Mirzya is a feast for the eyes and ears, an ambitious tale of doomed love. Sadly, the lovers leave something to be desired.
Director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra weaves past and present together in a story written by Gulzar and based on the Punjabi folktale Mirza Sahiban. For the sake of an international audience who may be unfamiliar with the folktale, the characters in Mirzya freely quote Shakespeare’ Romeo and Juliet, just so we all know where this is going.
As children, Munish and Suchitra are inseparable. He chivalrously carries her schoolbag, even though she’s several inches taller than him. Suchitra lies to save Munish when he forgets his homework yet again, literally taking a hit from the teacher for him. Munish can’t bear to see Suchitra harmed, but the revenge he takes upon the teacher leads to the two being separated.
Many years later, Suchitra (Saiyami Kher) is engaged to rich, handsome Karan (Anuj Choudhry). Scenes from Suchitra’s adult life are intercut with a fantastical series of flashbacks from ancient times. In these flashbacks, Suchitra is Sahiba, princess of a tribe of warriors. As the strongest men compete for her hand in marriage, Sahiba’s gaze favors a bold archer named Mirzya (Harshvardhan Kapoor, son of Anil Kapoor), an outsider of whom her family disapproves.
The present-day Mirzya is Adil, a groom at Karan’s stable. Karan tasks Adil with teaching Suchitra how to ride a horse. For no apparent reason, Suchitra assumes that Adil is really Munish. Of course, she is correct.
Everything about Mirzya is visually stunning, from the cast to the costumes to the settings. The vast, rocky valley to which Mirzya and Sahiba escape looks like it was made to be the preferred setting for lovers on the run. When the screen isn’t saturated in the brightly colored costumes of lithe dancers, austere greys evoke the heartache to come.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack is a wonder, mixing traditional melodies with modern metal and jazz riffs. Mehra turns up the volume during song numbers, then dramatically cuts out all other sounds save footsteps or the flapping of a bird’s wings once the song ends. The effect is thrilling.
Unfortunately, the central love story has problems, chiefly relating to the ages of the characters when significant events take place. When Munish and Suchitra reunite as adults, they are far too old to enter into such an obviously doomed relationship without awareness of the consequences, both for themselves and for others. It’s easy to forget that Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers in their story, at that histrionic age where couples are one day professing to love each other like no people have ever loved before, only to break up the following week when Juliet catches Romeo making out with another girl at the homecoming dance.
Even in the original Mirza Sahiban, the two childhood companions don’t fall in love until adolescence, the age at which they are first able to experience feelings of sexual attraction. By contrast, Munish and Suchitra are separated at the age of nine, before they have the physical capacity to experience those feelings for one another. Yet, as soon as they meet as adults, they fall into a romantic attraction, despite having only previously had a platonic childhood relationship.
This raises an important question of whether the triumph of destiny is always the most satisfying outcome when it comes to storytelling. Why does destiny necessarily trump experience? Before her fateful reunion with Munish, Suchitra is totally in love with Karan, who seems like a nice guy. They are attracted to one another and enjoy each others company. This isn’t a forced marriage.
There’s also no sense that Suchitra is pining for Munish. Had she never met him, it seems likely she would have married Karan and lived happily ever after with him in his gigantic palace. Would that have perhaps been the more interesting outcome: one member of a fated pair taking action to end a deadly reincarnation cycle, allowing them and their families to live in peace?
Gulzar’s retelling of the myth doesn’t give a compelling reason why Suchitra should be with Munish. Then again, the characters are hardly more than archetypes, so it’s difficult to ascribe motivations to any of them beyond carrying out their expected roles. Light character development also makes it hard to get much sense of Kher’s or Kapoor’s potential, both of them acting in their Hindi film debuts.
Despite all that, there are reasons why stories of doomed love endure, and Mirzya is about as beautiful to look at and listen to as can be. A familiar story allows the audience to enjoy other elements of the film, even at the expense of the plot.