D10 – I was seated alongside my pal Kartik (D9). Studio – 5 was filled to capacity with 78 other nocturnes. That irritating model (?) in the Nalli Silks ad was standing between us and Nagesh Kukunoor. After 10 minutes of agony, the censor board certificate flashed!
The first few frames, toggling between the lush green valleys of Himachal to the vast desert expanse of Rajasthan, both aesthetically captured, sets the context for the narration and introduces the main characters – Amir, Zeenat, Shankar and Meera. Himachal - Amir marries Zeenat the day before he leaves for Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. Rajasthan – Shankar, married to Meera, too leaves for Saudi to earn good money. Few months later, Meera receives the news that Shankar is dead and Zeenat is informed that Amir is jailed for allegedly killing Shankar and awaits death penalty very soon. Zeenat has only one option to save her husband – get a signed letter from Meera that her husband is innocent. The rest of the narration deals with how Zeenat traces Meera to get her work done.
Gul Panag and Ayesha Takia – the protagonists - play Zeenat and Meera respectively. Shreyas Talpade of Iqbal fame plays the Behroopiya while Girish Karnad plays the typical Rajasthani house head and Ayesha’s father-in-law. Nagesh Kukunoor makes that customary brief appearance as a lecherous factory owner who opens shop in Jodhpur.
“Dor” – another non-formula Kukunoor film is truly world class. The director has grown in stature right from Hyderabad blues and Rockford to Iqbal and now Dor. This intensely captivating narrative, capturing the underlying emotions in each and every frame, conglomerates with the artistic direction, fabulous photography and evocative music to present a feast to the connoisseur. The characters have done full justice to their roles and stay etched in the minds of the audience with some sterling performances. Surely Kukunoor’s best creation till date, Dor belongs to world cinema!
One noticeable thing about such films is the genuineness they bring with. Be it the portrayal of Zeenat and Meera as local women looking natural without make-up or the unceasing hooka smoking Rajasthani family head or the emotional and intense yet ‘no-senti, no-nonsense’ dialogues throughout the film, everything about this two and a half hours piece of entertainment is authentic. The Behroopiya’s imitation of movie stars, Meera’s dance steps to ‘You are my sonia’ and the three of them dancing in the dunes to ‘Kajra re’ provide some lighter moments to the otherwise serious plot but without disrupting the flow of events. Shreyas is one actor to watch out for in the years to come. The director has compensated for the zero-dialog mute Iqbal with a diametrically contrasting cast – the Behroopiya. The Behroopiya, who first entertains travelers and then cons them, has been crafted as a tool, a means to guide Zeenat to her destination. Though he cons Zeenat also at first, he later befriends her and accompanies her journey across the desert. The various guises he sports and his imitation of Bollywood with terrific ease provides justice to his characterization. But the scene when he returns home drunk and expresses his love for Zeenat was uncalled-for. Overall, Shreyas is an actor who can do serious as well as commercial cinema with equal élan. Shreyas – Dexterous!
Gul Panag looks beautiful sans make-up. The strong willed, self-assured woman that she plays, she handles her character with ease. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Her suppressed yet strong emoting in various scenes like when she hears about Amir from the external affairs ministry and when she is being pushed out by Meera’s in-laws and also during the last few closing frames add lustre to her character. But the real revelation is Ayesha Takia. I’ve never believed that Ayesha can go beyond her glamour doll image. Right from the initial frames where she plays the colourful innocent village girl to the subdued widow in dark blue robes who is being stripped of all her joy and independence, she reinforces Kukunoor’s faith in her acting abilities with a first-rate feat. Her subtle expressions when she is left alone with Shankar’s suitcase and during the closing scenes when she starts raising questions within herself about the patriarchal setup of the society around her are noteworthy. The innocence that she exudes captures the heart of the audience. Ayesha you won’t get such roles too often! You’ve made the most out of this golden opportunity. Ayesha - Award winning!
Dor is a photographer’s delight, frame by frame. The picturesque valley in Himachal in the opening scene, the lone temple in the vast expanse of sand, the panoramic view of Jodhpur painted blue – the camera work is captivating. When I first watched Hyderabad Blues, I felt as though the entire film has been shot with one damn handycam. From there, Kukunoor has traveled quite a distance. Art is another fascinating facet of Dor. Art direction doesn’t encompass constructing heavy extravagant forts or bungalows that are in no way connected with the plot. On the contrary, it involves setting up the environment for each frame in the film such that the underlying narration and screenplay is augmented or enhanced. Dor excels in doing this. Artwork – exemplary!
‘Yeh Honsla’ – my lips kept humming for the next two days. Music is an integral part of every facet of Indian culture and the film industry is no exception. Over the years, music in films has become increasingly pathetic, playing no constructive role to the plot as such, but just to add that extra bit of ‘masala’ so as to commercialise it more. So much so that very few directors today believe in using music as a tool to enhance direction and screenplay. Our director fortunately falls into this category. Two very strong songs – ‘Yeh honsla’ and ‘Kesariya baalam ’ - that add a lot of value to the undercurrent called script, coupled with an exceptional background score fortifies the director’s intentions and helps him hurl his thoughts towards the audience better. The director has also proved that one can in fact do away with two or three songs already in market (‘You are my sonia’, ‘Kajra re’ and ‘Lambi Judaai’) if these can really supplement the narration better. Music – Moving!
The director has succeeded well in putting forth his motive of depicting the strong bonding between two women both of whom have been challenged with a different yet related predicament in their lives. The poignant weaving of the sisterhood between Zeenat and Meera with a tinge of subtlety adds a magical touch to the film. The female bonding between Meera and her dead husband’s grandmother boosts the director’s cause. The curtains close with an exceptional display of the intricate softness of humanity and compassion transcending hatred and dumb societal beliefs. Kuknoor- Victorious!
Dor – aesthetic!