Film Review: Dor

by Annu Chopra

Director: Nargesh Kukunoor
Cast: Ayesha Takia, Shreyas Talpade, Gul Panag, Girish Karnad
Music: Salim Merchant and Sulaiman Merchant
Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee

In Dor, Nargesh Kukunoor (director of Iqbal and Teen Deewarein) weaves a powerful tale about sisterhood, love, and friendship-every bit of which is beautifully etched. Gul Panag plays Zeenat, a Muslim woman who is independent, righteous, and in charge of her destiny. She believes in her decisions and accepts responsibility for them. She marries her husband even though he is leaving the next day for Saudi Arabia because she is in love with him. Ayesha Takia plays Meera, a child bride whose husband is working in Saudi Arabia as well. When Zeenat finds out that her husband has accidentally killed Meera's husband, the two women are forced to meet. By Saudi law, the only way Zeenat can save her husband is through the maafinama, where her husband's death penalty can be revoked only if the wife of the man who was killed readily signs a forgiving petition. Beautifully set against the lush greenery of Himachal Pradesh, Zeenat's journey begins as she travels from her hometown to the desert of Rajasthan in search of Meera.

The life of an Indian woman who has no identity after her husband's death has been shown very poignantly in the movie. Meera is, at first, the child bride who breaks into a jig every time there is a filmi song, lives with her in-laws, and is victimized by a grandmother who is always finding fault with her. She is vivacious and impetuous, but totally dependent upon her husband, leading a very sheltered existence. After his death, she transforms into the grieving wife, shorn of her glitter, donning a deep blue widow's garb. She turns surprisingly mature, accepting her fate without resentment, even after Zeenat comes into her life and she sees a different perspective on life.

Meera's existence is complicated when Zeenat enters into it and bestows on her the power to determine the fate of another's life. Kukunoor handles such heavy emotional stakes deftly, capturing the most subtle qualities of struggle, which at their finest are when the instances where hardship and liberation come together. There is a poignant moment when Meera hears a popular ditty like "Soniya Re," breaks into an impulsive yet furtive dance, and then ashamed of herself, covers her head and resumes walking like a widow with her head bowed down. Scenes of small tenderness like this abound in Dor, such as when Zeenat is giving her husband's remittance from Saudi Arabia to his old parents. They ask her to take money because she also legally deserves it. She tells them maybe she deserves it but doesn't need it like they do and that she will take it when she needs it like them. Then, there is the final scene where Meera movingly takes Zeenat's proffered hand and together they embark on a confident journey to an unknown terrain.

Sheryas Talpade's talent is wasted in the role of the conman, who on one drunken night professes his love for Zeenat. His role is overdone and jars in this sensitive story, while Gul Panag excels in the role of a strong woman. But it is Ayesha Takia who rises above her role. Her transformation from a shy child bride to a widow who has come into her own is extraordinary.

Dor is made up of several emotional nuances, every bit of which is unraveled with sensitivity. And though it is Indian in its context, it rises above its geographical boundaries and becomes world-class cinema. Like the title itself, it is through the sum of such moments that the force of life can be felt.