Reviewed by Lee Broughton
In 2001, Indian director Santosh Sivan brought us the excellent
Asoka, a bold and
successful attempt to infuse a traditional Bollywood historical epic with the kind of
production values and semi-art house aesthetics needed for such a film to be accepted by
a sizeable Western audience. In the same year, a young British director, Asif Kapadia,
travelled to India to make his own similarly-themed but really quite different film. Although
Kapadia used a crew that were mainly from Bombay, and ultimately drew upon elements of
his own personal knowledge of Asian culture and cinema, he chose to reject the conventions
of Bollywood and instead produced a film that evokes the best elements of the European art
house and world cinema traditions.
The Warrior (Irfan Khan) is the chief enforcer for a tyrannical
lord-cum-landowner (Anupam Shyam). He experiences a mystical vision while leading a
destructive raid on an unproductive village and vows never to wield a sword again.
Unfortunately, his plans to escape to the village of his birth are upset by a personal
tragedy that reduces him to a state of near-catatonic torpor. When his former lieutenant
(Sheikh Annuddin) is ordered to catch and kill him, another vision prompts the Warrior
to stagger into the desert. This marks the start of a journey of recovery and rediscovery,
which eventually results in the Warrior being 'reborn' through his interactions with
the people that he meets along the way.
Everything about this film seems to indicate that the action is taking place at
some point in the 18th century, but the locations are so remote, and the basic
elements of the story are so timeless, that it could conceivably be set in the
present day. The inspiration for the film's story can be found in a Japanese
folk tale and so it's not too surprising to discover that, when we first meet them,
the Warrior and his men bring to mind the type of characters regularly found in
the Samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. In fact, Irfan Khan really does look the
part. With his long hair, serious face and well-worn body armour, he cuts a moody
and threatening figure. There's a hint of Kurosawa in elements of the cinematography
too, particularly the impressively staged horseback sequences.
Reviews of the film's theatrical run also tended to make reference to the work
of Sergio Leone and David Lean. And the reasons for this are fairly obvious:
starting in the deserts of Rajasthan and concluding at the top of the Himalayas,
the Warrior's journey is a journey of epic proportions and it features some
exquisitely framed, sometimes almost painterly, ultra-wide shots of some
fantastic views and locations. The Leone influence seems to extend further,
taking in held shots, some extreme close-ups and a couple of scenarios where
the taciturn Warrior's intentions are communicated by a series of intense stares as
opposed to formal conversation. But Kapadia's approach here does not come across
as being derivative: the overall impression is that he is simply well versed in,
and consequently wishes to communicate via, the cinematic language associated with
grand and epic filmmaking.
When the Warrior first heads off into the desert, he seems to be walking
nowhere fast. Like Harry Dean Stanton's Travis Anderson character in Paris, Texas.
But he eventually finds himself back on the trail to his home village, seemingly
seeking some form of redemption by offering his help to people who don't really want
it. At this point the film almost becomes a kind of inversion of Clint Eastwood's
The Outlaw Josey Wales. First the Warrior attaches himself to a young thief
(Noor Mani) who is searching for a family and a place to live, having previously lost
everything during a raid on his village. There's an implication here that the Warrior
himself might have led the raid. Then the duo insist on tagging along with an old woman
(Damayanti Marfatia) who is trying to get to a Holy Lake in the mountains. She has
second sight and can detect the nature of the Warrior's past by simply touching his
face. The trio then impose themselves upon a traveller with a cart (Trilok Singh),
who isn't at all convinced that he needs their company. (Spoiler begins....) The Warrior
eventually succeeds in helping both the thief and the old woman find what they are
searching for but the film holds several dramatic false endings for him. And when
he finally reaches his home village, a surprise twist results in the Warrior's vow
of non-violence being sorely tested (....spoiler ends).
Kapadia himself describes The Warrior as being an 'Eastern' - that is a Western
that happens to be located in the East. I'd go along with that (just check out
the Warrior's arrival at a remote tea stall, etc) but such a description runs the
risk of selling the film short: it's been a long time since we've had a Western
that played as impressively as this film does. The sets, costumes and locations
are excellent and a feeling of real authenticity is added by some very natural
performances by several non-professional actors. Kapadia points out several
of these non-professionals during his fascinating and informative commentary: they've
all got their own back-stories and histories as real people and he his happy
to relay some of them to us. Both Noor Mani and Damayanti Marfatia are non-professionals
but they handle their main character roles extremely well. Irfan Khan is a
professional actor and he is simply superb as the Warrior. Even when Khan
successfully seeks to give an understated air to his approach (after the Warrior
has taken his vow of non-violence, cut his hair, disguised himself as a peasant,
etc) the Warrior's presence still remains commanding.
Dario Marianelli's soundtrack is a good mix of the type of dramatic, sweeping
scores more generally associated with period epics and slightly more modern
sounding, almost 'new age', pieces. His music both compliments and amplifies
the emotional themes that run through the film. The cinematography is top-notch
and virtually every other technical aspect of the show is of an excellent quality.
The film has been tightly edited but it unfolds at an unrushed and supremely
even pace, and it is so completely involving that it seems to run for much longer
than its allotted 82 minutes.
The extras are equally excellent. The interesting 'making of' documentary includes
interviews with most of the key players from the cast and crew and pertinent
footage from the shoot itself. There's not much in the way of studio fluff
present here. The 'deleted scenes' section is astounding, running to over
one hour's worth of some of the film's deleted scenes and alternate edits. These
are presented in chronological order, each complete with a commentary track by
Kapadia which he uses to explain why the scenes were dropped or the edits re-done.
It's almost akin to watching a completely different cut or version of the film
proper and the experience offers a real insight into the post-production construction
of this feature. Kapadia must be both an absolute perfectionist and an unflinching
tyrant in the cutting room to have commanded the deletion of some of this footage.
He remains amiable but unapologetic, repeatedly stating that his main concern was
to keep the story, and the Warrior's journey, moving along. While some might
applaud Kapadia's disciplined approached to editing, it's hard to find fault with
any of the excised sequences presented here. It is to be hoped that all of the
deleted footage is being kept safe somewhere because there is bound to be a time
in the future when the presentation of a longer cut of this fine film is
demanded by its public.
The picture and sound quality of the DVD are excellent. The film features
a Hindi dialogue track with English subtitles. The picture is anamorphic but
is presented in such a way that the 2.35:1 image fills the upper part of the
screen, allowing the subtitles to occupy the resulting unused space at
the foot of the screen.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Warrior rates:
Supplements: Director's commentary, four page booklet, deleted scenes with
commentary, 'making of' documentary, featurette, theatrical trailer and one of the
director's student shorts.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 29, 2002
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson