Meera

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The last time I saw a Gulzar film was sufficiently long ago so as to make me forget just how much I love each and every frame of his movies. The hardest part about watching a Gulzar movie lies in the initial commitment, it takes a while to decide that you are going to spend the next couple of hours completely absorbed in a world not quite yours. You cannot multi-task…. you really cannot.

 

Gulzar’s Meera was something I had been putting off watching because of a vague fear of a lofty subject being treated heavy-handedly even if a master like Gulzar is at the helm. And I could not be more mistaken. In my opinion, it is a perfect film.. well, nearly so, very nearly so. Maybe that is because Meera is not a story created for the sake of story-telling, but something which has been handed down from one generation to the other. The story of a girl who is so in love with Krishna, that she feels jealous of Radha. The story of a forthright woman who says it as she sees it. The story of a person which is all at once bewildering, inspiring and frightening, because no mortal can really comprehend what Meera feels. But Gulzar seems to almost get it and presents Meera, as he sees her, to us.

 

We are introduced to Meera, the niece of Raja Biramdev, King of Medta as she sings-composes an enchanting song to her beloved Krishna. She seems to be a beautiful girl, but lost in dreams and as her aunt says exasperatedly “Almost a saint in the midst of the royals”. Her vivacious cousin, Princess Krishna is more down to earth and relatable, a girl with enough cheek to ask whether she and Meera are going to get married to the same person when her parents talk about marrying both the girls off on the same day, at the same time whose cheeks blush rosily when her brother teases her about her nuptials. It seems to be a happy household until Gulzar reminds us of the India that was.  The Rajputs fearing and resenting Akbar’s gradually growing control of Hindustan, but also internally warring between themselves. Soldiers tired and unhappy, a country weary of war.

 

Raja Vikramajit and his younger brother Rana Bhojraj rule the really-not-friendly neighboring state of Medta and Bhojraj has a few run-ins with the girls, especially with Princess Krishna, who matches his eye fearlessly. At the same time that Krishna’s brother is fixing her alliance with the Ajmer prince, Raja Biramdev accepts Raja Vikramajit’s diplomatic proposal of marrying Bhojraj to Krishna with a view to unite their warring states against the Mughals.

 

And when neither party backs down, it is clear that the situation is surely boiling to a major war between the Rajputs, the exact opposite of Raja Biramdev’s intentions. This builds to one of the most beautiful and poignant scenes in the movie, as Biramdev approaches his daughter, who is sitting decked in her bridal finery. Biramdev tells her that he is powerless to handle the explosive situation whilst she can … Krishna never speaks a word but her eyes speak volumes. There is a little tremulous smile on her lips as she looks at her father, whilst his gaze and voice falter and he leaves the room, a shell of a man. As he puts on his slippers and walks away, his gait is tense, his expression expectant and fearful when the screams of the maid-servants are heard. He stops, his shoulders relax. His daughter has saved him by giving herself up. Then it hits him, and his face crumples, as if it abhors the man that harbours it.

 

Raja Vikramajit visits the grieving family to pay his condolences, fully understanding the sacrifice of the young princess. He asks for her body to be cremated in his kingdom, as the queen of his younger brother, so that the union of the two states could still happen. When Krishna’s mother dully says words which sting. “We Rajputs don’t barter corpses. If all you want is an alliance, take Meera instead”.

 

And Meera, who wordlessly watches the show is married off to Rana Bhojraj even as her cousin is cremated. Her face is taut, and her eyes filled with shock when as the knot is tied, she swoons.

 

That night is when we hear Meera really. We hear what she thinks, we know what she feels. She is the bride, nay, the wife of Krishna, and to her, her marriage with Rana Bhojraj is a farce being enacted, a political move. It disturbs her that to the world she is the wife to one man whilst in her heart another reigns supreme. Bhojraj, who comes across really as a nice man, just …mortal, is initially quite angry and upset when his young wife tells him she is in love with another. That changes to hilarity brought on by relief, when he learns that his competitor is the divine Krishna.  It is only with time when he realizes that Meera is in all seriousness in love with another, even if he be someone intangible.

 

The relationship between Meera and Bhojraj is a treat to watch on-screen. Meera never wavers from her love, even when she sees how hurt Bhojraj is by it. She knows and says it too, just how wrong she is for Bhojraj. She oversees the kitchen, has fearless debates with the Raj-guru, is not the least intimidated by Bhojraj’s sister or daunted by the customs a woman ought to follow. She is fearless, upright and duplicity and deception are such strangers to her that she never even utters white lies in situations when even one might have provided immense relief to the people she cares about.

 

Another beautiful scene is when Bhojraj asks her whether it really is true that she is jealous of Radha, Krishna’s divine love. And with a heartbreaking smile he tells her how he doesn’t think that feeling ridiculous anymore having harboured similar thoughts about the blue-hued gopi himself.

 

The soundtrack of the movie is near-perfection itself and Vani Jayram’s voice is a beautiful fit to Meera’s songs. Each and every actor is perfectly cast, from Hema Malini’s serene and confident Meera , Vinod Khanna’s perfectly flawed Bhojraj, Shammi Kapoor’s blustering and generally well-meaning Raja Vikramajit to Vidya Sinha’s brave Krishna. Even the Raj-guru, the main “villainous” character is relatable as he gives Meera one chance after the other to apologize. The only character which didn’t gel with me at all was the spiteful sister-in-law. She seemed to be too petty and shallow and malicious in a world inhabited by other such well-written and etched personalities.

 

Meera’s court-martial (?) has one engrossed completely and we sympathize and empathize with Bhojraj, wounded from the war, as he first angrily orders and then pleads with Meera to apologize. At his wits’ end, he even begs her to run away to Dwaraka. Ironically, it is only at this juncture that he finally begins to understand her, or rather just how different from a mere mortal she is.  How flawless and how resolute. He sees Truth as Meera and Meera as Truth and cowers before her, knowing he cannot save her physical body, because she won’t let him but also dimly understanding that she does not need saving, for she is safe already. I could go on and on, for every scene in this film is priceless. For a story which stated baldly seems badly outdated (can one believe there might be people like Meera ? But then again, even in Meera’s time, no one believed her), this film brings Meera alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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