By Khalid Jawed
Counted amongst the best Bollywood actors, Irrfan Khan no doubt achieved a distinct prominence and an enduring place in the past 20 years. His outstanding caliber in acting got recognized through Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil. Incidentally both films were released in 2003. There was no looking back for Irrfan afterwards and he went on to act in movies such as Lunch box and Qarib Qarib Single. However, the hidden dimensions of his acting didn’t get the opportunity to come to the fore because his distinct style and way of delivering dialogues became highly popular giving him a cult (status). His telling eyes, a distinct gleam of intransigence on his face, hushed waves of nonchalance and anger or ill-tempered disposition had become a kind of brand which like the salient style of Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan kept on getting popular. Time has seized away Irrfan Khan from us and we have but a very few pearls from this ocean.
Even if Irrfan’s story remained incomplete, he has at least a qissa (tale/story) where one gets a glimpse of all the hitherto hidden dimensions of his acting which had so far not been explored. It was Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, a film made in 2013 by Anup Singh with a joint production by India and Germany and was launched in 2015 for Indian audience. The film was made in Punjabi and got screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 where it received the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award.
The story of the film revolves around a Sikh character who wants a male child who may carry forward his lineage (and that search continues even after death). It’s a strange film. Contending with fundamental questions of philosophy, it subtly echoes Buddhist thought where, according to Buddha, unfulfilled desires bind the soul to karma in the relation of a bondage and sometimes the soul wanders as a spectre for its deliverance. Qissa can be proudly put in the ranks of masterpieces of world cinema. Anup Singh has as much mastery over the visuals and narrative as, say, Robert Bresson, Bergman, Kurosawa and Tarkovsky had. In Singh’s film, the eye of the camera now and again evokes Mani Kaul and Kumar Sahani and this is a feat of which no matter how much we appreciate remain underappreciated.
It was possible for Qissa to get easily turn into a common loud political film as the elements of feminism, contemporary gender issues and patriarchal society are artistically intermeshed in the narrative. But it didn’t happen. On the contrary, Singh has taken the film to the dark and covert dimensions of human existence, thereby making it an existential narrative where anxiety, anguish, absurd, and redundant emanate from the existence of a lone soul. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the famous Japanese fiction writer, opines: “Good and evil are only utilitarian concepts to Logos and the source of life is nothing but animal energy.”
Qissa is a sorrowful song of a lone ill-fated and ruined soul. Written in some desolate cell of hell, it is a fiercely burning poem. Here ethical questions of a moralist are meaningless because life is not composed in black and white. Truth is many-faceted. Reality is multi-layered. Narrative, dialogues, visuals, pace of the camera, behavior and mannerism of the characters, and background score together compose a mighty music in which paradoxes and contradictions are as blended as they are in our life. Qissa is a call of a sorrowful and scorned soul but there are only whispers and cries in this call. There is neither necessity nor scope of any other sound. This is not a film but magic and it will not be inappropriate to say that there is indeed an echo of Magic Realism in the film. It is in true sense a postmodern film, assimilating the artistic elements of classic and modern art.
In Qissa, we do not find the Irrfan Khan of other films: style of dialogue delivery, facial expression, gait, reflexes, mannerism and his entire body language are pronouncedly different. Irrfan Khan’s acting in this film can be said to be an exemplar of what Julia Kristeva has suggested about the communicative dimension of reality through body language and its signs. To some extent, the Sikh persona contributes in covering the Irrfan Khan whom we have encountered in other films. Here a new Irrfan khan takes birth. Without doubt, Qissa can be said to be Irrfan’s best film and for this Singh deserves kudos. Only a director knows what is unrevealed in his/her actors and how that can be brought out. Whether it is fortuitous or something else that one of the last unreleased films of Irrfan Khan The Song of Scorpions is also created by Anup Singh.
Khalid Jawed, born in 1963 in Bareilly, is a novelist, short story writer, critic and poet. Presently, he is a Professor of Urdu at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Like Cafe Dissensus on Facebook. Follow Cafe Dissensus on Twitter.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.