While for most of us, the 70s remains a decade that is clearly associated with Sex N Drums, Rock N Roll and everything Yankee, it was also the decade that marked the awakening of the collective conscience of the average Indian to the socio-economic change happening around him/her.
Sudhir Mishra's HKA starts off in 1969 and follows the lives of its three main protagonists through the traumatic 70s. It would be extremely difficult to classify the film into one specific genre simply because the movie works at a much deeper level than your average Bollywood venture. On one hand, we could call it a simple love story set in turbulent times where idealogy and circumstances cruelly contrive to alter the dreams, aspirations and destinies of the lead players. On a totally different track, we could call it a sharp commentary on the politics of the time (sans biased political overtones) with the director mincing no words in exposing the failures of the Nehruvian ideal. All said and done, HKA is without a shadow of doubt, one of the most hard hitting movies made about the political landscape of India. I can think of just a couple of honorable mentions like Hu Tu Tu or even Dev (for its honest intentions) which tried something along the same lines but where HKA scores is the fact that Mishra manages to convey the anger and frustration of the individuals without being didactic or overly dramatic. While good movies speak to your heart, HKA goes for your gut.
HKA derives as much strength from its finely nuanced characters and the inherent complexities of their behavior (not surprising considering Mishra is a M. Phil in Psychology from DU) as it does from its tempestuous setting of Emergency. A major part of the story is told in the form of letters written to Geeta, a foreign returned suave urbanite, by two people who are fighting for her affection - Sidharth, the affluent son of a retired judge, who is driven by the idealogy of the reds and who believes in social revolution and Vikram, who aspires to rise from the mediocrity of a middle class living to the high corridors of power and influence. The three first meet in St.Stephens and chart their futures in those politically active corridors of college. Sidharth leads a group of rabble rousing revolutionaries who plan to give up everything and dedicate themselves to the cause of the persecuted in Bihar. Vikram who will have nothing to do with fighting for the underdog slowly ingratiates himself into the system and develops political contacts that will help him in his climb to the higher rungs of society. Geeta, caught between the two men in her life, finds herself unwittingly drawn to Sidharth's magnetic personality but cannot find the courage to join him in his crusade. Fate intervenes and Sidharth goes to Bhojpur in Bihar only to find that things are worse than his worst dreams and that it will take more than time and blood to bring about change. Time and distance separate the two love birds and Geeta is sucked into a loveless marriage with an IAS fast-tracker Arun. Vikram's native intelligence and cunning sees him steadily make his mark in the durbars of the corrupt while continuing to remain in the fringes of Geeta's life. What follows is a reverberant journey dealing with the trials and tribulations of 3 people trying desperately to come to grips with life which seems to be moving much faster than what they can cope with, a journey which delves into the heart and soul of a nation suffering from a debilitating period of oppression and lawlessness.
With HKA, Sudhir Mishra clearly shows that Calcutta Mail and Chameli were mere aberrations and that he has still not lost the ability to churn out offbeat classics like Is Raat ki Subaah Nahin and Dharavi. (I have not seen Yeh Woh Manzil To Nahin) Watching a sensitive movie like this is neither a comforting nor a pretty exercise and Mishra ensures that the grimness of the past stays long after the movie experience is over. The movie is a timely reminder to global audiences that there is more to the 21st century Indian film industry than just Aishwarya Rai, Karan Johar or Yash Chopra. Judging from the credits, the movie seems to be a collaborative effort between Mishra and some French team and it clearly shows in the quality of the technical crew, be it the cinematography or editing department. Whatever I write about Shantanu Moitra's riveting score (and his brilliant usage of sheer silence) will still not be adequate to his immense contribution to the movie. Particular mention must be made of Shubha Mudgal's soulful rendition of the title track (a poem by that wonderful Mirza Ghalib)
The dialogues in the movie are the best I have ever heard - laced with irony and sardonic observations. Sample these
There is a letter in which Sidharth writes to Geeta and says "Bhojpur might be 1,000 kilometres away from Delhi, but is 5,000 years away otherwise."
And then there is another letter where Vikram tells Geeta "Meerut just had another riot yesterday. Only this tme it was better, just 70 died. Not that the people are overly concerned. There is more excitement here because an ironsmith's daughter ran away with a low caste guy. Of course, they caught the guy and trapped in a drum and boilt him. Just kidding...they just castrated him."
There is bound to be a lot of furious debate on the moral fibre of the protagonists but what is most endearing is that Mishra does not chose to adopt easy fix-its by offering cinematic explanations to justify the actions of the players. Geeta, for example, is shown as remorseless for the unflinching and often mindless devotion she has for Sidharth so much so that even after marriage, she does not think twice about sleeping with him and having his baby. Vikram, for all his chameleon-like ways, is steadfastly besotted with Geeta to the point of being self-destructive. Why you may ask ? But then this is love we are talking about and love can have no logic or reason.
Lets move on. As far as performances go Chitrangda Singh(Geeta), Roshan 'Shiney' Ahuja (Vikram) and Kay Kay Menon (Sidharth) are mindblowing and clearly underline the fact that given a strong storyline, you don't need A- stars to work magic on screen. Adding further depth to the plot are some interestingly etched cameos like the old-Congress-mould father of Vikram, the shifty local politican played by Yashpal Sharma and the ruthless Bihari hawaldar.
For someone who sees 2 movies per week in halls / pirated CDs (adding upto to 100 movies a year discounting ones seen on cable / TV) it would not be an exaggeration to say that HKA is one of the top 5 movies I have seen in the last 3 years. I realise its only May and there are still 7 months to go but I would be very suprised if the movie does not win National awards for Sudhir Mishra and Chitrangda Singh. For genuine lovers of the medium of cinema and for people who believe that movie-making serves nobler purposes than sheer entertainment, HKA is a must-watch. Go see it in a hall today.
ps: A loose translation of this extremely poetic title would come across as "A thousand dreams like these" but just like the movie, there is much more to the title than what can be seen from the surface. It would be more apt to call it "A tryst with destiny"