Director: Baba Azmi
Writer: Safdar Mir, Husain Mir
Cast: Danish Husain, Aditi Subedi, Danish Husain
Cinematographer: Mohsin Khan Pathan
Editor: Pooraj Kapoor
Streaming on: ZEE5
Kaifi Saab, who passed away in 2002, was among India’s most renowned Urdu poets and one of Hindi cinema’s finest lyricists. Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam from Kaagaz Ke Phool, Ab Tumhare Hawaale Watan Saathiyon from Haqeeqat and Chalte Chalte from Pakeezah are only some of the iconic songs he wrote. If you look up old interviews of Kaifi saab on YouTube or watch Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Naseem, in which Kaifi saab played a lead role, you can see a profound wisdom and compassion on his face. He consistently wrote against religious fundamentalism and was an ardent advocate of India’s composite culture. Kaifi saab was a brilliant artist who stood for harmony and peace. As his character so beautifully said in Naseem: Aasman neela ho, peela ho, koi farak nahi padta, muskurana bahut zaroori hai.
The same humanism runs through Mee Raqsam. The film has been entirely shot in Kaifi saab’s village Mijwan in UP. The lead role of Mariam is played by Aditi Subedi who also comes from Mijwan. Like Kaifi saab, Mariam is an artist. She is obsessed with Bharatanatyam. The love for dance is a legacy of her late mother who was also a fan. After her mother passes away, Mariam finds solace in the mudras of the classical dance. Even as she walks to school, her hands are invariably practicing an elegant dance movement. Her father Salim supports her passion. But a Muslim girl learning a dance form, which is perceived as Hindu, disrupts Mijwan. Mariam’s family, the clergy, a Hindu arts patron – all stand together in fierce opposition.
The story, by Safdar Mir and Husain Mir, is dramatic but Baba sets it up without shrillness. There are no grand confrontations or speeches. In fact, parts of the plot are simplistic and the events seem implausibly easy. Baba isn’t trying for the gut-wrenching impact of a film like Mulk. The textures of Mee Raqsam are naturalistic but there is a fairy-tale element to the way it all pans out.
The low-key storytelling adds to the dignity of Mariam and Salim’s fight. Salim, played by Danish Husain, is the spine of the film. Salim is a humble tailor but his understanding of art and religion is far more sophisticated than that of the actual custodians of religion – like a cleric, played by a nicely menacing Naseeruddin Shah. In a key scene, Salim says: Hamara Islam itna kamzor nahi hai ki ek bacchi ke dance karne par uski toheen ho jayegi.
Salim is unfailingly courteous but he doesn’t give an inch. He pushes back against the powers that be without aggression. Even when threatened, he stays polite. Danish portrays Salim with conviction and gravitas. The most moving thing about Salim is that he has little idea of his own courage in taking this stand. He is simply doing what is right. Aditi of course doesn’t have the polish of the veteran actor but her rawness and awkward moments feel natural and endearing. The two generate a warmth that feels genuine.
Good intentions propel Mee Raqsam but in places, the storytelling gets sketchy. The characters, apart from Salim and Mariam, don’t have enough depth. They are stereotypes, only there to fulfil a narrative function – like Rakesh Chaturvedi Om playing the Hindu businessman who supports the Bharatanatyam school in Mijwan. He is so insistent on downsizing Mariam’s achievements that he refuses to even get her name right. It comes off as silly but through the character, the film makes the important point that bigots on both sides are equally dangerous.
Thankfully, Mee Raqsam is infused with sincerity, which helps the film tide over these soft spots. Kala ka koi mazhab nahin hota, a character says emphatically in the film. And that’s a truth we don’t hear often enough.
You can watch Mee Raqsam on ZEE5.