I love movies that take you out of your comfort zone, present a new facet of life and are completely focused on their central premise ie don’t get distracted by songs / stars / sub-plots etc. And you are unlikely to find a movie which sets up the situation or resolves it as beautifully as Dor, a magnificient film by Nagesh Kukunoor.
Meera (Ayesha Takia) is married to Shankar (Anirudh Jaykar), a worker in Saudi and a loving husband, but from a very strict and orthodox Rajasthani family. Over in Himachal, Zeenat (Gul Panag) finally weds Amir (Rushad Rana), after a long courtship, just a day before he too leaves for Saudi Arabia for work. Soon, a couple of phone calls change their lives completely. Shankar is dead and Amir is accused of the murder, likely to be sentenced to death in a few days. We see none of this, are informed about this only by the dry monotone of an officer from the ministry of external affairs, who comes to tell Zeenat about this. He also does say, just before leaving, that there could be one way to get Amir spared. As per Saudi law, if the widow pardons her husband’s killer, then he can be freed. Only hitch is that no one knows where Shankar is from, apart from the fact that he is a Rajasthani. The address on his passport is false and there are no more leads.
All the above happens very quickly – takes no more than 15 minutes. The rest of the movie is a study in the differing forms of strength of the two lead women. Zeenat is overtly strong, a woman used to fighting to get her right and she seizes on this small chance and decides to go search the state of Rajasthan to find the widow. She soon meets a bahrupiya (Shreyas Talpade, a small town con-man and a man of many faces / accents), who decides to help her.
Meera has a more quiet kind of strength, more stoic, accepting of her terrible fate. I don’t think there is likely to be any country so unforgiving in its treatment of widows as India, particularly certain parts like Rajasthan. Not a facet of my country that I’m very proud of, I can assure you. And of course, this is interlaced with the typical bullshit talk of honour (maryada) and principles etc from the elders.
She hardly utters a murmur as she goes through the rituals of widowhood - her clothes are packed away, her bangles broken, her bindi rubbed off. She now needs permission to even step out of the house and is now forced to spend her time shut in a room, in solitary confinement, with minimal food and water. In one poignant scene, when the dadi (grandmother) comes to console her and hugs her, she softly whispers to her that this is the first time in 2 months that anyone has touched her. And all this while her father in law is more preoccupied with how the loss of his son means that he may now never get his ancestral home free of debt.
The movie though would have been ordinary had it not managed to intersperse the tragedy of the story with the beauty of the landscape, the humour (particularly from Shreyas Talpade, the bahrupiya) and some brilliant, realistic, rustic touches. I don’t think the song Kajra Re was ever danced to with more gusto than shown in the movie. Also, the acting is outstanding – both Ayesha and Gul do full justice to their very meaty roles. The supporting cast including Shreyas Talpade as the bahrupiya and even Girish Karnad as the father in law are equally solid in their portrayals. The songs enhance the movie, blend in beautifully. And the end is uplifting, making you smile, forget the tragedy of the previous reels.
For some reason or the other I kept postponing watching the movie – I would urge you not to make the same mistake. They say women are mentally stronger than men, able to go through much more versus the physically stronger gender. On the basis of this movie, you know, I would have to agree completely…I cannot comprehend or find the strength to go through the kind of existence that Meera and many millions like her go through without a murmur. This movie, a bit like Water and very unlike Baabul, helps bring this point to life.