In Custody (1994)

ISMAIL MERCHANT

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB

United Kingdom/India, 1994.  Merchant Ivory Productions, Channel Four Films.  Screenplay by , , based on the novel by Anita Desai.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

A columnist and teacher of Hindi (Om Puri), lamenting the dying of the Urdu language in India, convinces his magazine editor to let him spend time interviewing a famous poet (Shashi Kapoor) who is now an aging, drunken mess. What he discovers is a self-destructive lout with two bickering wives and a host of mooching friends who all get in the way of Puri’s ability to capture the essence of this great writer on tape before he departs the earth for good. Ismail Merchant’s directorial debut has all the elements of a classic, including a plot concerning the power and possibilities of art, a backdrop of beautiful landscapes and rich characters with varying motivations and personalities. Somehow, though, it doesn’t come together, and the film is a stultifying bore. Kapoor and Puri are wonderful, while Shabana Azmi steals the show as the second wife with career schemes of her own.

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