Directors – Baba Azmi
Producer – Shabana Azmi
It’s the season of fathers who provide the wind beneath their daughters’ wings. After losing her mother who initiated her into the delights of Bharat Natyam, the smile returns to Mariam’s face only when she’s dancing. Father Salim, a tailor, stands as a wall of support between her and a rigid Muslim community that declares Bharat Natyam gair mazabi, an irreligious dance form. And a khala (aunty) wonders if Salim wants to turn his daughter into a tawaif (nautch girl).
Ace DOP Baba Azmi turns director for the first time with this sensitive and simply told story set in his father’s birthplace Azamgarh. While Bharat Natyam pays obeisance to Lord Natraja and Goddess Saraswati, Baba Azmi pays attention to the social fight by the father and daughter.
When he’s gradually being ostracised by his community, led by the powerful and fanatical Hashim Seth, and Mariam feels it’s all her fault for daring to learn dancing, Salim tell his daughter, “It’s not your fault, it’s the fault of small, petty minds.”
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But for every rigid mindset who turns Salim away even from praying in the masjid, there’s a young cousin and her rickshawala friend who stand up for what’s right. On the other side too, when Jayprakash, the rich patron of the fine arts, airs his bigotry and status consciousness by sneering at “darzi Salim”, it’s his daughter Anjali who puts him in his place and cheers for Mariam.
There’s sensitivity in Mariam’s relationship with her father and there’s strength in her resolve especially when she stands up to Jayprakash.
Art does triumph. So does Salim’s belief in Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb.
Told directly with no frills, subtlety or surprises, the delicate story marked by apt performances by Aditi Subedi as Mariam, Danish Hussain as father Salim, Naseeruddin Shah as hardliner Hashim Seth and Kaustubh Shukla as Ashfaque the young rickshaw driver, make it a worthy watch.
You do feel it’s a victory dance at the end.