Indian actor Irrfan Khan was itching to play a romantic movie role when director Anup Singh approached him to star as the protagonist in The Song of Scorpions.
On the surface, Singh’s story looks like a stirring romance set in Rajasthan, but dig a bit deeper and you will find a lot of grey in his role. Khan was to become a camel trader, Aadam, who falls hopelessly in love with a bewitching healer Nooran (Golshifteh Farahani) who removes poison from scorpion bites through her music. As the movie progresses, the audience will discover shades to his personality that are morbid and perverse. The sumptuous romance with a strong folk-tale influence becomes a portrait of a toxic marriage that reeks of decay and betrayal.
“I have always been fascinated by a man and a woman dissolving into each other, their identities merging in a relationship,” said Khan in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!. But that didn’t mean he fully understood the character. The Indian National Award-winning actor isn’t shy to admit that he didn’t fully grasp his character Aadam or his actions, but it’s his faith in director Singh, whom he worked with in Qissa, that made him take the plunge to the dark side.
Irrfan Khan in ‘The Song of Scorpions.
“I am fascinated by Anup’s work. I am ready to do anything that he asks. He has a strange way of telling stories. He leaves space for you to form your own story… this is the kind of experimentation you do emotionally and intellectually,” Khan said. He never read his scenes, but let his instincts take over.
In this open-ended movie, Aadam’s character comes under the scanner when his friend reveals details about his personality that aren’t palatable. Nooran is a rape survivor who learns that her seemingly understanding husband may have orchestrated her assault by enlisting the help of his friend in order to acquire her as his wife.
“But how do you really know that whatever the guy told Nooran about Aadam was true?” asked Khan.
However, he adds that every man has a beast inside him and perhaps his actions to inflict pain on the love of his life was an emotional response rather than a cold-blooded, calculated move.
The truth is that we may never know. But the movie successfully triggered our thoughts on the rising violence against women in India and across the globe.
“Cinema doesn’t have the power to change society or change people’s minds. We are living in interesting times. Our society is a sexually repressed society, but on the other hand there’s so much openness on the internet… They [men] still see women as an object of desire,” said Khan.
According to the actor, the violence against women in India is going to exponentially increase unless society becomes more flexible.
“Let people meet and interact and understand the significance of a woman’s role. You are not complete without a woman’s role and that needs to be understood by a man. You cannot compare two genders and say that you are the weaker one or you the stronger one. Each gender has their own speciality and magic. They can only compete when you come together,” he said.
Khan turned prescient about what lies in store for India.
“Crimes are going to become more intense because of the dichotomy of sexual repression on one hand and on the other, there’s so much excess and access to porn, that the spiritual side of it is lost,” Khan said.
The Song of Scorpions culminated from the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi, an incident that sent shock waves across India and the world. But Khan believes that the film is unlikely to get a theatrical release in India and was made for the international festival circuits.
“I am pretty sure it is not for an Indian mass audiences. It was never made keeping in mind the Indian masses,” he said.