This movie showcases the decline of a language and its effect on a people, i.e. the Muslims of India. A great movie with many comical elements, but an all pervasive sense of loss and decline permeates every scene of the movie as an idealist teacher searches for a lost litrery treasure.
The first scene of an old man composing a poem, as he looks out the window of his decaying villa at the timeless Indian landscape, establishes that he is a great poet. The rest of the film shows us the price that he has willingly paid for his poetry, and the tragedy of writing in a dying language. The comic efforts of the school teacher to record the old man reading his poetry highlight the tragedy, and as the teacher becomes more and more entangled in the poet’s life, he comes to understand (as we do) that none of the poet’s sacrifices have diminished him, and that he has no regrets. Perhaps the most poignant scene is the teacher’s interview with the poet’s young second wife, who (unable to create poetry) performs his poems to music and passes them off as her own. Her response to his charge of plagiarism leaves him speechless, and reveals more about the position of women in Indian society than a dozen feminist studies. Perhaps the reason why this film received poor reviews is that ev…
In Custody is Ismail Merchant's beautiful retelling of Anita Desai's novel about the death of a language and a culture as reflected in the decline of one individual. Om Puri and Shashi Kapoor play men watching, with varying degrees of remorse and resignation, the death of the Urdu language, a language of poetry, erudition and courtliness. Shabana Azmi, as Nur's (Kapoor) second wife, a courtesan and singer of ghazals, is a bridge between what is passing and the rash future. Their performances are sensitive and subtle and quietly heartbreaking. The cinematography is exquisite, making the film visually rich and haunting. There are many strong performances, and the secondary characters are well-cast. The film is more theme-driven than plot-driven, so probably not suited to every taste. One of my very favorite Ivory-Merchant offerings.
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