Dir. Sanjay Leela Bhansali
This movie is so lovely I hardly know where to begin. Driven by the truly outstanding work of its actors, Khamoshi: The Musical tells a story that in its particulars is specific to the concerns of its deaf-mute characters, but that nevertheless resonates universally for anyone who has parents or a child.
Joseph (Nana Patekar) and his wife Flavy (Seema Biswas) are the deaf-mute parents of a hearing daughter, Annie (Manisha Koirala). In the film's opening scenes Annie is gravely wounded in a car accident. As she lies in a hospital bed clinging to life, the narrative shifts into flashback, and Annie recounts her life story. When Annie was a young girl, her love of music was fostered by her singing, dancing grandmother Maria (rendered adorably by the legendary Helen). As she grows up, and her family weathers hardship and tragedy, Annie becomes distanced from her music. Her parents - especially Flavy - grow to resent the music because they cannot hear it; they fear that it will pulls her away from their world and from them. As an adult, Annie meets Raj (Salman Khan), a musician and music producer. Raj falls in love with Annie's voice, and with Annie, redoubling the tension between Annie and her parents. Raj wants both to record Annie and to marry her; Flavy hates music, Joseph hates Raj, and Annie is agonizingly torn between her love for and responsibility to her parents on the one hand, and her need for autonomy and for music on the other.
The film's story is poignant and well-executed; like other films by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it is melodramatic and a little bombastic, but unlike some of his others, the melodrama and bombast are deflty executed in just the right measure to magnify and project emotions rather than parodizing them. (Contrast Bhansali's terrible Devdas, which I can hardly believe was made by the same person.) But more than anything, it is the stellar work of the actors that makes this film so powerful. Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas, as the deaf-mute couple, had a difficult job to do - conveying their emotional states with their faces and hands instead of with words - and they were simply mesmerizing. The tenderness between them was beautiful, and their interactions with their daughter - whether sharing joy or locking horns - were just gripping. I can't tell you how many times the work of the actors stopped my breath while I while watching this film.
Manisha Koirala was outstanding as well. Anyone who has seen Dil se knows what Manisha can do. She was excellent throughout Khamoshi but one scene stands out and haunts me particularly; after a dispute with her father Annie stands outside their house screaming out her frustration through the door and signing frantically, even though Joseph can neither hear nor see her. It's a moving speech bringing to the fore the undercurrents of Annie and Joseph's relationship; Annie suppressed a lifetime of resentment at Joseph for using her as a mouthpiece, for wanting to keep her a child, for stifling her music, and it came bursting magnificently forth in this one intense scene.
Khamoshi: The Musical is ironically and evocatively titled; "khamoshi" means "silence," and so the tension between the silent world of Joseph and Flavy, and Raj's music-filled world is compressed into the film's title. But while the details of the story turn on Joseph and Flavy's deafness - their fear of interacting with the hearing world and their fear of losing their daughter to it - the film's themes translate to generational conflict more universally. Parents sometimes fear losing their children to pursuits they don't understand; children sometimes experience guilt at seemingly abandoning their parents to pursue their own lives, marriages, careers. Khamoshi addresses these universal conflicts touchingly, through its story of a family that has faced more than its share of difficulty and yet still bonds together with tremendous love.
If there is a weakness in the film it is the music, which is largely unmemorable and ordinary, and at times worse than that. This is frustrating to me, because I have often found that movies about music - where you might expect particular attention to be given to this aspect - nevertheless have poor music. This was an irritation in Morning Raga and Tehzeeb and it is an irritation here as well. Still, this is a minor quibble - the movie is so fantastic otherwise that a couple of middling songs are easily overlooked.
(Khamoshi: The Musical is available for free download at Jaman.com)