The Great Indian Critics have spoken: Mirzya has already been derided as the visual feast without a soul. It has been written off an exercise in filmmaker vanity. And this failed experiment of Mirzya is one reason why mainstream Bollywood would be stuck in its safe zone of archaic formula filmmaking.
Taking on a Punjabi fable, Mirzya offers nothing new in its story per se. It is a tragic romance, moulded on the lines of Romeo and Juliet.
If director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra had set the protagonists in a college, added some Vishal-Shekhar/Pritam music, padded it up with cheap comedy, and dwelled on romance in the mushy manner we are used to, trust me, this would have been the critics’ delight.
The debuting actors Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher would have been the toast of the town. After all, Bollywood’s tryst in romance starts with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and ends in Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. That is what we need and do not want to outgrow.
So in making a ‘safe romance,’ you should not attempt to bring in the spectacular essence of Indian story-telling. You must not resort to theatre-flourish. You must not have soothradars (narrators). You must not make it a hyperlinked film interwoven with fantasy.
Mehra does all this, and that is Mirzya’s failing. It doesn’t conform to conventional Bollywood filmmaking. The tragic romance of Mirza and Sahiban is not in-your-face. It is not gimmicky. It doesn’t sing duets. It seeks out love and love only. But that is not palatable because it isn’t sugar-coated.
So we have the soothradar Om Puri, introducing you into the story of Mirza and Sahiban, before it cuts straight to the lives of Monish (Harshvardhan) and Suchitra (Saiyami), two ‘best friends forever.’ A tragedy separates them, and as poet Gulzar, who scripts the film, reminds us: “These things happen in love. One suffers and the other bleeds.”
The bleeding for love continues as Monish takes the fake name of Adil Mirza, and his path crosses that of Suchitra, who is all set to wed into a royal family. All along, Mehra cuts the story into the narrative of Mirza and Sahiban (in Rasho-Mon/Seven Samurai hairdo and brilliance, recalling the recreation of the same by Mani Ratnam in Dalapathi).
But in resorting to two story streams, there is little room for ‘conventional romance.’ There is no space to show ‘love bloom’ as is the norm in Bollywood. Instead what we see is romance treated in theatrical trance – almost Sufi and folkloric at once.
Unarguably, Mirzya is the best-shot Bollywood film in recent times; Pawel Dyllus stuns you with visual richness; it is also one of the intelligently edited (by PS Bharathi). Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy becomes part of the narrative and not as a stand-alone circus, set to the lead pair running around trees.
Excellent performances by Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher (though not fully drawn out), and the suave Anuj Choudhary are the film’s highlight. We sure have three new talented youngsters who should go places.
But on final count, if you leave the hall rather unimpressed, blame it on our habitual approach to watching films. Mirzya isn’t Bollywood. It is Indian story-telling that – I strongly feel – will connect with international audiences and the film festival circuits, where ingenuity & craft are not compared with box-office formula.
Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
Starring: Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher