The Song Of Scorpions is a reminder, if one were needed, that Irrfan was not just a star actor but a true artiste, observes Deepa Gahlot.
The arid and rugged landscape of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, with gorgeously patterned dunes stretching into infinity, is the setting of a fable-like tale of love so intense that it turns cruel.
Anup Singh’s The Song Of Scorpions is being released in India after nearly five years of its international film festival screenings, in commemoration of Irrfan Khan’s death anniversary on April 29.
The film is a reminder, if one were needed, that he was not just a star actor but a true artiste.
He plays a camel trader, Aadam, who is in love with Nooran (Gulshifteh Farahani), but she is not interested in marriage.
She comes from a line of female healers, the scorpion singers of the desert, whose songs draw out the venom from the bodies of people bitten by scorpions.
She has learnt the skill from her grandmother (Waheeda Rehman), who feels she still has a lot to learn and sends her out into the dunes to practice.
Unlike other women of the desert villages, in a region with deeply entrenched patriarchy, Nooran makes her own living and is independent, which also makes her a bit haughty.
When tragedy strikes, Nooran feels abandoned by all but one close friend.
The trauma makes her lose her singing voice and her self-worth.
The men of the village circle her home jeering, the women want to banish her from the village.
Then Aadam reiterates his offer of marriage, and she is forced to accept. She moves into his home, under protest from his sisters, and a sulking fit by his young daughter from an earlier marriage. (A bit of a backstory was needed here.)
Aadam is a caring husband, who gives her time to recover, but she comes to know of a betrayal that devastates, but also revives her.
The pace of the film is too languid, and the songs (by Madan Gopal Singh) should have been in the full-throated voice of a folk singer. The timeless quality of the story that could have been taking place in a rustic ballad, is somewhat disturbed by modern touches like jeeps, motor bikes and cell phones.
But the sheer beauty of its visuals (shot by Pietro Zuercher and Carlotta Holy-Steinemann) and the picture-perfect production design (Rakesh Yadav) dwarf everything else, even the drama being played out in the vast desert looking like a speck in the distance.
Which makes that one seduction sequence in extreme close-up seem like the only real moment in the joyless love story.
The two lead actors are, of course, brilliant.
Irrfan Khan plays his lovelorn, desperate Aadam with a complex mix of emotions, without a single false note.
The Iranian-French actress Gulshifteh Farahani (probably chosen to give the Euro-funded film an international appeal) learnt Hindi for the film and speaks with a peculiar lilt, but immerses herself in the character of a woman who has to pull herself out of the quicksand of toxic male desire.
Audiences in India, outside of the festival circuit, have almost lost the stillness required to watch a film without any pulse-pounding entertainment; perhaps The Song Of Scorpions could teach them some patience and appreciation of non-Bollywood cinema.
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