Most Bollywood filmmakers treat time as a plot convenience, shrinking its importance, glossing over its true meaning and power – as if it doesn’t even exist, as if its presence, especially its long passage, has no bearing on people. These filmmakers don’t believe that their characters can undergo slow transitions such as coming to terms with newer versions of themselves, negotiating new realities, unlearning and maybe even forgetting things from the past to make the present more bearable and less unhappy. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, starring Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher, is one such film.
Munish (Kapoor) and Suchitra (Kher) grow up together in Jodhpur and fall in love. At an early age, though, they part ways and meet after a long time when Munish, now called Adil, is working as a hired help, and Suchitra is about to get married to a local prince.
At one point in the movie, the two leads, Adil and Suchitra, meet each other after a long time and while Adil recognises Suchitra, she fails to recognise him. In a different time and a different place, Adil was Munish, Suchitra was Suchi and they shared a close relationship with each other as classmates, best friends and lovers. However, after at least a decade, when Suchitra, who’s engaged to someone else, finds out that Adil is Munish, it just takes her a few ordinary meetings with him to fall in love with Adil again. And Adil, like a true Hindi film hero, never stops being in love with her. But this plot point doesn’t ring true, as, quite clearly, they are two different people now. The difference in their social standing (Suchitra belongs to a rich, influential family; Adil’s employed by her fiancé) is more pronounced than ever. Suchitra left Jodhpur (where she studied with Munish) at an early age and possibly went to premier schools and colleges, while Munish remained in Rajasthan. Suchitra’s also someone who, as it were, has studied, travelled and, seen the world; Munish hasn’t.
But Mehra doesn’t treat these differences with any gravitas, maybe because he doesn’t see them as people; he sees them as characters because he’s too fixated on making an epic. Time and again, right from the film’s first opening shot, we are reminded – through paintings on the wall, through voiceovers – that this is the story of Mirza and Sahiban (a popular Punjabi folk tale). And it is this story that fundamentally intrigues Mehra, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. Instead of locating the story in its original setting and time, Mehra attempts a contemporary adaptation (an audacious choice), but it’s clear, in scene after scene after scene, that he can’t let go off its mythic quality, can’t forget the fact that he’s adapting an epic. As a result, much of Mirzya along with its characters is stranded between two distinct worlds, two distinct spirits – old and new, extraordinary and ordinary, mythic and real – and the abrupt shift between the two doesn’t help the film.
Quite bizarrely, Mehra also keeps cutting to another story – set in an undefined time and place (and featuring horses, arrows, mountains, lakes and trees) – to hammer home the point that Mirzya is Mirza, Suchitra Sahiban and Mirzya not any other ordinary Bollywood film. Spoiler alert: It completely is.
Mirzya tries too hard to be profound, when, in fact, it can’t even tell a compelling story. Here, Mehra comes across as someone awfully short on confidence: Mirzya just doesn’t believe in silence; any scene of borderline emotional heft is underscored by songs; strange communal carnal dance routines; Daler Mehndi’s frequent wails which sound like a kid both angry and hungry. In fact, these interruptions are so frequent, inane and annoying that it makes warming up to this film nearly impossible. Even the writing here – story and screenplay by Gulzar – is slipshod and uninspired (inconsistent pace, mood, lack of focus), clichéd (Suchitra’s fiancé, to no one’s surprise, ultimately becomes the film’s villain) and inane (perfectly ordinary, if a little stuck up, people end up becoming gun-toting bloodthirsty goons by the climax).
To their credit, the debutants, Kapoor and Kher, play their one-dimensional poorly written roles fairly well, but this poor excuse of a film, cannot, and should not, be an estimation of anyone’s talent.