I have just had the fortune of watching Khoya Khoya Chand, directed by Sudhir Mishra which opened in cinemas today. The film has no big stars and to my mind the director is a bigger name in the alternative circuits than any of his actors. The 10.55 pm show during which I watched the film had a luke warm attendance. One can blame the cold and early winter but to a seasoned mind, it is the hallmark of box office behavior with respect to hindi cinema. Big stars give you bigger openings. Shiny Ahuja and Soha Ali Khan might be ascendant in many a night sky but on the box office.
Khoya Khoya Chand is an authentic look at the Bombay filmdom of the years gone by situated sometimes in the late 1950's and early 1960's. There are two central characters in the film. The first is Nikhat played by Soha Ali, is pushed into the cut throat world of starry aspirations at a tender age. The other character is Zafar, from the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and a decaying feudal polygamous family of bickering step mothers and step brothers. Zafar is a writer and meets Nikhat on the sets of a film. The film follows these two characters through the next decade or so delving into their ambitions and desires.
The people watching the film with me were restless and if I read it correctly sniggering at the effort on the screen. The first half is episodic but the film gripped me completely in the second half and my attention did not waver for a second. I was transfixed by the layers into the plot and its unravelling. KKC is an unseen thing in recent times with the complex interplay of relationships (personal and professional), success and time. Nikhat is patronised by the leading actor of the time, Prem Kumar (Rajat Kapoor), while Zafar is nursing his own directorial ambitions after his early screenplays become successful films. The romance between our lead characters is plagued by family problems, professional jealously, ambition and personality defects. And to the credit of the film a whole lot of this comes across in the film.
The intricacy of the plot notwithstanding, the etching of various characters is very well achieved though one can pick issues with the two central characterizations. Both suffer from a disturbed childhood, Zafar from a decadent father and Nikhat due an absent one. This harking back to childhood for character defects or for the explanation of insecurity, desire and ambition is a much vaunted authenticity device that perhaps owes its origin to Freudian analysis. But it does not really sink in despite the repeated references to father figure in Zafar's scripts or in characters played by Nikhat. However, if one was to interpret the film as character driven, then it is easier to digest but there was something dishonest or let me say something of a short cut to lay emphasis on this aspect of the characters.
The other characters around the two leads are where the honesty of the film shines through. Their motives and behavior are right up there in spaces they occupy, changing with time and context. Just a word of appreciation would be unfair to Sudhir Mishra for the assortment of artists in the film for these people (unknown) with tiny bits roles, do such a great job at looking perfect and behaving just right. Among the seasoned ones, Saurabh Shukla as the Punjabi speaking producer, conveys a sense of moneyed power that one associates with the profession, at times whimsical at others sycophantic and yet a dignified one. The news faces (RatanBala, Ravinder, Prem Kapoor's wife) in the film pack in a punch and lend great support to the film. Shiny Ahuja in my opinion tries too hard in the film and while convincing in parts and able to convey the forlornness of disappointed son, a unsuccessful director and a failed lover, he does not get it quite right, there was something of a soul but the body was missing. He ought to stop puckering his eyes up in many directions to convey different emotions, every film is not Hazaar Khawaisian Aisi. Soha is so well cast to convey the early precociousness of a bubbly vivacious little girl trapped in the dreams of other men. But me thinks she fails to convey the anguish of one who climbs the ladder by sexual favours and later as the drunkard has-been actress falling off the marquee. It just does not come across and even if I close my eyes for a second to recollect, I do not get the soul of her portrayal.
The film is complex, it has high ambitions, it tries to tread where few have gone. I realize editing has never been a strong point of Sudhir Mishra's movies which are more content driven and so it is with this film, some of those transitions are painfully lazy and bad cinema. The sound is glitchy in the first half, some of it one realizes was stylistic and I found the art direction seriously underdone. And for a period setting that was an eye sore. Authenticity is not the issue here but the rather constrained spaces indoors or outdoors. Now if that was a stylistic element, I am unable to discern. The film appears to be a low budget one and one can gladly excuse such short comings if it contributes to the growth or evolution of the medium or generically of story telling and in this regard, I think the film terrifically does.
This is a difficult review to write, for the movie is so unlike what a hindi film strives to be that I am aware I am sailing in a leaking dinghy amidst a choppy sea. But I wanted to do this as early as possible in my effort to be ahead of the reviews which hit the stands on saturday. And in doing so, I wanted to map my own ability at such a task especially considering the pioneering story telling that the film attempts. A very well-intentioned film but the key question to ask would be, are good intentions enough? And as this great piece in the Tehelka reasons, "...While good-intentions are laudable, I think a film should be critiqued or reviewed as cinema...". So here is where I run out of steam with my reviewing abilities. Since I already have my neck out, a few more lines would not harm me. KKC lacks the power of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003)and the finesse of Is Raat ki Subah Nahi (1996) or Yeh Woh Manzil to Nahi (1987). Though I would interpret it positively as a remarkably brave effort in story telling within the hindi film world and a must for the junkies or the cinemachis.
Anurag Kashyap on Khoya Khoya Chand
Sudhir Mishra, Why Am I Making Khoya Khoya Chand?
Sudhir Mishra, Khoya Khoya Chand-Just Before Release