Nagesh Kukoonoor is a fairly talented but not a consistent director. Sometimes he manages to pull off a perfect fairytale, like Iqbal. Sometimes he falls far short of the lofty idea he had so obviously constructed in his mind, as in the case of Teen Deewaren. Dor is an ambitious effort, trying to talk about a woman’s place in our society, about breaking free of that place in the society and how ultimately it is only women who can stand up for each other in a world where men make the rules. The tough part about taking such ambitious topics is that one can end up being merely preachy as in the case of Swades and lose focus easily. Dor manages to pull it off, but just about.
The movie talks about Zeenat (Gul Panag in a refreshingly non-Miss India avatar) and Meera (Ayesha Takia in a role that proves her worth as an actress). Zeenat is a battle-hardened woman who has made her own decisions all her life and for whom no situation is an insurmountable challenge. Meera, in sharp contrast, is a typical Rajput bahu caught in her small world defined by obedience to her parents-in-law and customs. Both women are deeply in love with their husbands. As the story progresses, their lives connect and Zeenat must go on a quest to ask Meera a great favour.
Full credit must be given to Kukoonoor for articulating what the life of a woman like Meera must be. She is clearly in an oppressive world, but has accepted it so well that she is absolutely unaware of it and her only concern is about missing her husband, Shankar, when he has to leave town. Even when the unforeseeable happens she accepts the fact that she is not a person who has individual rights and wants but is a cog in the great Rajput wheel. Ayesha Takia essays the role brilliantly, right down to flaring her nostrils before tears begin to role down her face. Zeenat, as the stronger woman, sometimes is not so convincing and seems a bit one-dimensional. Even towards the end when Zeenat finally faces a situation, which is beyond her control, and she is as vulnerable as she can be, the character still has some sharp edges. The greatest flaw of the movie lies in its dialogues. A lot of them come across as obvious and unnatural instead of being subtle and going with the flow of the movie – the statements on how society treats a widow and widower differently, the reconciliation between Meera and her grandmother-in-law, Zeenat’s entreaties to Meera to break free.
All the above is quibbling though. I guess when one watches a movie like K.A.N.K the temptation to point flaws never arises because there are far too many of them to even make a logical beginning. In a movie like Dor, which almost reaches perfection, the rough edges stand out starkly and you end up feeling like Farhan Aktar wanting to remake some parts.
In the ultimate analysis, Dor is a movie that has a heart. The scenes where Meera and gang spontaneously break into a dance, the scenes where Zeenat’s Man Friday imitates various movie stars and where Meera’s mother-in-law is reminded of the ephemeral nature of the privileges she enjoys in her society make you want to smile, laugh and applaud. And just for that, the movie is worth watching.