Mee Raqsam movie review: A simplistic but warm tale of a father’s love
Director: Baba Azmi
Cast: Danish Husain, Aditi Suberi, Naseeruddin Shah
Great fathers come in different packages. Some are world-renowned poets and some, just humble tailors. Mee Raqsam is produced by actor Shabana Azmi, directed by her brother Baba Azmi and is a tribute to their late father Kaifi Azmi. Shabana once said that her father told her he would support her if she wanted to be an actress. With Mee Raqsam, Kaifi’s children are telling the story of a father much like him—one who puts his child’s dreams and happiness above all else, even if it takes away all he has.
Watch trailer for Mee Raqsam:
Mee Raqsam is shot in the small town of Mijwan in Uttar Pradesh. This was also where Kaifi was born and spent a major part of his childhood. When he returned to his hometown decades later, he started multiple ventures to uplift the town’s people. It was also his wish to shoot a movie in Mijwan, which was posthumously realised by his son through Mee Raqsam.
In Mijwan, we meet tailor Salim (Danish Husain) and his young daughter, Maryam (Aditi Subedi). Salim’s wife dies after a long illness and they only have each other to seek love, acceptance and support from. Maryam starts harbouring a deep love for Bharatnatyam, sparked in her by her mother. While she knows that being the ‘dancing girl’ would not be acceptable to her conservative community, Salim pushes her to follow her dreams, saying he will brave the barbs if they have to.
The pragmatically heartless khala, the apathetic khalu, and the miserly nani are all against Salim’s decision to make his daughter a ‘tawaif’. Their bigotry is echoed by the community elders too, including the bigot-in-chief, played by Naseeruddin Shah. He tries dialogue, intimidation, and the classic ‘slurs on the house wall’ moves, to shake Salim’s resolve and stop him from ‘embarrassing’ his community. But Salim wouldn’t budge. Even in the face of harsh, unwarranted ostracization from his people, he knows the right path to pick.
Mee Raqsam may not be without its faults but its heart is in the right, progressive place. Salim’s clear perspective on righteousness and gentle love for his daughter are the heart of this film. He takes on the big and mighty even with little hope of either turning their hearts or coming out of the ordeal unhinged. But when his people—the mohalla, the relatives, the maulana, the doctor—all turn against him, he chooses to never doubt the reason he did it all in the first place—to see a smile on his daughter’s face.
Danish plays Salim with a gentleness that can also come across as a little too inexpressive at times. He doesn’t let the despair, the disappointment or even anger show distinctly on his face, even in pivotal moments. While it can seem awkward to some, it can also be seen as a true representation of the small town Indian man, rarely letting what is in his heart show on his face. On its own, his performance may not have seemed so out of place but when juxtaposed with others’ far louder, animated acts, the end product doesn’t seem cohesive.
The world of Mee Raqsam is still closer to a fairytale than it is to reality. People are either angelic or completely evil. An auto driver goes out of his way to help the family and a cleric goes out of his way to harm them. A Hindu dance teacher gives Maryam a new chance at living a happy, fulfilling life but the Hindu dance academy owner puts hurdles in the heroine’s path like any factory-made Disney villain. He deliberately messes up her name with another generic Muslim one, uses her as a token of his own progressiveness, belittles her culture, her community and her father. And if that wasn’t enough, he even ruins her final dance performance by getting his henchmen to turn off the music while she is on stage. While it is always a welcome idea to represent lack of empathy and acceptance on both sides, a subtler way of bringing it across would have been a better choice.
But even with its saturated villains and TV soaps background score, Mee Raqsam oozes warmth at its core. Newcomer Aditi—who also hails from Mijwan—is allowed few moments to flex any acting muscles but when performing the many mudras or doing the namaskaram, she is almost poetry on screen. Mijwan itself brings the authentic charm of small town UP that no other recreated film set might have. The peculiar fonts on a tailor shop’s sign board, the large Vikram autos, bright yellow shirts, and the serpentine galis of the mohalla ask you to inhabit this world.
Mee Raqsam may be flawed but it’s a warm tale of a father’s love. It brings you to Mijwan and makes sure some part of it will stay with you for a long time.
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