Readers Write In #601: The Song of Scorpions: A Marriage of Myths, Mirages and Matter-Of-Facts

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Readers Write In #601: The Song of Scorpions: A Marriage of Myths, Mirages and Matter-Of-Facts

By Vishnu Mahesh Sharma

In Anup Singh’s ‘The Song of Scorpions’, we are introduced to a world of folklore/myth. A woman, Nooran (Golshifteh Farahani), treats a man, stung by a scorpion, with her song. Her vocals are an anti-dote for scorpion’s poison.

While all other onlookers are there with sense of bewilderment and anticipation in their eyes, Aadam (Irrfan Khan) is smitten by Nooran’s voice. The innocence in his eyes is as pure as that of a child who witnesses a ‘tamasha’ by a ‘madari’ for the first time. This innocence is scaled further up when contrasted against the licentiousness of Aadam’s friend, Munna (Shashank Arora). In the dark night, Aadam wants to waste his time dreaming about Nooran whereas Munna would like to have some real carnal pleasures.

There is a romantic glue between Aadam and Nooran. While chasing Nooran, Aadam says “I see you everywhere, in water and in dunes. But I know all this is an illusion. I want you in flesh and blood.” The goodness and playfulness, with which the lines are delivered combined with the childlike innocence of the night before, never really allows us to gauge what a masterful deception it is. Aadam never refers to anything like soul or heart. This sets the scene for the very next moment in which we see Aadam grabbing Nooran’shand, though jokingly, but forcibly. The harmless and playful flirtatiousness transitions into a mild act of machoism. The villagers intervene; scene is concluded but its echoes are unanswered that “had villagers not intervened, where Aadam would have stopped with his physical joke?”

The line “I want you in flesh and blood.”,said in a folkloric/mythical staging with a tinge of charm, manifests itself with haunting effects in a more realistic staging after a tragedy. Aadam marries Nooran. However, as he wished, Nooran is there in this wedlock only with her body (flesh and blood). The illusion of her vocals, that smitten Aadam, is not there and so is not there that spirited playfulness of hers which we witnessed in that flirtatious scene.

It is an irony that a woman, once, whose singing was a cure for scorpion’s poison, has herself been, psychologically, poisoned. The man who preferred real over illusion ends up realizing that the real is so very hollow without its illusion. This paradox, of real and illusion, justifies the setting of desert for where else we can have mirage to lose our ability to distinguish between what is really and what is not. This dichotomy runs consistently and, to some extent, personified as well.

Nooran is not as oblivious to worldliness as she comes across initially. Her grandmother, Zubeida (Waheeda Rehman), firmly believes that divinity in their voices is God’s gift. It should be used to serve mankind. Whereas Nooran, occasionally, monetizes this gift of God. When protested by her grandmother, she would give up the money, but not entirely. A part of it is kept by her. Thus, if we had Aadam’s innocence scaled up in comparison to Munna’s lust, Nooran’s practicality and worldliness come across as sin against Zubeida’s purity and devotion.

However, all this does not mean that both the lead characters have one shade in abundance in them. Both Aadam and Nooran have enough of both black and white in them. This greyness in their characters is conveyed, at first, through the ploy of duality. One shade of their personality is shown through themselves only, but the opposite shade is shown through Munna and Zubeida like counterparts.

This dichotomy is further highlighted in a scene where for her perfect singing, Nooran gets a prized possession of her grandmother but only after losing her artistic self to a treacherous night and a lecherous man. This works as foreshadowing as well to hint that she would get the ultimate prize only after losing herself. This is a very pivotal moment. Apart from cementing this running theme of dichotomy the scene culminates with a strong metaphor. Zubeida truly proves to be a personification of purity and she goes missing after that night to indicate that purity of Nooran goes missing as well.

These grey shades of characters are not broad strokes but are meticulously painted. So much so that a frame comes in the film in which dunes are brown, camels are brown, and Aadam’s (camel trader) cloths are brown. This is a world where you can not differentiate between animals and men. These men bury a lot of their motifs in these dunes. The extravagance of visuals allows screenplay to be a very matter-of-fact kind. Zubeida disappears just like that. A twist is revealed without any shock or surprise element. All this is by design.

After the crucial reveal there goes revenge planning and plotting but it goes in a routine manner. This routineness of screenplay allows deceptions to run deeper. Nooran’s first touch to Aadam is a deception for one of them, Aadam’s comradeship with Munna is a deception for one of them. At some point of time or the other, in their marriage, one of Nooran and Aadam, hides something from the other. But at the same time, one of them loves the other unconditionally, at some point of time or the other. It is that much twisted and flawed a love story about that much flawed and complex characters which sets up the stage for a climax that is a perfect fit for this world of myths, mirages and matter-of-facts.

Robbing someone off his life should not always imply death. Death can be salvation but revenge demands taking life away. Thus, we have an ending where Aadam is left alone with the vastness of desert to search for his song of scorpions but this time with a difference that neither flesh and blood nor illusion is there to be seen.

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