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Saturday, 25 February 2012

When the system is riddled with flaws (Nikaah)

BR Chopra's Nikaah is a heartfelt treatise on the true state of women in an Islamic society. From the surface everything might appear rosy, but actually there are too many situations when she might not consider herself safe, secure and in a stable circumstance. In fact, even when the Islamic law is so called trying to safeguard her interest, it is actually making her go through even more pain. Treated like a toy by male chauvinism that is so rampant in society, she is at the beck and call of every other mind except hers. Yes, once you watch this 1982 drama, you would actually thank your stars that you are not in Nilofer's shoes...

But then, the film is not uni-dimensional. Nikaah sheds soft light on some people who actually are victims of the this riddled society. Even when they want to be good, they are prone to make mistakes. It also juxtaposes two humans who are like chalk and cheese. One, a thoroughly self-absorbed individual who treats his wife impulsively, who is short-tempered and juvenile. The other, a rational, mature man who takes everything in his stride. He goes out to help Nilofer and silently assures her that all is well. He does commit errors in judgements, but those can be forgiven. The film also depicts the remorse that a lover feels after he commits a crime. Something one does not expect from an immensely vain and irrational human being. Nikaah has several layers and every one of them is just as interesting.
Nilofer (Salma Agha) goes to Afaque Haider's (Raj Babbar) magazine office to collect some dues for a few of her couplets that was published in the pamphlet earlier. Afaque, a resourceful man, who used to be in love with Nilofer in college, is surprised that Nilofer dropped in to claim a meagre Rs 50, considering that she is married to a Nawab. He even learns that Nilofer is putting up at a women's hostel. Since he knew Nilofer for a long time, a bit of reassurance and cajoling later, Nilofer narrates his unfortunate tale to him. Nilofer did get married to dashing foreign-educated Nawab called Wasim Ahmed (Deepak Parashar), but it's been a year that she has been divorced by him. Nilofer was swept off her feet by the dapper and charming young man when he returned after his studies. They both got married with each other's parent consents. But right after that Wasim, a thorough workaholic failed to give the love to Nilofer that every wife craves for. Sex was never an issue but Nilofer was not looking for mere carnal pleasures.
She wanted Wasim to be there with her sometimes and share with her the little joys of life. But Wasim was never around with his wife or family. And slowly, depression and loneliness crept into Nilofer's so-called halcyon surroundings. She pined for her husband's attention but he never took notice of it. And when the subject was brought up, Wasim made it look like Nolifer was being a cry-baby. On their first wedding anniversary, in a fit of rage, after a heated argument, Wasim divorced Nilofer after uttering 'Talaq' three times.
This is a time when I feel the fragility of the bond called marriage in a Muslim society. How can a sacred tie like that be severed only on the utterance of Talaq? Isn't this treating the relationship too casually? But then, as a Maulvi later explains to Wasim, the Sharia law is so made that a man thinks at least a million times before uttering the word. No matter what the provocation is, he has to be extremely patient and understanding so that he doesn't live to regret his decision. But is he is not careful, the law will subject him to further pain. According to what's writ, if a man realises his error in judgement and wants to remarry his first wife, she has to first marry another man, consummate the marriage with him and then if the second husband willingly gives her a divorce, then only can she remarry her first husband. Somehow, in all these processes, I feel it's the women who is being subject to torture, torment and excruciating pain, physically, mentally and emotionally. She has to marry a man, sleep with him and then provoke him to divorce her? Where does her sanity go in the process? Why is she being subject to these extremities for no fault of hers? Beats me why a woman has to be given the harshest blow all the time. And what happens when the second husband actually loves his wife?
That's exactly where Afaque's emotions come into play. Here is a good man who tries to help Nilofer and realises that the dormant love he had for this woman is awake again. He extends his love and support to the damsel and makes her his own after she goes through immense pain. Nilofer too loves him back. She gets back the joys of life and even though Afaque is not her first love, she is willing to weave dreams around him now. So why is Wasim taking it for granted that Nilofer is pining for her first husband? How childish!!
But yes, the three do come to a crossroads when Afaque glances at what is going on in the mind of Nilofer. A stroke of co-incidence takes her to the same places and the same situations that she experienced with Wasim. She writes about them in her diary. She is not able to forget Wasim (it is difficult indeed) but is she really in love with him anymore? Afaque makes a slight misjudgement and the three have to face several questions altogether. They have to take decisions on which their lives will depend...
What I liked about Nilofer was that she was being absolutely transparent with Afaque regarding Wasim. She tells him everything about her feelings and even when she gets the card from Wasim, she doesn't hesitate to tell that to Afaque. Intelligent girl. And what I liked even more was how wonderfully etched is Afaque's character. Here is a man who is absolutely secure, stable and rational. He meets Nilofer's first husband suddenly but there is no amount of dithering on greeting him. And why should he not? For him, past is past. Similarly, when on their wedding, when Wasim comes to wish them with a gift, Afaque is not flustered to see him. In fact, he is very much at ease. So what makes him lose his ground for a while towards the end? Perhaps the comparisons that Nilofer draws between the two men in her life. Maybe that catches Afaque unawares for an instant...

The music of the film is apt. Especially Mehdi Hasan's Chupke chupke. It's just sheer bliss and so wonderfully placed in the narrative. Then there is Salma Agha's Dil ke armaan. I never liked this song too much. But after listening to it repeatedly, I feel it translates a woman's pain and dejection perfectly. And yes, stunning lyrics...Yes, Ravi does a fabulous job.
But the real credits go to the director, for conceiving such a bold and different film, and the actors for their brilliant depiction of the sensitive characters. And yes, this is a film that sheds light on the beauties of a Hyderabadi society. The buildings, the architecture, the tehzeeb and the environment. Wonderfully done this. Deepak Parashar is great as the immature Nawab who loses everything he had simply because he never learnt to value them. Mind you, he's quite a looker. So, you can gauge why Nilofer gets so affected by his charms!
Raj Babbar is brilliant. Restrained and effortless, his Afaque Haider easily shows up the flaws that Wasim Ahmed has. And yes, Raj Babbar looks good too, in his own unassuming way.
But the icing on the cake is Salma Agha who in her introducing role as a Hindi film actress makes it such a pleasure to watch her. Initially innocent and chirpy, Nilofer undergoes a sea change in personality after what she goes through. Agha is stable and emotes wonderfully. There are times when you actually feel that luck is playing spoilsport with her. Her eyes mirror her soul and her voice, when she sings, has that lovely lilt to it. Pity she was not oft-repeated in our films...


  1. Sharmi, Nikaah was a stunning indictment of the way religion is used to oppress (and suppress) a woman's rights as an individual. It also follows that some men become as much victims as oppressors. I think the BR stable always came out with films that had a social message. This was a really good film with well-rounded characters, flawed, but good, and for a change, even Deepak Parashar acted well. :) It's a shame that Salma Agha did not continue - I think her insistence on singing her own songs had something to do with the paucity of future roles.

  2. @Anu: Sad no? She should have relented to other's singing for her. She did a very good job as Nilofer.

  3. @Sharmi: Nikaah is a bold and gripping film from BR Chopra. Salma Agha fitted the role perfectly. It's a bit sad to see the system being misused but I heard stories that the talaq law was overused in the movie. I love the song Chupke Chupke. A small correction. Chupke Chupke is by Ghulam Ali and not by Mehdi Hasan. In addition to Dil Ke Armaan, I like the songs Fiza Bhi Hai Jawan and Beete Hue Lamhon Ki.

  4. @Sreenath: Oh yes, you are right. Blame IMDB for misguiding me. When I heard the song in the film, I knew for sure it was Ghulam Ali. Should have stuck to my gut instincts!!

  5. The very thought of Dil ke armaan makes me grin, because once upon a time in Delhi, you couldn't get into a DTC bus in south Delhi without encountering this trio of children who's wail this song. They were really, really besura. Passengers would actually pay them to stop singing!

    But, back to the film. I saw this a long, long time ago, shortly after it was released, but I remember being horrified at how he could just yell "Talaaq! Talaaq! Talaaq!" and that was it. Must see it again, since I didn't understand many of the nuances back then.

  6. @Dustedoff: Ha ha , funny memory. Coming back to Nikaah, I think you can watch it again. It's actually very engaging!

  7. No insult intented here though a more research is required on ur part before passing judgement on any religion and society. Its nt the women being subjected to cruelty but rather the man for treating the wife so meanly. N mind u the consent of the woman is of utmost importance. Also islam gives the right to a woman to remarry after divorce/widow, rather than live as dead person. We dont need women rights or human rights or feminism to protect us. Sharia law is enough to take care of . Unfortunately many muslims are not educated enough to know their duty and their rights. But that doesnt make islam a flawed religion. Dint mean to be harsh. But being a educated muslim gal i cudn remain quiet. No offense.
    P.S. liked reading ur reviews.