KHUDI – The Fountainhead

A film based on a global bestseller novel debuted in Kashmir recently. SHAMS IRFAN reviews a Kashmiri rendition of The Fountainhead.

Before the screening of Khudi- The Fountainhead began, director and lead actor Ali Emran Kureishi declared, “I have not followed any cinematic rules,” to an audience who were waiting eagerly to watch Kashmir’s first full length Urdu feature film. But after watching the film, the only thought I was left with in my mind was ‘I wish he had followed the basic rules of filmmaking.’

Khudi is based on Ayn Rand’s bestseller novel The Fountainhead, which tells the story of a young idealistic architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise with his ideals. Rand’s protagonist represents the modern architectural styles, which puts him in conflict with people who worship traditions. But on the other hand, Kureishi’s protagonist, Zahir Azad [Ali Emran Kureishi], is in conflict with anybody and everybody who is shown on screen.

Zahir Azad, the individualistic young architect in Khudi- The Fountainhead, is introduced to the audience in a typical James Bond style. “What is your name?” asks another character and he turns his bearded face towards the camera, revealing his long unkempt locks and says in an accented voice, “Zahir, Zahir Azad.” Then, without saying anything else, the camera cuts to a small hill where Zahir is seen standing on top with his arms spread full length in air, like Christ the Redeemer, while a ‘philosophical’ song is played in the background.

While the song plays, Zahir fills the screen and is seen standing expressionless like an angry young man against the famous scenic backgrounds like Dal Lake and Zabarwan Hills, but his anger remains unexplained throughout.

Kureishi fails to introduce his characters in a way that would give the audience a clear cut idea of who they are and what they represent in Khudi. They are presented in a very sketchy manner, and they introduce themselves like amateur artists do on their first audition.

The only good thing about Khudi is Kashmiri veteran actor Bashir Dada’s effortless acting skills. Unlike other characters, he manages to justify his presence in the film as he understands his character and keeps you engaged with his perfect dialogue delivery and expressions.

On the other hand Disha [played by Preerna], the lead female character in Khudi, tries hard to keep audiences hooked to the screen with her amateur acting skills. Ironically, like all other characters, she too struggles for direction [disha] while navigating through a confusing screenplay. Till the last scene you wonder who she is and with whom she is actually in love. Her character remains a mystery till the end!

Even the songs fail to lift the mood of the audience despite Kureishi’s efforts to use them as fillers in between lengthy monologues. His out-of-the-box thinking as a director fails to impress as one is left with many questions and confusions in the end.

Most of the scenes start with a soliloquy, where a single character is shown revealing his inner thoughts to the audience, but when the camera starts to zoom out, you are shocked to find that the dialogues are actually said to another character who was till now not seen in the frame. Long and philosophical monologues delivered after equal intervals by almost every character leaves you with no option but to scratch your head in dismay. Instantly you start thinking all the good things which you could have done during these 99 minutes.

Like any other debutant filmmaker, Kureishi too uses music to intensify the tension felt by his characters on screen to compensate for the loopholes left in the script. But the use of borrowed background musical elements like female wailing vocals and the battle-waltz for Khudi reveals the director’s desperation as he tries hard to impress his unsuspecting audiences. The background score of Khudi reminds you of Michael Stearns’ award winning score The Host of Seraphim which he composed for Ron Fricke’s documentary Baraka.

Kureishi has used all his filmmaking knowledge [if any] on camera work which surely is worth noticing in some of the scenes. The camera moves in such a way that it draws you in. But a weak script and almost comical characterization will be problematic for Kureishi in a big way as he plans to screen his movie in more competitive cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkota.

If films like Khudi are viewed as a parameter of change in the Kashmiri film industry, then we still have a long way to go. Kureishi has screened only the ‘Directors Cut’ of Khudi in Srinagar, but there is hardly any chance of improvement in the final edited version of the film.

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