chunni le ke soti thi kamaal lagti thi
paani me jalta chiraag lagti thi
biba teri yaad na tale
she slept, holding her scarf
she looked a miracle
resembled a lamp
quietly glowing in water
sweetheart, your memory doesn’t go…

Thus sing a group of four young men, around a bonfire in snowy mountains, north of Punjab. They are terrorists. Their mission is to assassinate selected functionaries of the state, the next on their list being a parliamentarian from Delhi, visiting the mountains.

Gulzar’s Maachis (1996) brings alive and later, haunts you, with the fact that those who make it the purpose of their lives to kill other human beings, innocent and not so innocent, are themselves human beings too. Gulzar’s purpose is not to justify acts of terrorism. Rather, he seems to be telling us that the dehumanisation we witness on screen is something that could happen to me or you too.

In this group of men who sing by the bonfire, each has his own story. Jimmy is unable to forget scenes in his life from when he was a little boy, and his father was burnt alive by a mob in front of his eyes. His fault was that he belonged to a particular religion. Another of them, Kripal has bears a deep sense of humiliation, finding himself helpless when his best friend is picked up by the police and tortured ruthlessly for 15 days, while his mother and sister wait in agony.

As these murderers live together, plotting mayhem, humanness seeps into their lives too. They sing, they remember their lost loves wistfully, they care about each other. When a woman joins the group – also as a terrorist – she quickly becomes the mother of the household, cooking, cleaning, caring for everyone, and gaining their care and respect. Despite the brutal mission of murder that has brought them together, attachments are formed, passions are enkindled, doubts creep up.

Human, all too human, the terrorist remains, even when he calmly walks away from a bus full of innocent people which, 2 minutes later, is blown apart as a result of the bomb he planted in it.

At its heart, this is what Maachis impresses upon us that violence does not belong to one man or woman. It is a phenomenon that can capture anyone’s heart, and make him an instrument for its own ends. It leaves a black stain on his soul, a stain that eventually results the person’s spiritual, and also, usually, physical death.

The film portrays how this happened in the 1980s in Punjab, as thousands of youth took to terrorism, as revenge for the murder, humiliation, and betrayal the state had subjected them to. To counter the terrorists, the state unleashed even more violence, scarcely distinguishing between innocent and criminal, a divide that often existed within the heart of one human being, as much as between two.

An intense, pensive portrait of the human complexities involved in violence, Maachis gives us a peek into the core of one of the most serious diseases that afflict our world today – terrorism. It proceeds at a measured pace, only too befitting to the grim theme at hand. It echoes with touching poetry, which is employed to describe not just the beautiful, but also the terrifying.

dil dard ka tukda hai
paththar ki dali si hai
ek andha kuaan hai ya
ek band gali si hai
ek chhota sa lamha hai
jo khatm nahi hota
mai laakh jalaata hoon
ye bhasm nahi hota..
the heart is but
an ounce of pain
a lump, hard as stone
a misty well
a blind alley
it’s a little moment in time
yet, it never ends
i burn endlessly
yet, it doesn’t perish

~ by tdcatss on November 2, 2012.

2 Responses to “Maachis”

  1. Awesome, man. A very rare movie indeed.

  2. thanks abhilash :)

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