I’ve known Bhargav (Saikia), the producer of Kaafiron Ki Namaaz (KKN), for a few years now. I have curiously followed him and his team at Lorien Motion Pictures at every stage of the making of their pet project – from the updates of their soundtrack recording with Javed Ali and Usha Uthup, to photos from the on-location shoot in Kashmir. I suppose with social media, it gets a bit easy to do so. I suppose, that is why it feels like I have known KKN for quite some time now. When I got the opportunity to watch the finished piece in Bhargav’s personal screening room – an iMac plugged into Sony speakers, I simply jumped on it. This post on KKN has been sitting in the draft stage for a few months. And apart from my own lazyness, there is one more reason why it has been so. KKN left me with several unanswered questions and a blank stare. That makes it a difficult one to write about. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt.
Kaafiron.. begins with the sharp, blue, and frozen visuals of Kashmir. There is a presence of gloom in the air, evident in the dark clouds, and the leafless trees. As we follow an eagle flying aimlessly, we witness a Jeep driver trying to negotiate with his lone passenger. There has been some sort of an argument, and the passenger needs to get back to where he came from. We later discover that the passenger is a camera assistant, who is recording an interview arranged by a writer (Chandrahas Tiwari) from Kolkata. They are in Kashmir to interview a court-martialed army man (Alok Chaturvedi) in his abode, an abandoned Kashmiri hotel, on a rainy night which happens to be Christmas eve. The interview starts off with the writer’s curious questions about the reasons behind the army man being court-martialed. There are no straight answers to this, and the discussion gets heated up. We are then joined by a third character, Junaid (Megh Pant), a tea-shop owner by night and a wedding band musician by day. It is in this one room (and some in the bathroom) where we spend most of the time in KKN – witnessing silently as the discussions simmer, almost edging to the point of boiling over, only to be sometimes interrupted by the voice on the radio. And all this while, the camera assistant stands in the corner as a silent spectator.
The narrative juggles between the hotel room, and the outdoor journey of the camera assistant. If that sounds like KKN is getting hard to follow, you are right. The two pieces do coalesce together in the end. And yet, even when it supposedly fits together as a complete story, it leaves a bunch of loose ends for you to ponder upon. Perhaps, that is the intention. Like a voyeuristic perspective of a conversation you hear in a public place, as you eavesdrop on strangers discussing something that is unrelated to you. And yet, you seem to get invested in there rants and issues. You never get to paint the whole picture, just fill the empty spaces with your own imaginary shades. KKN does not shy away from talking about some very unsettling issues, and others which question the very essence which makes us human. And yet, there is a hint of humour tucked between these moments of despair. Delving more into this would be stepping into spoiler territory. And to have addressed all of that within an enclosed set with just 3 speaking characters is a feat in itself.
Having said that, KKN does not seem like it set out to please any audience. It sometimes leaves you feeling uncomfortable with the overuse of graphic depiction. The pace feels a bit indulgent in places, and a there a few jarring bits where the performances switch to the melodramatic end of the spectrum. But these are minor nitpicks in an overall accomplished piece with fine performances by the lead trio – especially Chandrahas Tiwari. In Tiwari’s writer, we see the anguish and angst of a middle-aged man struggling to come to terms with his own failures and regrets. Even when most of his face is covered in a Tagoresque beard, his eyes gleam the brightest, and speak louder than the army man’s histrionics.
However, KKN‘s vision is nothing without the background that envelopes it. Kashmir, shot stunningly by Cinematographer A.Vasanth, oozes poetry. Advait Nemlekar’s music blends seamlessly into the story, and yet has a story of its own. The ones that stand out for me are – Ye Raat Monalisa, a jazz track which serenades the rainy night, with svelte vocals by Usha Uthup. And Jhalkiya by Javed Ali, a semi-classical track, is in a class of its own. Finally, to the backbone of this project, director and lyricist Ram Ramesh Sharma – I have one word for you – Congratulations! For a debut movie, straight out of film school, this surely had the streak of a confident storyteller.
KKN rightly deserves all the laurels it has gathered from the many film festivals it has travelled to, and here’s wishing all the best to everyone at Lorien Motion Pictures for the India wide release in early 2015. I am very much looking forward to what Lorien Motion Pictures does next.
Rating: 3.5 Cups of Tea Out of 5