Tuesday, May 22, 2007

OF SHAMANS AND PRISTINE LANDSCAPES AND A YEARNING FOR THE PAST
KHADAK 2006

In one word, Khadak is a film about nostalgia. Nostalgia for the pristine beauty of a land untouched by modernity and for a way of life that is gradually becoming extinct.

Bagi, a teenager lives with a nomadic life in Central Asia with his mother and grandfather. This idyllic existence is disrupted when officials of the state arrive in a convoy of trucks and declare the region to be under the threat of plague. The family along with others is relocated to a new mining town and their way of life completely altered. While the mother is employed in the mines, Bagi gets a mailman's job. Bagi's grandfather who enjoyed his animals now spends his days cooking potatoes in salt for the family.

Bagi is epileptic and during his seizures in the desert his grandfather would consult a shamaness. This woman who brought back Bagi's wandering spirit to his body after every fit also tells the old man that his grandson's destiny is to become a shaman himself. The film uses Bagi's epilepsy as a window for his soul searching, a tool for his metamorphosis and also as conduit through which multiple plots progress. Each epileptic seizure is a series of dreamlike sequences. During one such experience in his new mining surroundings, he is able to "see" through a coal dump, a young coal thief buried and choking under a mound of coal and dust. He rescues the fellow and meets a girl who also works in the coal theft gang. A series of new experiences follow as this gang is arrested and Bagi is put into a forced labor camp.

Soon his epileptic seizures are detected and this time he is put in a hospital where doctors correctly diagnose his illness. But Bagi's destiny is different. The shamaness returns in his dreams and Bagi starts to accept his fate.

It's easy to empathize with Bagi, his family and the hundreds of nomads from Mongolia hauled up from their home in Gobi desert to be placed in a neo-industrial landscape. The lovely backdrop of the desert and their life in the tents amidst the livestock seemed far more picturesque and romantic when compared to the concrete Communist era structures they later live in. But this romantic picturesque also eclipses the harsh side of a life tethered to the elements of nature.

In this respect I am often reminded of the Spencer Tracy character in Inherit the Wind; as a lawyer defending the right of his client to teach evolution he repeatedly points to how modernity comes at the cost of leaving some abstract romantic notions behind (something to the effect that while the mail and telephone make communication easy, they take away the romance and pain of separation).

In other words, nostalgia or not, life for Bagi and his people would become easier even if they have to leave a few romantic sunsets on the Gobi behind.

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