As a first directorial for DOP-turned-director Baba Azmi, who has lensed biggies like “Mr. India,” this film, “Mee Raqsam” (this is Urdu for “I Dance”) is emotionally all there. Protagonist Maryam (Aditi Subedi) from a lower middle-class Muslim family in Mijwan, is influenced by her mother to learn Bharatanatyam. After her mother’s death, Maryam’s dream remains, fuelled by the Bharatanatyam school in the town.
Her father Salim (Danish Husain) is a tailor, and since she is the apple of his eye, he gets her enrolled in the class run by Uma (Sudeepta Singh). An inborn affinity makes Maryam one of the brightest students in the class.
However, Salim faces trouble because of Maryam becoming a “naachnewali” (cheap dancer) as, first, his family puts it, headed by his sister Zehra (Shradha Kaul) and their mother (Farrukh Jafar). The battle extends to other local people and reaches the ears of uber-orthodox Hashim Seth (Naseeruddin Shah), some kind of a religious head in the town.
Soon Salim is almost ostracized by the town, his tailoring business in doldrums. However, he steadfastly stands behind his daughter, and soon there is a competition in Delhi where Uma selects Maryam. Maryam, initially scared for her father, wants to quit, but when she sees the extent of religious bigotry and needless hate against him, decides to rebel too. One of the Bharatanatyam patrons is a Hindu bigot (Rakesh Chaturvedi Om) and at the final competition, which she obviously wins, she puts him in place as well.
While we have no quarrel with the rather “filmi” way in which the dance competition is handled and how Aditi dances to a special medley that includes a blend of traditional classical and Sufi-pop, we do have issues with the rather low-key, tepid and timid way in which Azmi and his writers treat this subject with kid gloves.
For example, now that Maryam has won, what next? How will that change the attitudes and outlook of the rabid Muslim communalists? Or for that matter, of the Hindu fanatic, who is shown to needlessly go to ridiculous lengths (Watch the film for this detail) during the competition.
What will happen when Salim returns to their town, and to his livelihood there? The film, in a praiseworthy way, shows all the youngsters in the story as broadminded and progressive and secular, right from the Muslim rickshaw puller Ashfaq (Kaustubh Shukla), Maryam’s cousin Kulsum (Juhaina Ahsan), the patron’s fiercely modern and no-nonsense daughter Anjali (Shivangi Gautam) and of course the dance teacher.
We also liked the way in which Bharatanatyam is declared an Indian art rather than “Unn logon ka naach” (THEIR—as in Hindu, not Muslim!—art) as the bigots describe it, on which everyone has a right and which no one can deride. But in his enthusiasm to show the story as a secular one from his father Kaifi Azmi’s village-turned-town as per the latter’s dream, the director actually seems a tad scared of ruffling too many feathers. He could have shown a decisive culmination rather than an open ending in that sense.
The film is also redeemed by exceptional performances by Aditi Subedi, dazzling as the innocent prodigy Maryam, and Danish Husain as her father, showing a bond that is, perhaps, better-etched and deeper than in the recent “Gunjan Saxena.”
He is a born natural, and is superlative. Shradha Kaul makes a mark as Zehra, as does Kaustubh Shukla as Ashfaq. Sudeepta Singh is excellent as Uma, as are the other youngsters.
Naseeruddin Shah makes himself aptly hateful, but in terms of the length of the role versus the intensity, it is Rakesh Chaturvedi Om who makes a lasting impact as his Hindu counterpart of sorts.
Here is a film that could indeed have been a mini-masterpiece. Sadly, it remains “underplayed and real” in the situations where it should become more dramatic and “filmi” and “filmi” where it should have been different and thus actually real. Nevertheless, it is a good effort, and gets pass marks for the filmmaker’s motive behind making it.
(This writer is privy to Baba Azmi’s late mother-in-law, legendary actress Usha Kiran’s revelation in a personal interview that when she had reservations about a Muslim son-in-law, his dad Kaifi Azmi came to her home and even stated that he would build a temple in their house for her daughter Tanvi. The senior Azmi might have been an agnostic, but was primarily a very emotional romantic.)
Conceived, produced & directed by: Baba Azmi
Written by: Safdar Mir & Husain Mir
Music: Ripul Sharma
Starring: Aditi Subedi, Danish Husain, Juhaina Ahsan, Shivangi Gautam, Shradha Kaul, Rakesh Chaturvedi Om, Sudeepta Singh, Kaustubh Shukla, Farrukh Jafar, Naseeruddin Shah (Sp. App.) & others