Hazaaron khwaishein aisi, ki har khwaish pe dum nikle.Set in 1969, 1973, and 1975, the story follows three university students of contrasting backgrounds as they grow into adults trying to sort out what they want to achieve in or contribute to the world, contextualized the the very dangerous politics of the times. I say "very dangerous" because that's how it appears to me in the film, not because I have read up on early 70s Indian politics. In fact, I know very little beyond a basic sketch and what I have inferred from 70s films, so I'm sure there is commentary in this film that I didn't pick up on - but even just with the information the film provides, the political and social context seems very clearly ominous and messy. Siddharth (Kay Kay Menon) is the son of a retired judge but wants nothing to do with his parents' establishment lives and instead agitates within a student communist group and later moves to Bihar to work with Naxalites. Vikram (Shiney Ahuja) has a similar path that goes in an almost opposite direction, also eschewing his father's legacy, in this case Gandhianism and Congress Party allegiance,
Bahut nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle.
Thousand desires like, that every desire over breath out
Many out my desires, but yet little out.
A thousand desires such that each is worth dying for.
So many have come to pass and yet seem so few.
Vikram's father after he is arrested during the Emergency. Not the most subtle characterization but still effective.
to fight his way into the upper classes and earn big money. Linking them is Geeta (a mind-blowingly natural and effective Chitrangada Singh) returns to Delhi after growing up in London. Her focus is neither as big-picture as Siddharth's nor as basely pragmatic as Vikram's. She follows her love for Siddharth to the village in Bihar, but she also goes back and forth to Vikram's world of Delhi money and power. She loves Siddharth but she needs the real resources, protection, and even mental calm that Vikram offers her over the years. I suspect you can imagine which of these three paths, which of these sets of desires, is the most workable, effective, and sustaining. These characters are beautifully written, with much scope for each to think, react, and change, and through them we can imagine the thousands of desires of the citizens of 70s India.
Two quotes from writer/director Sudhir Mishra describe perfectly what I got out of - and liked most about - Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi:
My father's generation loved him and wanted to believe in his dream and that we had a tryst with destiny. I did too. By the time my elder brothers and sisters (not that I had any) went to college in the late sixties, Nehru had died and his dream had soured. The baton has passed into the hands of his daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is the story of my imaginary siblings' lives in those times...when India was being pulled in a thousand directions.Life is gray at best; sometimes it's very black, as the movie painfully shows. Even revolution can be gray, especially when it is snatched up by the corrupt and vicious to be used for their purposes. It creates chaos that cloaks power grabs and oppression that have nothing to do with ideals.
- from the introductory text of the film
The adult thing in life is that as much as you disagree with somebody you can’t kill him. That’s a mature world.
- from an article by Mishra at Passion for Cinema
I think what impressed me most was how many points and ideas this film raises without having much actually happen. (Or maybe what happens is deceptively simple and I just didn't get it.) Despite revolution, despite emergency, the overall feel here is quiet, which lets many small moments really stand out without overt commentary. In Geeta's family's house, for example, any interest she has in changing the social order or involvement she wants with the larger world outside the home does not seem to play out as thoroughly at home, with her male relatives discussing the news in one room but the women clearly not involved.
In this scene, Siddharth's revolutionary group has met to plan their trip to Bihar; one by one most of the group members admit they cannot go due to family pressure or fear of endangering their chances at jobs, and when someone bursts in to say the police are coming, they all scatter, leaving Geeta, who has been silently sitting somewhat apart from them but still listening, totally alone.
It's as though the film is telling us who will remain after the dried leaves scatter off on the first winds. It's so gorgeous and important. Once in the village, Geeta starts an adult literacy class, and as the camera pans past some of her students, it's hard not to feel both wildly hopeful and somehow resigned to the unlikeliness of her goals.
And this particular stab by Siddharth at mainstream values made me laugh because it skewers directly into the patriarchal, unquestioning bloat of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: Siddharth is railing against the misplaced goals of his generation, saying that life is not about success, or....
Take that, KJo!
I feel like if I try to say much more about this film, I'll burst it like a bubble. There's something so intimate about its scale, yet it manages to show so much. I can't say enough about Sudhir Mishra's PFC piece; it's the perfect companion to the film, whether or not you've seen it or even plan to. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is the kind of story every generation in a culture needs to tell or to think about. It's not necessary to agree or empathize with what the characters struggle with, but their efforts to make sense of themselves and of their time and place are universal. If you possibly can, this is how you should try to live, with your mind and heart engaged, thinking about other people while you try to figure out the best version of yourself.
I'm ending this post on a note the film itself does not deserve or even have anything to do with. If you have the Shemaroo DVD of this film and you need English subtitles, just go throw it away. Right now. My Hindi is still too wobbly to tell you whether the translations from Hindi are any good, but the direct transcription of the English dialogues - and I'd estimate about half the film is in English - are so wildly incorrect that it's hard to hope that the actual translations are any better. For example, the voiceover of the scene below says "The violence of the oppressed is right. The violence of the oppressor is wrong." Look what the subtitles tell us.
Subtitler folks, that's the opposite of what the movie said, and, even worse, that's an integral philosophy to some of the characters in this film. Most of the other ones are just foolish, rendering sentences into non sequitur WTFery rather than undermining the point. But still. These are even more badly done than in Fashion, and that is saying something. Those of you who follow me on twitter will have already heard some of the worst, but I'm repeating them just for spite.
Dialogue: "The effing landlord had a heart attack."
Subtitle: "The effigy landlord...."
Dialogue: "Our setup is a bourgeois feel-good scheme."
Subtitle: "Our setup is a bonjour feel-good scheme."
Dialogue: "I have just applied for my M. A."
Subtitle: "I have just a flight for Miami."
Are the subtitles transcribed by robots with imperfect language-detecting capabilities? For us English Dialogue Subtitle Purists, this sure seems like proof that no one reads these things before making the DVDs. I can only hope that it had better subs when it was screened at the thirteen international film festivals boasted on the DVD cover. Shame, Shemaroo. SHAME.