Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya takes place in two time zones. One is the distant past from where the Mirza-Sahiban legend originates, imagined in the 129-minute movie as a place where events unfolds largely in slow-motion tableaux. Mirza (Harshvardhan Kapoor) impresses Sahiban (Saiyami Kher) in an archery competition, but her strapping blue-eyed brothers are clearly unimpressed by the scrawny warrior who looks like he might fly off his horse if he doesn’t hold the reins tight enough. Mirza manages to whisk Sahiban away, but dies as per the Punjabi legend at the foot of a tree after she breaks his arrows to prevent him from killing her brothers. Did Sahiban betray Mirza, as is commonly believed? The question does not interest Mehra or screenwriter Gulzar.
The other time zone is in the here and now, itself divided into the immediate past and present. Munish and Suchitra are 12-year-olds who are supposedly in the early throes of a timeless love story. Munish avenges an insult on Suchitra’s behalf and disappears, only to emerge years later as a stable hand in the palace of Suchitra’s fiancé, the Rajasthani nobleman Karan (Anuj Choudhry). Munish has renamed himself Adil Mirza and sought refuge with a community of blacksmiths, but his fate is soldered with that of Suchitra’s, who eventually recognises him after many equestrian sessions. Is Suchitra the cause of Munish’s downfall yet again? The question does not interest Mehra or screenwriter Gulzar.
Apart from cutting haphazardly between these two time periods, Mehra creates a third theatre for the drama to play out – a stage where gorgeously attired male and female dancers interpret the movie’s various moods in sensuously choreographed routines.
Between the past, the present, and the maybe, Miryza ends up fitting nowhere. Mehra reaches for profundity and visual poetry and does a good job surrounding his passive and ineffectual leads with Shankar Ehsan Loy’s superb soundtrack, Gulzar’s weighty lyrics and Pawel Dyllus’s striking cinematography, but the resulting hodgepodge lacks passion, curiosity and engagement.
The narrative track set in the present initially holds out the promise of offering a well-considered update of a seventeenth-century romance about doomed rebellion. Suchitra is sent away by her father (Art Malik) and returns after having spent several years abroad. She seems blissfully in love with the dapper Karan, but is inextricably drawn to Munish. The scenes of Suchitra learning horse riding from Munish are suitably dreamy, but they do not explain why an upper-class woman is attracted to the house help and forgets her feelings for Karan overnight.
The power of predestination is constantly offered as the only explanation for the couple’s actions. In a screenplay that was more curious about the woman’s side of the story, Suchitra might have hesitated longer to roll in the stable with Munish and might have considered Karan’s feelings. Munish too might have been more careful about abandoning Zeenat (Anjali Patil), who is love with him, for Suchitra’s affections. If Kapoor and Kher are torn apart from within by their conflict, their faces betray none of the turmoil.
At least Karan’s tragedy at being abandoned at the altar gets its due, and Anuj Chaudhary does a fine job of portraying his betrayal. But like the other characters in the movie, Karan’s version gets no play. Neither Mehra nor Gulzar is particularly worried about the lack of logic displayed by their characters. The usual reason offered for this kind of irrational behaviour is the abandon that is a hallmark of young love, but since both Kapoor and Kher are unable to convincingly summon up ardour and mutual adoration, far too much is left to the imagination of the viewer.
The result is a romance that droops rather than swoons. Shanker-Ehsan-Loy have composed several tracks for the movie, and since Mirzya is structured as a modern ballad, a booming song rushes into the eardrums ever so often to compensate for the frisson that is absent from the screen. Many cues are offered by Gulzar’s lyrics and occasionally poetic dialogue and the grandiose camerawork, but suggested sentiment can rarely take the place of actual psychology.
Despite the limp leads, the conceit might have passed muster with a linear story set entirely in the present. Mirzya is doomed by its inability to free itself from the weight of the original legend. A tragic romance that doubles up a cautionary tale about the consequences of rebellion gets the music video treatment. One song rolls out after another to suggest the heat of the heart, but the movie remains cold to its own possibilities.