Sunday, January 8, 2012

Khandar (1984)

Slight periods of darkness interspersed with glorious hours of sunshine. But at the end, the darkness had to prevail…

Mrinal Sen’s 1984 feature film Khandar (ruins) is a deeply moving account of human predicament, that despite it lugubrious approach ends up as a poignant and redoubtable study of how our past and our roots always have a formidable role to play in shaping our future. The emphasis is on stillness of time and incidentally (or rather intentionally) the main character is a still photographer. It’s his art that acts like a window to the director’s mind and his vision. The story though basic alludes to a deep thought that is far visceral than what it looks on surface.

A young man Dipu (Pankaj Kapoor) takes his two friends, Subhash (Naseeruddin Shah) and Anil (Annu Kapoor), along to his ancestral ruins in the heartlands of the country where once his family were the plenteous ‘zamindars’. The decrepit ruins are a photographer’s delight and thus Subhash cannot keep his alacrity in check and decides to take a panoramic view of the surrounding from the roof of their ‘haveli’ despite it being pitch dark on the first day of their arrival itself (he uses an electric torch for the same). The circular gaze of his torch falls upon the intricate wall structures on the building opposite to him until it captures a face in a window- the face of a woman…

Later he comes to know that the woman is Dipu’s cousin Jamini (Shabana Azmi) who lives all alone in the spawning derelict ruins along with her invalid mother who can’t even move an arm without someone’s intervention. Dipu tells him and Anil about her being the only members of their family who had refused to leave the ‘haveli’ even as the others around them had left for the big cities in search for a better and a more secure livelihood (triggered by a malaria epidemic that had struck the region a few years back). He also tells them that both Jamini and her ailing mother were waiting for a guy who had promised to come and take Jamini along with him as his wife. This very hope was what was keeping the old lady alive. Intrigued by it all Subhash decides to visit the mother and daughter while Dipu paid them a cursory visit. But in an unexpected turn of events, the mother (who no longer has the sense of vision) imagines Subhash to be the very guy who had promised to take her daughter away from the ruins and help her escape her vacuous and wasteful life.

What follows next is that Subhash finds himself drawn towards the extremely nubile and pragmatic Jamini, but cannot bring himself to admit it. At the same time a slight hope starts building up inside Jamini that Subhash would indeed ask her hand for marriage. At more instance than one, both of them meet and there is a tacit confluence of these thoughts. However nothing is expressed verbally. Jamini’s comportment changes drastically while talking to Subhash. The intonation in her voice and the lurch in her sentences convey a great internal struggle that is only compounded by her mother’s inexorable questions and remarks. On the other hand Subhash starts hiding his face behind his camera to eschew giving away what was going on in his mind. His fingers keep on clicking away and he starts capturing each and every aspect of the quaint ‘khandar’, while avoiding taking that one picture that would be the closest to his heart.

After three days the time comes for them to leave the ruins, Subhash cannot hold himself back and jumps out of the bull-cart just prior to their departure and runs towards Jamini’s quarters. Till the very last moment he cannot resolve his predicament, and ultimately leaves upon taking just one last photograph, that of Jamini looking at him in a hopeful manner through the door of her house of confinement. This last photograph would keep haunting Subhash for the rest of his life…

The movie is akin to a beautiful and languid prose that is suffused with thought. Through the sinuous performances by the case, especially by Shabana Azmi who is beyond wonderful in her portrayal of the lady thwarted by her own roots, the movie sublimates into something which is very rare in Hindi cinema.

Parting Note: The movie is simply a must watch. It’s unfortunate that the only print available for it online is not too great and the scenes shot in the darkness of the night are difficult to comprehend. But it is no hindrance as at a certain level it was meant to be that way- only those who know the dark can appreciate the munificence of the glorious sunshine! 


  1. I remember hearing the name of this film when it was released - I think it was also shown on Doordarshan - but I never watched it. Now I'll put it on my list (but my list grows by leaps and bounds, so who knows when I'll get around to watching it?!) Sounds like a good, sensitive, subtle film.

  2. You and me on the same boat on this one. Even my watch list is growing by leaps and bounds, and the thing with me is that I can't watch a movie everyday even if I do find time! Just don't enjoy watching a lot of movies together :)

    Though do watch Khandar, it is truly a one of its kind film!

  3. Hello,
    I've been wanting to watch some Mrinal Sen whose name I've heard rather more than before recently; this sems like a very good way to start, thanks!

  4. @yves

    You are most welcome. This is the only Mrinal Sen movie I have seen, and I hope it would be a good way for you to start indeed.

  5. Sounds like this movie takes a part of Khushboo and expands it. Except in Khushboo, the guy marries the girl, girl dies giving birth to baby, while here (based on what you've written), the guy leaves the girl

    1. That's extremely well spotted. Indeed Khandar can be seen as an elaborate exploration of that Sharmila Tagore track in Khushboo. It is most probably a coincidence though.

  6. The similarity between Khushboo and Khandhar is mainly because both of them are adaptations of Bengali stories. While Khushboo was an adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's Pandit Moshai ( A Bengali adaptation of this story was made way back in early 1950's and was a big hit of its times), Khandhar was based on one of the greatest short story ever written in Bengali, Telanapota Abishkar by Premendra Mitra. That said I read Pandit Mashai long time back, and don't recall much of it. But as far as I can remember, the sharmila track wasn't there ( I maybe wrong on this). Gulzar given his abiding and enduring love affair with Bengali literature, must have been inspired by Premendra Mitra's short story, which was published way before Khushboo was made, and as I had already mentioned is rightly considered as one of greatest short stories written in Bengali. As far as Mrinal Sen is concerned, he is right there at the very top of best Indian directors of all time,and definitely among the best five Indian directors ever.