Set against the backdrop of the late 60s and 70s, Sudhir Mishra’s 2005 film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi observes the plight of three individuals whose lives are entwined by fate and circumstances during a turbulent time in India. It was a ruinous phase in the country’s politics — the practices of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were questionable, and the propagation of socialism had started to crumble. The meticulously researched narrative in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is subtle and cinematically stunning, as Mishra and his team of writers vividly portray a society on the verge of transition, and highlight the moral uncertainty and wandering of a generation caught within the whirlpool of political upheaval.
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi follows the rise of student radicalism, and how universities became centers for serious political debates. The three protagonists — Siddharth Tyabji (Kay Kay Menon), Geeta Rao (Chitrangda Singh) and Vikram Malhotra (Shiney Ahuja) – capture the spirit of the times. As Siddharth and Geeta develop a genuine concern for the revolutionary movement and set about changing the society, Vikram becomes cynical toward the abstractions of student politics. In one of the early rally scenes, a leader mentions the name of Adolf Hitler in his speech. A confused villager asks a fellow sitting nearby, “Who’s Hitler?” and the other villager (who is equally confused) utters, “He’s definitely not from our village.” In a satirical scene, Mishra hints at the political ideologies and radical idealism of the left-wing revolutionaries who were disengaged with the ground realities of rural India — a strong critique of all the established credo regarding the movement. In every individual, there lives an idealist, a revolutionary, an opportunist. But over time, as a matter of common experience, this spirit either dies out or becomes dormant. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi critically investigates such primal traits of human aspirations.
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In Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi , the protagonists’ character arcs are complex and multi-layered. Siddharth firmly believes in his political ideologies; he’s an upright rebel with a genuine cause. But as the narrative progresses, he’s compelled to alter the route of his journey because the world will not change and align with his beliefs. Later in the film, Siddharth mentions that he is studying medicine because he now believes that the mysteries of the human body will be less confusing, while Vikaram — who was never convinced of his peers’ political ideologies — evolves into a high-profile power fixer in the corridors of Delhi’s political stratum. Ultimately, though, he becomes a victim of police brutality while attempting to save Siddharth and Geeta from a difficult situation.
Geeta is the most complex and inscrutable protagonist in Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, and possesses such an alluring charm. Despite being married, she can’t resist herself from clandestine meetings with her former lover, Siddharth, and even turns to Vikram whenever she needs a favor after separating from her husband. Even a physical assault at the hands of the police can’t weaken Geeta’s resolve. She remains firm in her political beliefs and helps the poor inhabitants of rural India.
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Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi bears the unmistakable stamp of an artist at the very apogee of his creative prowess. As a keen observer, Mishra is not afraid of confronting a range of complex, universal and often unanswerable questions about virtually every aspect of human existence. The film is so intimate in feeling, and yet it’s a generational panorama; Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is both personal and political. Such thematic elements are balanced with enormous skill by Mishra, who universalizes the framework of his film with an episodic structure. The struggles and sacrifices of the film’s protagonists are noble and uplifting, but it’s the disillusionment that stands out most. Even with the realization of eventual defeat, the free-spirited characters keep fighting. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is meant to be savored over and over again, like a great book or a fine piece of music.
Dipankar Sarkar is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.