Saqib Malik's latest offering, snippets about which had leaked into the press long before it was aired, is finally on air. People knew it was inspired by "Kaagaz Ke Phool" the 1959 Guru Dutt - Waheeda Rehman starrer because the coordinator for the video Frieha Altaf wrote about it in a column she does for a local weekly. Then there were spreads of shoots done on location that appeared in the annual issues of two monthlies that coincided with the eventual release of the video. It was a classic case of building up hype, something that the video world rarely witnesses. It didn't work in the video's favour, it hasn't caught anyone by surprise because people already had an idea about its content. Going from printed pictures to moving pictures is not a good idea. It kills the mystery and mystery is what art thrives on. Teasers are okay for films. A minute or two to goad viewers spoilt for choice to see a particular story is not a bad idea. But promoting a five-minute video with six page photo spread? Come on, who are they kidding?
At the end of the day, "Khamaj" is a miniature of the first half of "Kaagaz Ke Phool". The scenes with Zara Sheikh coming in for audition is reminiscent of Waheeda Rehman walking into the studios for the first time. The original shots are those of the choreographer and Zara dancing together. The premiere of "Khamaj" is almost a carbon copy of the one Guru Dutt had created for his magnum opus, right down to Zara Sheikh's dress, which Faiza Samee has remade with a bit more glitter than the original. The five-minute film deviates from the script of "Kaagaz Ke Phool", where Guru Dutt has an accident, but does not die, instead Waheeda tries to nurse him back to health, he turns her away and survives to become an embittered man only dying in old age. This gives him the chance to pose dramatically while the gorgeous Kaifi Azmi song "Dekhi Zamaane Ki Yaari, Bichchde Sab Hi Baari Baari" plays on. In "Khamaj", Shaan dies right after dropping Zara Sheikh off from the premiere. But then death comes quicker in five-minute videos.
Finally, Saqib Malik gets a chance to show them meeting in Zara Sheikh's thoughts. He tries to condense the emotion of the glorious song "Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam, Tum Rahe Na Tum Hum Rahe Na Hum" into the last ten seconds of the video. Even the shot of Shaan and Zara Sheikh's heads meeting in the end and their upper torsos forming a human heart is one of the posters from "Kaagaz Ke Phool". If only our film wallahs could copy with such competency, we would soon catch up with Bollywood.
Shot largely in black and white, just the shots of the band Fuzon are in colour, "Khamaj" is still the most sumptuous video made after Shoaib Mansoor's "Anarkali". It is interesting that Saqib Malik and Asim Raza both came out with videos in the classic mode after Anarkali's release. Asim Raza made the outlandish "Mahi", featuring Hadiqa as a blood sucker looking for love. The video was perhaps inspired by Interview With The Vampire. Saqib made "Khamaj" that borrows heavily from Guru Dutt's vision, who in turn borrowed a lot from Howard Hawks. Perhaps it doesn't really matter because we are talking about five minute videos here, but it would be nice to see some originality, and by that I don't mean the condensing of feature film stories into five minutes. And Saqib is capable of it. He has done it before with the edgy "Behti Naar", which was taken off air because it was too controversial for the scissors-wielding guardians of our morality to handle. Having said that, the attention to detail in "Khamaj" is incredible. The busy atmosphere of a studio is built around the central characters of Shaan and Zara. Cameramen, assistants choreographers and make up artists buzz around the director and his protege. The filmi milieu is recreated as it once was in the good old days of black and white cinema. Therein lies the irony of this truly beautiful video. It recreates our film industry as it once was. If a video was to project it in all its present lewd glory, the video would have to be cut to a different song. "Fikar Na Faqah, Aish Kar Kaka" would work exceptionally well. Now that would be a truly original concept. If the leading lights of the directorial world rely on borrowed concepts for five-minute videos, one can only wonder what they would do for a three-hour film?
The "Khamaj" video has come well over a year after the song's release. Fuzon's "Saagar" came out in 2002 and "Khamaj" was the song that had everyone talking. The promos for last year's TV play "Umrao Jaan Ada" were cut to the song and run ad nauseum. Then, the video of Fuzon singing it at a concert was also aired regularly. So another video made two years later makes little sense. Videos are essentially glorified commercials for music which are essential to boost its sales. Musically speaking, it's the music that counts. Videos are chatpata for a while and then they bite the dust. I know the song "Losing My Religion" but its video is a vague memory. Visuals cut to sound don't resound in your memory for very long. Videos by their very nature are flashes in the pan. Unless the aim is to sell the song in India, where "Saagar" was released in October last year, this video has little utility. And if they are going to air the video in India, they had better say that it's a homage to Guru Dutt, because the Indians will pick up on the 'inspiration' in a split second.
Zara Sheikh looks lovely and performs well in the video but ultimately "Khamaj" is Shaan's triumph. Looking handsome in the most dignified way possible, he cuts an impressive figure. To top it all, he emotes beautifully, a chance his roles in Lollywood pictures never offer him. Suited, booted with gelled back hair that Tariq Amin (mercifully) re-dyed to it's original colour, he stands out with an undeniable star appeal. It is a star appeal that Lollywood is not capable of ultilising. Another person who must be commended is Tariq Amin. What saves "Khamaj" is the styling which is fantastic. Shallum with his mane gelled back, Immu with his hair browned and Shafqat with a straight blow dry look very classy. I loved the tuxedos with the black bow ties and the red cinema seats that lie empty as "Khamaj" plays out on the silver screen. A lot of hard work went into it populating the five minutes with well over fifty extras. But is it worth the effort?
In the final analysis, "Khamaj" recreates the most self-indulgent film Guru Dutt ever made. It makes two of our stars shine as brightly as they should. It creates a wonderland in a land where films are the very stuff our nightmares are made of. That does sound like a worthwhile cause, but the video is a nostalgic epic that lasts all of five minutes.
"Khamaj" is a lot like paper flowers. It looks beautiful, but it has no scent.Muniba Kamal