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Savant Pal Region 2 Guest Review:

The Warrior

The Warrior
Video Collection International Ltd
2001 / Colour / 2.35 anamorphic 16:9 / 82 min.
Starring Irfan Khan, Puru Chhibber, Sheikh Annuddin, Manoj Mishra, Mandakini Goswami, Sunita Sharma, Anupam Shyam, Noor Mani, Damayanti Marfatia, Trilok Singh
Cinematography Roman Osin
Production Designer Adrian Smith
Art Direction Roy Aguiar, Isolde Sommerfeldt
Film Editor Ewa J. Lind
Original Music Dario Marianelli
Written by Asif Kapadia and Tim Miller
Produced by Bertrand Faivre and Elinor Day
Directed by Asif Kapadia

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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