting her. But, the moment he knows for certain that there is no other man in Aiman‘s life, he becomes still. There is a subtle shift in the tone, thereon. Aazar‘s actions take on a more purposeful quality. It is as if he knows where exactly he is going.

Aazar Nawab continues to be unpredictable and sharp-tongued but his smiles are easier now. His gaze has more of a quiet strength. A scene that I rather like, shows Aazar standing near a lake and smoking in solitude. And then, he espies Aiman, who is at the spot too, throwing stones despondently into the water. Creating ripples in the stillness. Aazar allows himself to be drawn in by her and when he offers her comfort and, kisses her tenderly, it seems to me that he is completely ready for a change. Ready to accept comfort and love, finally.

Deepika Deshpande is not a flashy beauty. And that is a good thing. It does not take away from the inner qualities that allow Aiman to not only capture Aazar Nawab‘s heart but also win over everyone who meets her. Her honesty, openness, and caring nature attract as much as her golden-eyed comeliness. Raja Bundela, who plays the amiable Bashaarat, is a pleasure to watch. He lights up the screen and infects us with his joy. Bundela‘s high-spirited and carefree Bashaarat is the foil to Kanwaljit‘s brooding and high-minded Aazar.

The other actors too make a mark, despite the limited screen time, and present us with memorable characters. The munshi who speaks the colloquial Hyderabadi tongue and is so fond of old songs. The fiercely devoted maid who follows Bade Sarkar like a mother hen. The funny chef and Bashaarat‘s favourite scapegoat, Abdul Karim. Bade Sarkar, whose benevolence and thoughtfulness is reflected by her son, Aazar, and who is played ably by Vineeta Malik. And, Navin Nischol as the sad and self-sacrificing noble, Waquaar Chand, is quietly effective.

Farmaan may be a bit too unflamboyant and subtle for some. It might even be too straightforward or uncomplicated for the post-modern sensibility perhaps. But for me, it is a fine story for a dreamy, moonlit night. Farmaan possesses a fairytale quality; a lovely girl transforming a ‘beast’ with her love; a handsome lord trying to hide his hurts and his noble spirit behind contemptuous frowns and sarcastic words. And in the end, love and goodness prevailing over all. The story is not without layers. There are nuances of expressions and conversations that benefit from repeat viewings. And, even without such readings, Farmaan still captivates. It is a testimony to the fact that old is indeed gold, that secret treasures can emerge from the past. That there is a reason why oftentimes, we look back to seek joy, innocence, romance and a little magic. That memories can sustain and inspire. Farmaan is an ardent proclamation of love that speaks directly to the heart.

 

Copyright © 2016 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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What does coming-of-age really mean? Does it signify a true understanding of the self? Does it imply coming to terms with your abilities and flaws? An acceptance of life?

What if this is never an option? This mellowing with time, attaining maturity or adult wisdom…

What do you do when reality gets suspended in a strange way? When endless longing does not lead to a resolution or even despair? Oh, there are many disappointments on the way. And, sometimes, there is despair too. And yet, the disillusionment is never complete.

There is always something… a glimmer, a fantasy that keeps beckoning. As if life is not progressing at all, except in your fantasy world. As if all the distressing and saddening experiences do not matter. Well, not beyond a certain point, at least. The people around grow and mature. But your world stays the same. You remain the same. A perpetual adolescent…. dreaming improbable dreams. Like a hapless Peter Pan.

Is this a great capacity for self-delusion only? Is this being incurably, hopelessly romantic? This does seem like a disease.

The hunger is so great. It gnaws on the soul and refuses to let go. An ache that constantly throbs beneath the facade of normalcy.

It is, in a way, pathetic. This desperation to hold onto the edges of a vanishing dream. To keep wanting to remember a face whose features are being eaten away by the sands of time.

You are partially suspended in reality.  Like a sinking island in a river that moves inexorably. You can envisage your own inevitable destruction, the end of your inner life. And yet, you are powerless to do anything. You are caught in a magical dream. You refuse to give up on the might-have-beens… on ghostly memories of experiences that you have never really experienced.

You know full well that to give up would be easier, safer. But you have always been a fool.

In a way, it is glorious too.

Your ability to sway to a tune that only you can hear.

Hardly anyone to acknowledge the flame in your soul, the deep need in your eyes. To understand how vast and keen and generous you can be. So what? Nothing lovely enough to keep your eyes from seeking and searching for ever. No sweetness to enter your heart and gladden it. No love to come home to. Except the kind that keeps you wandering, keeps your spirit from being quiet and content.

You are a defiant idiot. Slightly mad. Eyes filled with a strange light, hair in disarray. Grasping at straws. Surviving on discarded crumbs. So what?

Maybe, some day hope will indeed create from its own wreck the thing it contemplates.

Copyright © 2015 [Violet Dolui]. All Rights Reserved.

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