Sometimes when you are afflicted, the doc will ask you to run through a few tests, he’ll ask for your blood sample , have the slides analysed under a microscope and then tell you that you’re suffering from typhoid or pneumonia or whatever. He would’ve tracked down the virus or the bacteria , but he’ll never be able to tell you when and where exactly you got it from. All you can arrive at , while attempting to do that yourself , is a probable guess.
That’s pretty much the scenario when I try to pin down my addiction for movies . The conclusion is only an intuitive guess. I think I contracted the germ while sitting on the bench in the school hall waiting for the projector to start crackling. The hall , for the rest of the time were partitioned by wooden screens into different classrooms. Their removal would kickstart the excitement. We would help in arranging benches in close rows so that all of us could be accommodated. Some days we got prior notice, but at times the announcement would come unexpectedly and you can imagine the ensuing chatter and ruckus.
Mostly , they were documentaries. I remember films where tractors and acres of golden brown wheat figured a lot. I wonder where Mother Gabrielle, our Principal managed to procure them from. Probably a visiting relative from abroad. I don’t remember any follow-up discussion or explanation ever being given to us by the teachers on what we were shown. But it was such a welcome distraction from the normal routine.
And sometimes we were shown films ….real films with stories…”Do aanken baarah haath “, I remember and “Sohrab and Rustum”, though of that I don’t remember much.
As I said, I think I picked up the infection from there. But it’s one I wouldn’t want to be cured of. “The Colour of Paradise”, originally named “Khuda ke rang” , which I just watched ,sort of underlines that resolution.
The story of this film by Majid Majidi of Iran, revolves around a blind boy, Mohammed, whose sensitivity is so sharpened that he seems to in synch with all of nature . At the beginning of the film, he and the other children of the residential blind school, are getting ready to be picked up by their parents for the three month long Summer break. He is picking up all kinds of knick-knacks from below his bed..”Souvenirs” he corrects his teacher when the latter refers to them as junk. They are little gifts he has kept ready for his dear ones back home. All the kids leave one by one , but he is still sitting there on the cement bench , near the gate, waiting for his dad. He listens to the sounds from amongst the trees, recognizes the helpless cry of a little bird who had fallen from its nest and walks with tentative steps to locate it amidst the scattered leaves below the trees, shooing away an approaching cat and climbing all the way up the tree to restore it safely in its nest with its sibling. That is how we are introduced to this gentle lad .
His father arrives and his countenance speaks of a nature that is at total variance with that of his blind son. He seems weighed down by life , frustrated, angry, helpless and he would rather have the child continue staying there in the school than have him back at home. But he is compelled to take him away.
We weren’t familiar with Iran and Iraq, when in school. But we knew of Persia and Mesopotamia, from our history lessons about King Alexander and so on. In my mind then , these were deserts with a dreary terrain. I wonder why , but the image has stuck with me . It was such a wonderful surprise therefore, when this film suddenly burst upon my senses with the scenes of the forest, which the father and son traverse to reach their little village, and the beautiful landscape all around it….with rolling green meadows and stretches and stretches of flowers of all colours and quaint little houses with mud walls . The children looked so cherubic .His sisters looked like little angels and the three were so happy to be together again. They had lost their mother, which is when the father must have started feeling burdened. It’s their grandmother who takes cares of the kids…a gentle old lady with such a beatific smile on her wrinkled face. The affection is palpable . It comes out from the screen to envelope you in a warm embrace. The old lady’s hands are darkened from working in the fields and calloused..but the boy asks her…”how come your hands are so white and beautiful” ? and we realize that he can see through his blindness in a way we can never see with our “seeing” eyes.
The father is all tensed up. He is all set to get married again but dare not disclose the fact that he has a blind son. “They will be at her service” , he says of his two daughters , when he visits the girls’ parents to ask for her hand. They regard him a good match . They want someone dependable this time as her earlier engagement had not worked out. Back home , he talks of sending Mohammed away as an apprentice to a carpenter who is himself blind but is well established in his trade now. The grandmother is upset . She accuses her son of being concerned about himself rather than his blind son. He eventually carries out his plan .
There with the blind carpenter, the boy breaks down..”My teacher told me that God loved blind children more ..but why had he made us blind then , that we cannot see him? My teacher had said that God is everywhere and that we can feel him with our fingers.” The carpenter reassures him.”What your teacher said is true”.
The boy gradually settles down, learning about the textures of the different pieces of wood, always listening to the sounds around him, feeding the swans in the pond, finding alphabets and words in the breeze and the tips of leaves, the chanting of numbers in the call of the birds …he is one with nature.
The grandmother cannot stand it that her darling boy has been sent away and she decides to leave the house herself. Her son, Mohammed’s father, is overwrought .Hysterically he tries to explain his helplessness..how hard life has been for him, losing his father at a very young age, his wife dying to leave him behind to take care of two little girls and a blind boy..it had been five years and his life had been such a grind and he was scared of becoming old without anyone to take care of him. She listens , but continues walking. Hours later, he goes after her on his horse and finds her in a state of near collapse. He carries her back to the house and tends to her.
A few days later, he comes in to tell her that he had visited the boy and that he was well. She gives him her consent for the marriage. In a scene following the one in which her face is shown to be lit up with a strange peace and joy, we come to know that she has died. His engagement with the local girl is broken up as the death of his mother had made them feel that the match was not auspicious for their daughter. He is dejected.
You don’t feel the actor is just portraying a role here. You feel he is living it. So intense are his expressions and his body language. You feel sorry for him even while you wish that he could feel the love and tenderness that was breathing though every pore of his son’s body.
The father decides to bring his son back home. It starts raining and it is getting dark. Halfway across an old bridge , the planks crack and the boy lurches into the waters along with the horse. There are a few seconds when the father stands transfixed in his dilemma..should he find deliverance from the burden of a blind son and let him be washed away by the swirling waters….or should he try and save him.?Just a few seconds…the camera focusing on the man’s face captures the internal trauma so effectively…its like going to hell and back…just a couple of seconds…. before he rushes ahead along the river bank and dives into the water.
A few shots of the father battling through the tumultuous waters and then he is shown washed up on a deserted beach. He opens his eyes to the morning rays and looking aside catches a glimpse of his son lying on the sands ,a little further away. He staggers across to take him in his arms. He is dead and the camera catches him from the rear, one outstretched hand of his son catching the sunlight ..slowly ….the fingers are seen gently twitching ..as if he was feeling God through his finger tips.
Hossein Mhajoub as the father and Mohesen Ramezani (who is really blind) as the son ,were wonderful in their roles , as were the others. It was as if the camera just became a silent spectator to some scenes from the real lives of that family, whom destiny seems to stalk, with distressing surprises, at every turn. And yet we know , seeing the joy internally wired into the boy’s sightless vision and the angst of the father who could only dwell on what was missing from his life and never on the wealth of love that he had in his old hardworking mother and his children , that it is all a question of “seeing” life in the right way…to see the colours of paradise around us.
P.S. You can watch the film on You-Tube , if you want to.