New Delhi, 18 Nov 2021 18:00 IST
Pushpendra Singh’s film is a visually mesmerizing work that contemplates the predicament of Kashmir.
Based on Vijaydan Detha’s story Kenchuli, Pushpendra Singh’s Laila Aur Satt Geet is set in Kashmir amongst a nomadic tribe, the Bakarwals. Structured around the titular ‘saat geet’ or seven songs, the film flows through the events in the life of its protagonist Laila while exploring her inner self through folk songs about marriage, migration, regret, attraction, realization, hope and renunciation.
A young herdsman Tanvir (Sadakkit Bijran) wishes to marry Laila (Navjot Randhawa). To be accepted, he must perform a show of masculinity involving the lifting of a huge rock over his shoulder. Although she is not quite keen to marry, they become husband and wife, travelling with Tanvir’s tribe across state borders. Soon, news of Laila’s beauty spreads in the village and the wolves come sniffing.
The local forest ranger Mushtaq (Shahnawaz Bhat) has a keen eye for beautiful women and wishes to make Laila his latest conquest. The local police officer, too, makes excuses to see her. Vulnerable but spirited, Laila faces them head-on as they scurry away, nursing their wounded pride but even more determined to tame her. Mushtaq is bent upon having his way and Laila seems equally bent upon thwarting his advances. But through their interplay, Laila begins to contemplate her life, her mundane relationship with her husband and starts feeling attracted to Mushtaq.
Through Laila’s predicament, the filmmaker comments on the excesses of power in a land where one must bow to the powers that be to survive. Tanvir informs his wife about the might of the security forces, unable to see the truth about Mushtaq’s intentions that are clear as day. Laila questions her husband’s show of masculine strength, wondering if that is enough to protect the family. Through it all, she goes through the motions as a wife and daughter-in-law, leading an existence that begins to disinterest her.
Navjot Randhawa gives a riveting performance, bringing to life Laila’s feistiness, obstinacy and desire while channelling the renunciatory spirit of the devotee, paving the way for Laila’s detachment from her surroundings.
Pushpendra Singh melds fantasy with everyday reality to weave the tapestry of the inner recesses of the mind of Laila. Melding feminine agency and desire within the tumultuous political past and present of Kashmir, Laila Aur Satt Geet is a visually mesmerizing, enchanting tale of the land. ‘Kenchuli’ translates as ‘the remains of the snake’, signifying the skin shed by a snake after moulting. In the end, as Laila becomes one with the landscape, we wonder about the future of Kashmir and the past that the land must shed itself for a new beginning.
Laila Aur Satt Geet was screened as part of the Dharamshala International Film Festival 2021.