Making its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, The Song of Scorpions, a Swiss-French-Singaporean co-production starring Irrfan Khan, gives audiences a taste of the sometimes poisonous relationship between men and women in patriarchal India.
Directed by Geneva resident Anup Singh, it will have pride of place at Switzerland’s most famous film festivalexternal link on Wednesday evening, being shown at the Piazza Grande outdoor screening area. The wet weather may put off some, but in the film’s setting – the arid plains and dunes of Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer desert – there’s not a drop of rain in sight.
At first glance, the filmexternal link could be mistaken for a tourism promotional campaign for “Incredible India”: miles of endless desert, quaint hamlets among the dunes, camel herders with not a care in the world, village women in colourful attire, and traditions and superstitions that showcase the “innocence” of local folk.
But the twisted love story between camel herder Aadam (played by Khan, of Slumdog Millionaire and The Lunchbox fame) and traditional medicine woman and scorpion singer Nooran (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) quickly reminds the audience that village life in rural India is far from idyllic.
The audience is forced to confront the mayhem a jilted lover is prepared to inflict on the object of his desire when things don’t go his way. The subject of rape – a recurrent theme in today’s India, where women are beyond tired of feeling unsafe – rears its head and society’s reaction towards a sexually abused woman is just as ugly.
The film encapsulates the schizophrenic relationship men can have with women: stalking coupled with admiration, attraction to free-spiritedness coupled with possessiveness, and willingness to sacrifice anything for love but readiness to sacrifice the woman if feelings are not reciprocated.