The intriguing drama, Country of Blind, featuring Hina Khan, Shoib Nikash Shah, Pradhuman Singh, Mir Sarwar, and Inaamulhaq, written and directed by Rahhat Shah Kazmi, is set to release on October 6th in the US.
Adapted from H.G. Wells’ 1904 story of the same name, the film transplants the tale from a fictitious mountain in Ecuador to the Himalayas of India. Set in the 18th century, Country of Blind follows the journey of Abhimanyu when he slips off a cliff and falls a thousand feet into a forgotten valley. He finds a country cut off from the rest of the world, where all the inhabitants are blind. What happens when a sighted man falls into a society that has existed for fifteen generations with no understanding of what it means to see? This movie explores the answer to that question.
The villagers do not have any concept about the world outside their valley. They don’t know many words Abhimanyu uses, like see, and Bhagwan. They call him India, thinking that is his name. They don’t know what to make of this strange visitor. They question first if he is a man, if he is honest, and then wonder if he is even sane.
Arrogantly, Abhimanyu decides quickly that “in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” and tries to assert his superiority. That does not work out at all for him; in fact, the villagers do not believe in what he calls seeing. They think that he is disabled. His ability to see becomes a liability. What happens next – how does he navigate this world, and what becomes of him? You will have to watch the film to find out.
Many parts of the film are very well done, but there are also glaring problems.
The main criticism I have is the overuse of exposition. It all begins with the backstory narration, with visuals that do not fit into the tale. It is not engaging at all. I think it would have been better if the myth and lore of the Country of Blind were revealed as actual scenes with dialogue. Also, the many, many narrations explaining the feelings of Abhimanyu were very distracting. It negatively impacted his performance. Don’t tell me how he is feeling. Show me.
The isolated society has been around for generations and originally, seeing people were part of their world. Many of the ways they live and have adapted to their environment was established long ago. It is fascinating to see these adaptations in action: the paths, the architecture, the use of fire, the farming, and the teaching of children are an incredible but minor part of the story. I would have loved to learn more.
One of the adaptations the villagers developed is the rock paths they walked on in special shoes. These paths allowed them to navigate the world safely by hearing the way. Unfortunately, the big dramatic music used in these scenes made it impossible to hear the sounds of their feet on the stones. It would have added so much if the filmmakers had allowed us to hear what they heard as they walked. It would have been more impactful, in my opinion, to have no music in those scenes.
Many parts of the film are well done—the essence of the story and how it is presented works. I won’t go into detail because you need to experience it. Still, one thing that really stood out for me is the way they incorporated the religious stories of India and how they changed over the years and generations—this aspect of the story grounded and added so much to the world. I loved the bird singing being a message from one of the character’s daada ji; it was needed and has stayed with me.
The performances by the entire cast are good, and for the most part, if you don’t nitpick too much, their performances make you believe they are blind. Applause must especially given to Inaamulhaq, Mir Sarwar, Jitendra Rai, and Namita Lal.
Shoib Nikash Shah as Abhimanyu was very good; his frustration, love, and acceptance were believable. Though, at times, I felt as if he was acting and not really being Abhimanyu. Hina Khan, as Gosha, is good in many scenes, but her dialogue delivery seemed off. I wish she had put more depth in the words she spoke. Again, I felt she was acting as Gosha, not really being Gosha. They are much better in the scenes together and manage to elevate one another.
In the end, it is a film with a very fascinating story that had great potential. Sadly, the shortcomings outweighed the positives. It is fine, but I wanted more. I wanted it to be great.
Reliance Entertainment is releasing Country of Blind in 10 cities in the US, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, NY/NJ, before it expands to other cities and then to India.