Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Of photo frames and broken hearts

Coming from the land of a million romantic movies and six-songs-a-side audio tapes, I found the simple love story of Mukhsin a surprisingly fresh and interesting story. Mukhsin is a malay language movie screened at Deric's house as a part of the World Cinema Club sub-community of CS Moscow. Directed by Yasmin Ahamad, an enterprising Malay director who made very few but path-breaking movies about Malaysian life, Mukhsin is the third part of a trilogy about a middle-class Malay girl called 'Orked' (Orchid).

The other two movies deal with a teenage inter-racial love story of Orked and her post-marital relationship with a philandering husband. Mukhsin is about her first love at the age of ten with a twelve year old boy called Mukshin. The movie is about the timeless theme of a thin line between friendship and love. And as usual, the boy crosses the line and the girl lingers behind until it is too late.
The story begins with characterisation of the happy middle-class family of Orked. The british-educated mother, the loving dad with his witty humour and the live-in maid Kak Yam form Orked's wonderful world, supplemented by conservative neighbours and jealous playmates. Orked is very much a tomboy, taking on class bullies and getting into fist fights. During school holidays, she meets with an older boy Mukhsin, a handsome twelve year old visitor to her village who takes to liking Orked for who she is. The movie traces the slow path of their brief friendship, midway of which Mukhsin develops unknown feelings for her.
He tries to express himself, but she brushes him away not knowing about it. And Mukhsin's moment of reckoning comes when another boy wrestles with Orked in the middle of a street game. Orked wrestles with the boy a moment too long, giggling all the while, and Mukhsin's possessiveness takes over. Orked gets hurt by Mukhsin's reaction and retreats from him completely. This is the defining moment of the movie - of children on the verge of adoloscence, exploring new emotions and reacting to them in their own way! Mukhsin goes back to her to make up and pleads with her daily to take him back. But the stubborn girl shuts herself in her room when Mukhsin visits, even until the last day of his stay in her village. After making his last attempt, Mukhsin tells her from outside the window to look at what he's written on the tail of a Kite he gifted her before and leaves dejected. Orked looks up what's written and overcome by emotions, she makes a run to meet Mukhsin. But he's already gone away from her life, leaving behind a small souvenir.
The beauty of this simple story is the stark reality. There are no melodramatic moments to emphasise the softer emotions. And the story of an everyday heartbreak has its own sub plots of a troubled older brother of Mukhsin and the neighbours' broken family. These sub-plots abruptly remind us of the latitude of the very same emotions we see in Orked and Mukhsin. Set in a rustic background, the narration is smooth and simple, almost reminding me of Malgudi Days. Brilliant acting by the boy who played the title role and the support cast enhanced the director's genius. But the best part of the movie is the cinematography. The still photo frame shots, like travel post cards, with characters moving in and out of them stand witness to the superior technical quality of the movie.
My rating: 5 / 5

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