In the idyllic village of Mijwan, there lives a Muslim girl whose heart beats for the Bharat Natyam dance form. Bharat Natyam? Her family and the village community are aghast! Yeh toh kafiron (non-believers) ka kaam hai. How can a decent 15-year old do this? Shame! I loved the twinkle-eyed irreverence embedded in debutant director Baba Azmi heartwarming nugget. Brimming with affection, warmth and humour, Mee Raqsam takes an affectionate look at the risky task of cultural crossovers in India, without any political agenda.
When the film’s bright and intelligent protagonist Mariam takes to Bharat Natyam, her favoured mood is neither green nor saffron. Writer-director Azmi portrays Mariam’s relationship with her father (Danish Hussain) with the same indelible affection that one saw between Ashok Kumar and his on-screen daughter Sarika in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Aashirwaad.
The shared moments of filial action suffuse the heart with a feeling of pure love seldom seen in our cinema. When Danish’s character Salim catches his daughter trying out some Bharat Natayam postures at home, she coaxes him into joining her. For a few precious seconds it’s just the blissful beti (daughter) and baap (father) giggling and dancing. However, my favourite moment between the father and daughter is the one just before Mariam’s big climactic dance recital when ‘Abba’ Salim insists on putting alta (red colour) on his daughter’s feet reasoning, ‘Ammi ko manaa karti kya?’. The tender moment embodies the widower father’s determination to play the roles of both parents.
Watching this father from an ultra-conservative community stretching himself to give his daughter the freedom to be happy and live her life the way she wants, I was reminded of the 2015 British film Eye In The Sky where an impoverished Kenyan father lets his little girl do what she wants in their home but warns her to be reined-in before the villagers.
In Mee Raqsam, the father goes further. He takes on the local frowners and let’s his daughter dance on stage. Here is where politics seeps into this uncontaminated film. While Naseeruddin Shah as a hardliner Mullah is a masterclass in restrained bigotry, his Hindu counterpart, a middling politician Jayaprakash (Rakesh Chaturvedi Om) is purely uni-dimensional and villainy insisting as he keeps on calling Mariam ‘Sultana’ and insulting her father at every given opportunity.
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I wish we could magically erase the dirty politics that separates the two communities and forbids a young girl from pursuing her dreams. But then, as in art so in life the beautiful and the ugly must co-exist. I would rather carry with me Danish Aslam’s look of pride on seeing his daughter achieve her dream than the hardliner’s evil look of disappointment as his diabolic designs are decimated by the magic that can only happen in cinema. Mee Raqsam celebrates the triumph of love, innocence and amity over the religious divide. An unassuming but relevant drama reflective of our times.