Idiot (1991)

 ●  Hindi ● 3 hrs 43 mins

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With this tour de force of control over a bewilderingly complex narrative and a massive cast of characters (more than 50 key roles) constantly shifting about in both geographic and cinematic spaces, Mani Kaul continues exploring Dostoevsky’s fiction (cf. Nazar, 1989), faithfully following the novel’s original plot transposed into a scathing depiction of a feudal elite, largely bypassed by history, located in Bombay and Goa. The story begins with the return of Myshkin (Ayub Khan), having spent many years in London undergoing treatment for epilepsy. He encounters the beautiful Nastasia (Vasisth), a femme fatale pursued by the rich Pawan Raghujan (Shah Rukh Khan) and the ambitious Ganesh (Mahan). The wealthy milieu seems to live in a vacuum, alongside a formerly productive generation, such as the businessman Mehta (Velani) and his proud daughter Amba (Hansra) or the retired, drunken colonel (Bora) who is accompanied by characters like Killer and the cynical and suicidal Shapit (Thulal) on the beaches of Goa. At Nastasia’s party both Ganesh and Myshkin propose to her, but she leaves with Raghujan who throws a bundle of banknotes at her which she proceeds to burn. After the central sequence in Goa, the colonel leaves home and dies, and Myshkin becomes engaged to Amba. However, he suffers an epileptic fit and the next day Nastasia breaks the engagement, claiming Myshkin for herself. Just before their wedding she again runs away to Raghujan who eventually kills her, after which he spends the night with Myshkin awaiting the police. In the end Myshkin is revealed to have gone mad. Kaul coolly orchestrates with great virtuosity the continuously mobile, elusive points of ‘stress’ (in Kaul’s phrase) as they shift from geographic location to cinematic space and back again, from the editing and gestural rhythms to the discontinuous soundtrack, achieving a multi-layered cinematic texture that at times threatens to stretch beyond the boundaries of the frame. The innovative approach to plot and narration keeps the film on a precarious edge between formal control and random collisions of speech and identity. Much of the film’s successful use of characters as ‘independent vertices’ (as the director describes them) follows the extraordinary performance of British Asian actor Ayub Khan who uses his difficulties with Hindi to considerable advantage as the nervous and culturally dislocated epileptic. The director commented: ‘Whereas for years I dwealt on rarefied wholes where the line of the narrative often vanished into thin air, with Idiot I have plunged into an extreme saturation of events. [P]ersonally, I find myself on the brink, exposed to a series of possible disintegrations. Ideas, then, cancel each other out and the form germinates. Content belongs to the future, and that’s how it creeps into the present’. The film was made as a four part TV series running 223’ and edited down to feature length.

Release Dates: 01 Jan 1991 (India)

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Did you know? The series was initially titled Ahmaq. Read More
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Film Type:
Television Series
Colour Info:
The series was initially titled Ahmaq.