The Song of Scorpions is based on the Rajasthani folklore that songs can cure and prevent death from scorpion bites.
Watching the late Irrfan Khan on the big screen one last time, poetic shots of the desert and folk music that can heal sound like components of a promising film and a rightful farewell to Khan. However, 'The Song of Scorpions' not only disappoints, it also sickens. More than five years after its premiere at the 70th Locarno Film Festival, the film, written and directed by Anup Singh, has finally been released in India. Nooran (Golshifteh Farahani), a tribal Rajasthani woman, along with her mother Zubeida (Waheeda Rehman), provides traditional medicines for ailments and sings to heal those stung by scorpions. The zesty and free-spirited Nooran is reduced to ashes when tragedy strikes. With nowhere to go, she marries Aadam (Irrfan Khan), a camel trader, who has previously been pestering her for the same. Nooran (meaning sunlight) and Aadam (meaning earth, in this case, the desert) come together, but just like the sun and desert, they will always share a conflicting relationship. What follows is a tale of betrayal for nothing in Nooran's life.
The first and foremost striking feature of the film is its music. You cannot help but be fascinated every time Farahani, who is a musician herself, sings. Her relationship with singing faces love, loyalty, loss, and redemption, making the music a character in itself. The cinematography is no less. Be it Zubeida singing in the dunes, Nooran singing to the moon, women smiling shyly while listening to folk songs, or Nooran crying out loud, engulfed in her misery, the camera captures women of the desert poetically. The Song of Scorpions is a film full of contrast. Throughout the film, the visual contrast between the desert's harsh bright days and the deep dark nights makes for an apt background as the need for vengeance breeds when secrets are revealed. It delves deep into the dune-filled world of tribal Rajasthanis who live in huts amidst the vast deserts, away from the shadows of modernity.
However, the Rajasthani dialect is caricaturish, appropriated to make it more comprehensible for those who speak Hindi, thus making the dialogues suffer. Farahani's acting is raw in most scenes and underwhelming in others, but it, too, takes a hit due to her unconvincing accent. Shashank Arora as Aadam's friend Munna gives an impressive performance, but his accent, too, is difficult to understand. Perhaps most of the audience is going to theatres for this movie to watch Khan acting for the last time. But in this sphere, the film disappoints. Khan's acting is as seamless, authentic, and intense as ever, but the film doesn't utilize his potential fully, giving him lesser screen time than deserved.
The most disappointing part of the film is its script. For the most part, the aesthetics and the thrill draw you in with impressive twists. However, the closer the film gets to the end, the more disheveled its unraveling becomes. Discussing the climax in detail is an article for another day, as it requires giving away spoilers. But it is safe to say that glorifying the trope where women sacrifice themselves for revenge is problematic, not poetic justice. We need to stop promoting women needing to ruin themselves to teach others a lesson. Also, contrary to popular belief, women do not become 'lacking' due to abuse. Even after harassment, women are not 'poisoned', they are complete individuals. In this regard, The Song of Scorpions fails its protagonist as well as its potential miserably. Khan deserved a better adieu.
The Song of Scorpions is currently running in theatres.