Nagesh Kukunoor is an interesting director. He has made some very relevant and beautifully directed movies, like his debut Hyderabad Blues and the tight and complex 3 Deewarein. But he has also directed some absolute disasters like the forgettable Hyderabad Blues 2 and the truly odious Bombay to Bangkok, upon watching which you wonder how it could possibly be the same director. Luckily Dor falls unequivocally in the first category.
Dor is a story of two women, Meera (Ayesha Takia) and Zeenat (Gul Panag), whose lives and outlooks are opposites, though not quite diametrical. Meera lives in a stark desert landscape of sun-bleached sands in Rajasthan while Zeenat lives in a lush green mountain town in Himachal Pradesh. Meera is the bahu of a traditional Hindu family, constrained to live austerely under a ghoonghat serving her in-laws. Zeenat is a progessive, independent, forward looking Muslim woman, living in a house of her own, dismissive of her in-laws’ misgivings about her. While Meera is childlike and young at heart, Zeenat is worldly-wise and mature for her age. There is no conflict between Meera and her in-laws, but they view her almost as property. Zeenat has a conflicted relationship with her in-laws, but they come to love and respect her.
Meera’s and Zeenat’s fates become intertwined when their husbands set off for Saudi Arabia in search of better financial prospects; an incident there has Zeenat traveling across the country to find Meera. The relationship between the two women and secret conflict underlying that relationship form the basis for the rest of the movie.
This movie is all about connecting with the viewer emotionally, but it is hard to summarize its emotional tone in a sentence. Kukunoor handles the various changes, from bliss to tragedy, and the various moments of joy and despair, deftly. The pall that is cast over the two women is lifted occasionally in various bursts of joy, with some comic relief mixed in. The underlying tension and unhappiness disappear and reappear intermittently throughout the movie, but return poignantly towards the end. A major focus of the movie is the problems faced by women in overly traditional settings, and it manages to convey these travails to the viewer very well.
The completeness of the movie is quite impressive. It grabs your interest and doesn’t let go. The pacing is a bit uneven, but this doesn’t diminish the viewing experience much. The cinematography is great and serves to both emphasize the beauty of and the differences between the two types of landscape in the film. Both the lead actresses, as well as the supporting cast do excellent jobs; the only lacklustre performance in this movie is that of Kukunoor himself in his cameo role as a businessman. Gul Panag does well in picking meaningful roles and is a good actress. Ayesha Takia does very well in her role as Meera. A minor grouch that I had was with the casting: while their acting was great, neither Gul Panag nor Ayesha Takia were quite able to capture the rustic personalities required of their characters. Takia is just a tad too glamorous; Panag is just a bit too assertive. Shreyas Talpade is adequate in his role as a thief-turned-good-samaritan.
I would categorize this as a must-watch movie: it has a message, is a study of certain situations, and at the same time manages to be entertaining.