Friday, June 20, 2008

A review of Raakh (1989) by my friend Usman Khawaja

Aamir as Aamir at his adamant best - ashes to ashes.

This dark movie is set in the bizarre twilight zone of the degenerate and venomous world of the Bombay underworld, where there is only one vice that rules - might is right.

It's protagonists search for their own existence in alignment with their ideals for justice and an uneven fairplay and use each other as pawns in a game of violence and corruption.

Aamir is a rebellious scion of a well to do muslim family who in a rash act of rage provokes the gang rape of his Hindu girlfriend by a group of mafia men. The graphic unsentimentality of the act at night in a desolate public spot is chilling.

The relationship breaks up, the girl shuns him and her indifference to any mode of justice drives the youth to extremes, he elopes and lives with social outcasts, where he is helped by a rather shady cop who works outside the parameters of judiciary.

Aamir is totally natural and very effective as the angry, violent and impulsive youth, this is his definitive best act as yet and he needs to go back to his roots as this was his second movie itself, his raw dynamic talent resounds in every scene and the minimalist cinema with expressionist photography enhances his violent deadly role. He is matched by the rather insanely dishonest cop played by Pankaj Kapur and Supriya Pathak as the rape victim who blames him for the incidence in a powerful role. The police are indifferent as there are no witnesses and the victim will not report the crime, although it is acknowledged.

The brilliant young director (Aditya Bhattacharya) has a frustrating setting for a social comment on a grim subject, the perception of acquisition of justice and the means to aquire it, both are unimportant as the net result is more violence and the act leads to anarchy and nihilism. This is a very profoundly effective cinema beautifully shot with minimal dialogues and light, the brooding shadows reflect the title itself which refers to the ashes of the remnants of the living characters in a metaphor as their existence has been reduced to a void which can never be filled.

The finale is bleak and the desperation of the human existence is shown to be damned forever with no hope of redemption, the conclusion is left open to the audience.

This is an anthology of violence, justice and lost youth within the framework of an unjust social hypocrisy where law is invalid and might is right, that might be unreasonable but it could be a universal truth, nevertheless Aditya and Aamir create a dark masterpiece which goes beyond its baroque, brooding beauty with hypnotically lit frames that remind you of the psychological impact and spirituality of the works by Caravaggio and La Tour, an eerie light that explores the human soul and questions its conscience, the answer is inconclusive but still great cinema .

- jbz7879