You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hifazaat

(Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles)

With:
Nur ... Shashi Kapoor Imtiaz Begum ... Shabana Azmi Deven ... Om Puri Safiya Begum ... Sushma Seth Sarla ... Neena Gupta Murad ... Tinnu Anand Jain ... Prayag Raj Siddiqui ... Ajay Sahani

(Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles)

Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a smooth entree to fests and upmarket salons, though further tightening of its two-hour-plus running time would bring dramatic benefits to its specialized subject matter.

Pic is a more assured work, in look and structure, than Merchant’s previous sortie behind the lens, the rococo, semi-docu short feature “The Courtesans of Bombay” (1983). Though Merchant’s style is conservative — largely fixed-camera setups and textbook cutting — there’s a clean, easy flow to both the movie and the playing that’s in sharp contrast to many of the works of his longtime partner, James Ivory.

Setting is north central India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where Deven (Om Puri) is a small-town teacher who’s urged by a goofy publisher friend to interview the poet Nur (Shashi Kapoor), the greatest living exponent of the dying Urdu language.

After scrabbling together some money and putting his teaching job on the line , Deven travels to scenic Bhopal to meet his hero, now an obese, broken wreck, surrounded by hangers-on and bullied by an ambitious second wife (Shabana Azmi) who has plagiarized his works for her own ends.

Deven’s attempts to record Nur’s memories and recitations turn into a tragicomedy of bizarre proportions.

Co-scripted by Anita Desai from her own 1987 novel (written in English), the movie essentially spins on a dime: the breaking of one man’s blinkered idealism. Around this, the movie weaves a fabric of relationships and cultural riffs.

It’s a rich feast, sometimes too rich for viewers not attuned to the cultural and linguistic subtleties, though the sheer strength of the main perfs manages to hold attention even in the burgeoning musical and poetic sequences.

As the burnt-out, roly-poly bard, Kapoor, almost unrecognizable from his slim , matinee-idol days, limns a commanding presence, halfway between an Indian Laughton and Greenstreet. Playing neat and tight as the teacher, Puri treads a fine line between comic bemusement and dogged veneration.

Azmi, as Kapoor’s beautiful second wife, skillfully manages the difficult switch from cynical regality in the early stages to an object of some sympathy. Playing in a host of other roles is sharp and full of character.

The pic is a delight to behold, with standout lensing of Mughal-style locations near Lake Bhopal by British-born Larry Pizer (“The Europeans”) and deft use of music to carry the tragicomic mood. Roberto Silvi’s cutting is unobtrusive, and costuming and production design are consistently eye-catching.

Hifazaat

(IN CUSTODY) (Drama-comedy -- British -- Color)

Production: A Merchant Ivory Prods. Ltd. production in association with Channel 4 Films. Produced by Walid Chowhan. Executive producers, Paul Bradley, Donald Rosenfeld. Directed by Ismail Merchant. Screenplay, Anita Desai, Shahrukh Husain, based on Desai's novel.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Larry Pizer; editor, Roberto Silvi; music, Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan; production design, Suresh Sawant; costume design, Lovleen Bains; sound (Dolby), Mike Shoring, John Hayward; assistant director, Henry Tomlinson, Shah Jehan. Reviewed at Curzon Mayfair Theater, London, Nov. 5, 1993. (In London Film Festival.) Running time: 125 min.

With: Nur ... Shashi Kapoor Imtiaz Begum ... Shabana Azmi Deven ... Om Puri Safiya Begum ... Sushma Seth Sarla ... Neena Gupta Murad ... Tinnu Anand Jain ... Prayag Raj Siddiqui ... Ajay Sahani

More Film

  • Jamie FoxxBET Awards, Show, Los Angeles,

    2018 BET Awards: Kendrick Lamar Wins Big at Youth-Centered Show

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • Japan Ramps Up International Film Co-Productions

    Japanese Film Makers Find Opportunities in International Co-Productions

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • Netflix Unveils 'Great Day in Hollywood'

    Netflix Unveils 'Great Day in Hollywood' Image Spot Highlighting Black Creators

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • Kendrick Lamar

    2018 BET Awards Complete Winners List

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • Tom Holland Uncharted

    Tom Holland Reveals 'Spider-Man 2' Title: 'Far From Home'

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • Palm Springs Shortfest Winners List

    'Fauve' Takes Top Prize at Palm Springs International Shortfest

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

  • The Closing of Magno, the Quintessential

    The Closing of Magno, the Quintessential New York Screening Room

    (Hindi & Urdu dialogue; English subtitles) Producer Ismail Merchant makes a smooth and confident move to the director’s chair with “In Custody,” an elaborate shaggy-dog tale about a teacher’s bruising relationship with an admired Urdu poet that’s given stature and resonance by its central trio of marvelous perfs. Merchant’s name should ensure the pic a […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content