Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
Student revolution in the 1960s wasn't just confined to street fighting men in Paris or US campus agitations against The Man. Inspired by the new noises coming from the West, Che Guevara, the rise of China and the Soviet Union, and the Naxal movement in India itself, well-to-do students in elite Indian universities began to agitate as well. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (A Thousand Dreams Such As These) traces the intertwining path of three such students, Siddharth (Kay Kay Menon), Geeta (Chitrangada Singh), and Vikram (Shiney Ahuja), through this period in their lives and beyond. In doing so, Hazaaron touches a section of recent Indian history not often explored by mainstream Bollywood.
The film opens in 1969 with Siddharth's return from Calcutta (which he found to be an "awesome" experience) to St. Stephens College in Delhi. He has an on-again off-again relationship with Gita, a student who has mostly been educated abroad. Both are activists with Siddharth the hot-head and Gita swept up in the emotion. Both have relatively well off parents. Completing the triangle is Vikram, who loves Gita but doesn't share her politics, preferring to observe from the sidelines. His father is a retired Congress leader who chooses not to benefit from his power, hence Vikram knows indulging in these activities is not a luxury he can afford. Every movement has its poseurs and the film has fun lampooning those upper class doyens who believed in The Cause yet found scholarships from US universities too tempting to pass up. Matters come to a head when Siddharth announces he'll be moving to the backwaters of Bihar to try to exhort the peasants. With threats of police crackdowns and better opportunities beckoning, his fellow revolutionaries drop out one by one.
After the prologue, the film resumes in 1973, several years down the line. Gita is now married to an IAS officer, yet she often leaves for Bihar for secret trysts with Siddharth who is waging his own lone war against the government. Vikram increasingly finds himself being known as a "fixer", a middleman who can pull strings in politcal circles to gets things done. However, he hasn't let go of Gita and when he sees her at a party, his passion reignites.
Epic in its narrative sweep, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is, first and foremost, an examination of how youthful ideals fare when faced with reality. That it does so with the Naxal movement and the Emergency as a backdrop is nothing if not ambitious. I found it impressive that the script was original, it was reminiscent of many Bengali novels of that period (of course, most, if not all, Bengali novels of the '70s had the Naxal revolution in the background). The acting by the leads, particularly a luminous Chitrangada Singh and the charming Shiney Ahuja contribute greatly towards maintaining viewer interest. Additionally, the way the film is able to effortlessly veer from comedy to tragedy to horror to pathos ensures a feeling of off-balance throughout - you never can quite predict what's going to happen next. However, once the final frames roll, the final feeling is that of an elegy for the post partition generation. Perhaps the title of the film itself, taken from a poem by the Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, is an allusion to their loss.
Overall, director Sudhir Mishra has crafted a worthy followup to Chameli, yet a few flaws prevent Hazaaron from being an international sensation on the lines of Farewell My Concubine and other films of that ilk. First, there isn't enough context here for a foreign audience - anyone unfamiliar with Indian politics might find it hard to understand some of the events occuring in the film. Second, the film itself doesn't always flow very smoothly - characters appear and then disappear. Sometimes, it feels parts of the exposition are missing as well. Nonetheless, the nits don't prevent Hazaaron from being a strong entry into the growing genre of "multiplex" films, so called because the additional screens afforded by such theatres allow non-masala fare such as this to find an audience. It's just a shame that audience could have been a global one with a little bit more care. As Hazaaron shows, all the necessary pieces are in place!
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