Mumbai, 16 Oct 2017 19:00 IST
Despite the deep strokes of photography and the melody of folk music, The Song Of Scorpions remains a thin plot narrated in monotone, making it a not-so-great follow-up to Anup Singh's last, Qissa.
There have been many stories of rape and revenge in Hindi cinema just this year (Mom, Maatr, Bhoomi), but the folklore style of director Anup Singh's storytelling sets The Song Of Scorpions apart from its contemporaries.
The lavish cinematography by Swiss technicians Pietro Zuercher and Carlotta Holy-Steinemann captures the unfolding of a dark tale in the backdrop of vast desert sands quite beautifully. That is, perhaps, the biggest strength of this thin plot of love, sexual violence and revenge. The film leaves you with some haunting visuals. A songstress's dark silhouette in the dunes with dark blue skies as a backdrop will mostly remain the film's enduring image.
Madan Gopal Singh's partly haunting and partly lilting folk songs are also an important instrument in the telling of this story.
Anup Singh does well to get great detailing in terms of costumes, traditions, lifestyle, village homes and the manner of speaking. The plot itself, though, lacks depth on paper, which also extends to his characters. The idea is a potentially interesting one but not engagingly executed.
As scorpion stings are a common occurrence in the Thar desert, the healing powers of Nooran (Golshifteh Farahani), taught by her grandmother Zubaida (Waheeda Rahman), are much sought after. Nooran is trained to use songs to force the poison out of the bodies of people. A symbol used effectively at the end of the story — when Nooran, along with the actual poison, also causes the healing of the mind and body of a man using her positive force — a song.
The life of Nooran, who is considered a fiercely independent woman by the village standards, changes forever when she is conned into believing that a villager needs healing and is raped instead by him in the darkness of the desert.
Following the rape, Nooran is ostracized by the villagers and pushed to lose the will to sing or live.
Aadam (Irrfan Khan), who has been besotted by her and has been stalking her for a long time, finally decides to ask her to marry him. Nooran, who had rejected his advances earlier, decides to start life afresh with him.
Casting Farahani in the role of a Rajasthani village girl is an interesting though not convincing choice. Farahani is mesmerizing as always and embodies the body language and carries off the costumes really well. She also mouths the Hindi dialogues (which are said to be dubbed), albeit with uneven accent and intonation.
But her performance lacks the required depth, perhaps more so because of the monotonous writing of the part, which should have been rich in layers and complexity.
Khan's performance is nothing to write home about either, as he seems to breeze through these kind of roles now.
Despite the deep strokes of photography and the melody of folk music, The Song Of Scorpions remains a thin plot narrated in monotone, making it a not-so-great follow-up to Singh's last, Qissa.
The Song Of Scorpions was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 15 October 2017.