Thursday, March 05, 2009

Kutte! Main tujhe Parallel Film dikha doonga (Revisiting Khamosh)

If you were a Hindi-movie buff in the mid-80s, you wouldn’t be at all surprised by a romantic scene featuring a pouting, heavily made up village belle named Nilofer and a city slicker called Vijay babu, with dialogue that went as follows:

Nilofer: Main Dilawar Khan ki harkaton se tang aa chuki hoon, Vijay babu. Isliye (holding up a large, ornate dagger) yeh khanjar hameshaa saath rakhti hoon. Kal usne meri chhoti behn Asha pe hamla kiya. Bechari masoom bachi ki izzat lootna chaha!

Vijay babu: Uss namak haram kutte ki yeh majaal! Main usse zinda nahin chhodunga, Nilofer. Main uska khoon pee jaoonga!

(Rough translation: Nilofer says the evil Dilawar Khan has been trying to rape her little sister. Vijay babu calls Dilawar Khan a doggie and vows to settle things by taking a sip of his blood.)

Fairly standard stuff, like I said. But you’d expect the actors performing this hokey little scene to be Jaya Prada and Jeetendra, or maybe Reena Roy and Shatrughan Sinha. You’d be very taken aback indeed if they turned out to be Shabana Azmi and Amol Palekar (with the latter in desperate need of a crash course from Dharmendra on how not to seem introspective and professorial when proclaiming a desire to drink dog-blood).

But that's exactly what happens in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh, a film about a movie crew plagued by a series of murders during an outdoor shoot. Azmi and Palekar play themselves playing Nilofer and Vijay in the film within the film. Actually, scrap that, they don’t play “themselves” – they play actors who happen to be named “Shabana Azmi” (a three-time National Award winner, much as the real-life Shabana was when Khamosh was made) and “Amol Palekar”, much the same way as Soni Razdan plays an actress named Soni who gets bumped off early on (something that most certainly didn’t happen to the real-life Soni Razdan during the shooting of this film).

And yes, I know we’re firmly back in meta-film territory just a few weeks after this post. But there are also non-self-referential roles for such parallel-cinema heavyweights as Pankaj Kapoor and, “above all”, Naseeruddin Shah as the man investigating the case. And some nicely done stereotypes: the lustful Bollywood producer (played by Ajit Vachani), the overbearing mom (Sushma Seth) who wants her young daughter to become a star even if it means forcing her to do exploitative rape scenes.

I remember being terrified by Khamosh when I first saw it as a child (on a black-and-white TV, I think) - especially by the scenes involving Shabana’s sleepwalking, and the climactic revelation with the killer’s face dimly seen through a glass window. I don’t find it scary any more but it’s surprisingly entertaining still – tautly made (except for the final confrontation in the costume store-room, which goes on too long) and very well acted. Incidentally the co-writers include Sudhir Mishra (who also plays a small role), Saeed Mirza and Kundan Shah; the film has the general sense of fun that one associates with their collaborations.

I'm now looking forward to seeing Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s diploma film Murder at Monkey Hill, which is available on DVD – but anyone who knows how to get hold of his first feature-length film Sazaye Maut, do share please. Haven't seen that anywhere.

P.S. here's a post about a Chopra film I didn't think too highly of.


  1. Well yet another co-incidence, after your post about Hitch movies the day a kid broke my Hitch DVD, guess what movie was there on the Indie Corner in the Palador DVD of Throne of Blood (that I was watching a couple of days back) ? Murder on Monkey Hill no less!!!!

    History channel had a series profiling Bollywood directors, I did not think much of the episodes featuring Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Karan Johar but the Vidhu Vinod Chopra one left me very very intrigued.

    Do you have any idea where I can find An Encounter with Faces ?

    By the way try watching the channel called DD Lok Sabha over the weekends, "bahut saare parallel film dekhne ko milengey!!!"

  2. Ditto to being scared out of my wits when I watched Khamosh back then. And in fact, tyhat memory prompted me to buy the DVD of this film a couple of months agao - the rewatch didn't give me *that* feeling, but it was enjoyably nostalgic.

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  4. a few weeks back I watched "Tarang" by Kumar Shahani featuring Amol Palekar and Smita Patil. It has the nicest bit of self referencing, with Amol and Smita, the 180 odd mins long film has quite a fair share of great moments but those 18 seconds or so takes the cake.

  5. Might I suggest watching his oscar nominated short as well!
    And Sazaye Maut is available as a DVD on T-Series. I remember a friend buying it.

  6. Khamosh also had supposedly witty insidewr jokes (Shabana Azmi reading Godfather just before discovering a slit chicken head in her bed)...

  7. "... co-writers include Sudhir Mishra (who also plays a small role), Saeed Mirza and Kundan Shah..."

    Piece of trivia- Kundan Shah named the lead characters in Jaane bhi do yaaro after his buddies (Vidhu) Vinod and Sudhir (Mishra) from FTII.

  8. I know the two are not even in the same cinematic planet... but this reminded me eerily of the Charlie Kaufman-written "Adaptation" where the central character(played by Nicholas Cage) is a writer called....Charlie Kaufman!

  9. Thanks for writing about 'Khamosh', it is a part of childhood lore for me. Once me and a bunch of cousins were watching it late at night in a government bungalow in Ranchi surrounded by a huge garden, and to this day one of my cousins swears she really did see a hand creeping in through the loo window. It was quite an exciting night, and i can still recall it vividly. Subsequent watches haven't been that exciting, but I still think it's a pretty good whodunit.