The Present: 02.03.13
A dusting of snow last night, just enough to let us know that it was there. Everyone here is coughing and sniffling except me. I am still recovering from gum surgery two weeks back. It's just soreness at this point, but I can't really chew on the right side of my mouth.
Last night we watched Mughal-e-Azam, the famous Bollywood epic about Akbar the Great and his romantic-poet-warrior-rebel son, Salim. I'd been wanting to see this for years, but it hasn't been available on Netflix. It made an appearance in a documentary about the history or world film we watched last week. Turns out they do have it on Netflix now, so I put it in my queue.
For better or worse, it had been colorized. At times the colors dazzled, but the colorization was kind of haphazard. Rather than color everything, they chose to leave white and gray materials desaturated, so that, for instance, in a palace scene all the curtains and costumes and props would be colored in the most garish golds and purples and greens, but the marble walls and columns and floors would be left alone, creating an almost cartoonish disjunct between the two. Comme ça:
Nonetheless, once we'd accustomed ourselves to the colors, we were (or at least I was) able to enjoy it. I am not sure it stands up as a narrative or even as a whole film. Like most Bollywood films, it's about an hour longer than it should be. The advantage of long form films like this, though, is that it allows the filmmaker space for all kinds of poetic innovations, of which this film is chock full.
The greatest scene takes place about halfway into the film. In the story, Salim, heir to Mughal Empire of his father, Akbar the great, has fall in in love with a maid. He wants to marry her, but tradition forbids him to marry such a lowly woman. Another maid who imagines herself a rival, plots, Iago-like, to make sure the emperor discovers the relationship, knowing he will put a stop to it. He confronts the maid, Anarkali (which means "pomegranate" in Urdu, in case you were wondering) and asks her, in exchange for her freedom and her life, to tell his son she doesn't love him and never did.
She does what she is commanded, but that night, when she performs her new year's dance, she finds she cannot betray her feelings or those of her lover. What follows is a stunning dance sequence in which her image splits off into a thousand mirrored reflections, hallucinatory expressions of her love that, rather than representing a fragmentation of her feelings, represent their multiplication. It's almost like the mystical evocation of a the godhead so filled with love it must reproduce itself infinitely.
The effect is overwhelming, first to the son, who realizes she truly does love him, and second to the king, who is brought nearly to tears by the dance and by the words of the song that follows. It's the dramatic climax to the film, which doesn't bode well for the next 90 minutes, most of which seem like afterthoughts. I am not sure Lori's enjoyed it as much as I did. She would have preferred that we continue watching the excellent House of Cards on Netflix. We'll return to that tonight.
I am working on a project with my friend Isabelle Pelissier involving poetry, translation and visual collage. We will probably start posting our results here soon, but we need a little more time before we do.