20 Years of Zakhm: A Film About Communalism That is Just as Relevant Today

Bollywood

20 Years of Zakhm: A Film About Communalism That is Just as Relevant Today

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I

n a scene from Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm, when a young Ajay (Kunal Khemu) tries to reach his father over the phone, he is greeted by the slur “rakhyel ki aulaad” (son of a concubine). Ajay shudders, his skin having crawled into the back of his eye socket, waiting to pour out. But he keeps his resolve, at least for the first crucial moments in which his mother interjects. It is, after all almost true, perhaps even undeniable, the thing he has just been called.

That knowledge, and the desire to react to it at his tender age is evidence that Ajay isn’t just the love child of a forbidden relationship, sequestered from its truths. He is in partnership with this machine the sole product of which may be loss, and loss alone. At this point in the film, it is clear that Zakhm is a thoroughly adult world, its maturity born out of circumstance rather than wisdom. Wisdom that continues to elude India, amidst its sectarian politics and priorities.  

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