Baba Azmi’s ‘Mee Raqsam’ was recently screened at the 3rd Azamgarh International Film Festival. The film, which was released last year on ZEE5, shares a special relationship with Azamgarh. Baba Azmi’s legendary poet father Kaifi Azmi had a deep desire to make a film in his native village, Mijwaan, situated in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. But he couldn’t realise it during his lifetime. So Baba Azmi took it upon himself to fulfil his father’s dream. And he finally realised it by making ‘Mee Raqsam’. Now, the film is not just made in Mijwaan but it also has the bragging rights of discovering its lead actor from there. Young Aditi Subedi who plays the central role of Maryam in the film was handpicked by Baba Azmi for his film during a visit to Mizwaan. For four months, Aditi was trained in Mumbai while staying with Baba and family. The training also included learning Bharatanatyam.
Aditi Subedi responds to a question from … s her father (extreme right) looks on (Photo Credit: Twenty4 Frames)
‘Mee Raqsam’, which also stars Danish Husain, Shraddha Kaul, Rakesh Chaturvedi Om, and Naseeruddin Shah in pivotal roles, revolves around a young Muslim girl who aspires to become a dancer. But hailing from a small village like Mijwaan, Maryam faces great resistance as everyone questions her dreams and choices including her aunt and grandmother. After her mother passes away, she finds great support in her father (played by Danish Husain) who backs her in this journey, only to face a great backlash from the community. A poor tailor dependent on the community for work is suddenly ostracised on the commands of a powerful religious leader named Hashim Seth (essayed by Naseeruddin Shah) who strongly disapproves of a Muslim girl’s affinity towards Bharatanatyam—a dance form he considers alien to Islam and hence unworthy to practice.
But it’s not just Maryam’s community that’s against her learning Bharatanatyam. For, there are also people on the other side of the fence who find it difficult to digest the idea of a Muslim girl getting so involved with a dance form that’s so deeply rooted in spiritual practices closely associated with Hinduism. A rich and powerful patron named Jai Prakash (portrayed by Rakesh Chaturvedi Om) is hell-bent on derailing Maryam’s journey. So on one side, there are bigots like Hashim Seth and on the other side, there are hypocrites like Jai Prakash desperately trying to snuff out her penchant for Bharatanatyam. Will Maryam succeed in overcoming these insurmountable odds? Or will she too lose this battle against bigots like all those other girls whose dreams are ruthlessly crushed by patriarchy?
Written by Safdar Mir and Husain Mir, ‘Mee Raqsam’ may not be a film that can boast a big budget but it is definitely a film with a big heart. The various performances on offer are really the film’s USP. Naseeruddin Shah as Hashim Seth is in many ways the antithesis of his progressive ‘Maulana’ character from Shoaib Mansoor’s ‘Khuda Kay Liye’. Seth is a relic of a bygone era desperate to perpetually keep his community caged in the dingy recesses of bigotry for his petty political benefits. Interestingly, Rakesh Chaturvedi Om as Jai Prakash is not unlike Mullah Saidullah, the character he essayed in Anurag Singh’s ‘Kesari’. Although the two characters are separated by their religions, their minds are united by bigotry and hate. Kudos to Rakesh Chaturvedi Om for yet again succeeding in making a highly unlikeable character look so believable. Danish Husain is also superb as Maryam’s hapless but determined father. Those who saw him play the part of Taliban’s supreme commander Mullah Khalid in the Netflix series ‘Bard of Blood’ may find it a little difficult to recognise him here. Shraddha Kaul is menacing as Maryam’s regressive aunt who believes that women are incapable of stepping out of their households. When she forces Maryam to take up stitching classes to stop her from learning Bharatanatyam, she actually feels as if she is doing a huge favour to her dead sister by preventing her daughter from going astray.
‘Mee Raqsam’ is a powerful reminder of the patriarchy-driven prejudice propagated in the name of religion which tries to prevent women from pursuing their dreams. It is also a testament to a son’s commitment to the fulfilment of his great poet father’s dream. But there is another dream that the film fulfils. That of Aditi Subedi’s father to watch his daughter on the big screen in his hometown of Azamgarh and in front of his own people. When Aditi was invited by Shobha Akshar, Assistant Editor, Pakhi on the stage as part of the film festival’s post-screening discussion, everyone present there was on their feet. Aditi couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. Her father was equally emotional seeing her daughter cast a spell on all those present with her spellbinding performance. Who says dreams can’t be fulfilled? All that’s required is a desire, and a will to fulfil that desire.