Sunday, March 30, 2014

Muhafiz - Faiz in Bhopal

When Ismail Merchant decided to make his directorial debut, it was his love for Urdu poetry and a strong connection with his Indian roots that probably made him choose Anita Desai’s In Custody as the book to base his film on. For the role of the old, once famous poet, Noor Shahjahanabadi, who metaphorically represented the declining state of the Urdu language in India, he made a seemingly unlikely choice – Shashi Kapoor. At that time, it was tough for me to imagine the suave charmer I remembered him as (Utsav's lecherous Sansthanak notwithstanding), doing justice to that role. But all my apprehensions came to a naught when I saw the film. So well had Shashi Kapoor ensconced himself under the skin of the character, that it was tough to imagine any other actor of that time doing as much justice to the role. Even his physicality added a dimension to his portrayal of the role. Noor was Shashi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor was Noor.

Quoting Caryn James’ review in the New York Times –

“Lying on his side in a narrow bed is a corpulent, aging Indian poet named Nur. He is a curiously imposing figure, even with his back to the camera, and provides what may be the greatest role in the long career of Shashi Kapoor. Almost 30 years ago, Mr. Kapoor was the slender, handsome youth in the early Merchant-Ivory film ‘Shakespeare Wallah’, and more recently the outraged father in Stephen Frears's ‘Sammy and Rosie Get Laid’. In Ismail Merchant's rich and enticing ‘In Custody’, Mr. Kapoor turns Nur into a present-day Balzac: fierce and wise, yet with all the signs of having lived a little too well."

Apart from a solid supporting cast, Ismail Merchant’s masterstroke was to use poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz as the soul of the film. All the nazms and ghazals used in the film, barring one, were Faiz’s published work. Interestingly, the review quoted above cites the use of poetry as a flaw in the film, but that’s only because it is impossible for a western viewer to appreciate the nuances of Urdu poetry through translations.

Muhafiz (In Custody, 1994) had some great music by Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Sultan Khan. The film opens with Shashi Kapoor’s voice reciting the nazm Aaj Ik Harf Ko, followed by Suresh Wadkar singing it.

आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल
मधभरा हर्फ़ कोई ज़हर भरा हर्फ़ कोई
दिलनशीं हर्फ़ कोई क़हर भरा हर्फ़ कोई
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...

हर्फ़-ए-उलफत कोई दिलदार-ए-नज़र हो जैसे
जिससे मिलती है नज़र बोसा-ए-लब की सूरत
इतना रौशन कि सर-ए-मौजा-ए-ज़र हो जैसे
सोहबत-ए-यार में आगाज़-ए-तरब की सूरत
हर्फ़-ए-नफरत कोई शमशीर-ए- ग़ज़ब हो जैसे
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...

ता-बद शहर-ए-सितम जिससे तबाह हो जाएँ
इतना तारीक कि शमशान की शब हो जैसे
लब पे लाऊँ तो मेरे होंट सियाह हो जाएँ
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...


Aaj Ik Harf Ko - Muhafiz (In Custody) - Shashi Kapoor & Suresh Wadkar - Ustad Zakir Hussain & Ustad Sultan Khan - Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal is one of the largest mosques in Asia. The distinctive three domes and two tall minarets overlooking a lake make this a prominent landmark of the city. The construction of the mosque started sometime in the mid-19th century, but had to be called off for paucity of funds after 1957. Construction resumed only in 1971 and was finally completed in 1985.

Since the city of Bhopal formed the backdrop of the film it was obvious that Taj-ul-Masajid would have a role to play. One of Faiz’s more famous nazms was again used to great effect in the final moments of the film when the poet dies leaving behind his poetic legacy in custody of the professor/journalist character played by Om Puri. The Taj-ul-Masajid featured prominently during this scene in a single long shot towards the end that lasted for almost a minute. The ‘crown among mosques’ was not merely a backdrop, but a significant character during this scene – someone silently overlooking the end of a legacy, but with an assurance that the legacy would not be forgotten as long as it stands there as a reminder.

चश्म-ए-नम  जान-ए-शोरीदा काफ़ी नहीं
तोहमत-ए-इश्क़-ए-पोशीदा काफी नहीं
आज बाज़ार में पा ब-जौलाँ चलो

दस्त-अफ़शाँ चलो मस्त-ओ-रक़साँ चलो
ख़ाक-बर-सर चलो ख़ूँ-ब-दामाँ चलो
राह तकता है सब शहर-ए-जानाँ चलो

हाकिम-ए-शहर भी मजमा-ए-आम भी
तीर-ए-इलज़ाम भी संग-ए-दुश्नाम भी
सुब्ह-ए-नाशाद भी रोज़-ए-नाकाम भी

इनका दमसाज़ अपने सिवा कौन है
शहर-ए-जानाँ में अब बा-सफ़ा कौन है
दस्त-ए-क़ातिल के शायाँ रहा कौन है

रख़्त-ए-दिल बाँध लो दिलफ़िगारो चलो
फिर हमीं क़त्ल हो आएँ यारो चलो
आज बाज़ार में पा ब-जौलाँ चलो

Aaaj Baazaar Mein - Muhafiz (In Custody) - Hariharan - Ustad Zakir Hussain & Ustad Sultan Khan - Faiz Ahmed Faiz