I had heard about this small Pakistani-French production at the time of its release and since the film had a limited release, it had not moved up on my 'to see' list. I chanced upon its CD the other day and at first sight, pounced on it. And I wasn't disappointed.
'Khamosh Paani' is a great film. Easily one of the best films in the 1947 partition of India genre. It examines the issue from an entirely different perspective and reinforces the possibilities of this genre, which I had thought, till I saw this film, been done to death. Sahiba Sumar as the director sets the film in a remote village in Pakistan's Punjab. The visuals are breathtaking. Its little, desolate, crumbling minarets, white-walled houses and lakes create that wonderfully alienated but content atmosphere. The residents of this village are a happy, content bunch of people. Among them is Ayesha (Kirron Kher) and her son Saleem (Aamir Malik). Ayesha teaches the Quran to the children of the village, while her eighteen year old son Saleem is an aimless, dreamy, charming and simple young lad, who's only ambition is to woo the pretty Zubeidaa (Shilpa Shukla). Zubeidaa, loves Saleem, but is eager to study in the city and build a career for herself. The year is 1979 and General Zia is about to enforce the Martial Law. This leads to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism through out the state and a few workers from the city come to the village to recruit some young hands to work for their misguided and deluded cause of Islam. Saleem is easy prey. He starts to get drawn into the quagmire of Islamic politics and begins to share the fundamentalistic ideas of the party workers, believing that he is doing the country a great service. Needless to say, in the process, he begins to alienate his girlfriend, who tries to get him to find a job and settle down. Things get complicated, when a group Sikhs arrive to pay respects to a holy shrine, from across the border. One particular gentleman, Jaswant, arrives at Ayesha's door looking for his sister, who he had lost during the partition. Ayesha turns out to be his sister, much to the annoyance of her son, who's transformation from gentle young lover to hardened fundamentalist is now complete. He is now shameful of being her son, a Sikh's descendant.
The story is compelling from a number of aspects. First, the film explores, through flashbacks, Ayesha's (and many other women's) trauma during the Partition, where families from both sides of the border would kill their own mothers, sisters and daughters, lest they fall into the enemy's hands and shame the family honour. Ayesha was one such girl, who was left to die by her Sikh family, only to be adopted by a kind Pakistani Punjabi man. The film captures her pain beautifully from the point that Jaswant comes looking for his sister in the village. Ayesha's final outburst at her brother for abandoning her years earlier is a very well done scene. Her pain at being rewarded for staying a true Pakistani Muslim, with only hate from her son is again very evocatively brought out. The scars of Partition are many. We see another side in 'Khamosh Paani'.
Another great aspect in the film is the transformation of Saleem. Aamir Malik holds you with his performance as the young misguided youth. You love him at the beginning of the film and then start hating him towards the end. His disregard for both his love and his mother are astonishing, but made eminently believable by the actor.
Also, the sequences where the city fundamentalists clash with the simple villagers who do not understand politics, are noteworthy. The scene where Saleem heads a protest against the Sikhs from across the border, with the old village folk watching in dismay is mersemerising.
The screenplay is very good and builds the story steadily. Performances are very good, from both Kirron Kher and Aamir Malik. Shilpa Shulka is good as well, though she looks too old be a school girl. The flashbacks of Ayesha suffering abuse and trauma are not its best parts. Perhaps if Ayesha had herself confronted her son with her ordeal, it would have had greater impact. But a very good watch all the same. I would recommend this film to all.
It has got me looking forward to more good cinema from Pakistan.