The Winter Within review: Zoya Hussain is spectacular in unsettling drama | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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The Winter Within review: Zoya Hussain is spectacular in Aamir Bashir's unsettling drama

Nov 09, 2023 10:18 PM IST

The Winter Within review: Aamir Bashir asks some difficult questions about Kashmir and its people with his new film.

Zoya Hussain--whom you will best remember from Prateek Kuhad's cold/mess music video--gives a fierce and moving performance in Aamir Bashir's Maagh (The Winter Within). She plays a Kashmiri woman named Nargis, searching for her husband Manzoor (Manzoor Ahmad Bhat), who has been detained after joining the emergency. This is not the romanticized Kashmir we see in Bollywood songs- most recently in Tum Kya Mile from Rocky Aur Rani ki Prem Kahani- which also starred director Aamir Bashir as Ranveer Singh's father. This is Kashmir whose beauty stands in a shocking contrast to its politics- one that has wrecked havoc on the lives of its inhabitants. Brutal and devastating, The Winter Within, which played at the recently concluded Dharamshala International Film Festival, sticks with you like a blood clot.

Zoya Hussain plays a woman searching for her husband in The Winter Within.
Zoya Hussain plays a woman searching for her husband in The Winter Within.

The Winter Within opens with a scene of a dead body being brought to a gravedigger, who then gently touches its forehead. It's a stunning choice for an introduction- setting the lyrical yet hard-hitting tone of what is to follow for the next 99 minutes. The scene then shifts to Srinagar, where we first spot Nargis in a closeup. She goes about her day working as a house maid for a wealthy family in Srinagar. Whatever free time she gets, she spends it doing embroidery work, with the help of the local man Yaseen, who has a fondness for her. Nargis's husband has been missing for some time, and she uses all her savings from her embroidery work to fend a police officer so that he can locate him. Little does she know that she is being conned. No one really knows where Manzoor is now. If he is alive or dead.

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When she's forced to leave her job, Nargis has no option but to return home to her village. Yaseen follows her there too, and requests her permission so that he can marry her. And then, all of a sudden, someone knocks on Nargis's door. Manzoor. From here on, Bashir turns the narrative into a drama unfolding through the tiniest of revelations about Manzoor's past. Moreover, how the haunted presence of Manzoor- who looks as if all the life has been sucked out of him- informs Nargis's present. In one scene when a doctor asks him about the methods of torture he has suffered in the recent past, Nargis is numbed to know the truth. A few moments later, the doctor throws an invasive question- why have they not conceived a child? What were they waiting for? "Azadi," says Nargis.

Stunningly shot by Shanker Raman, The Winter Within moves with immense confidence and poise. I was especially moved by the stark contrast of the warm interior scenes in Nargis's home paired with the chilly reserve outside- frozen and deserted. Still, the energy of the film drops in the second half, as the film shifts focus from Nargis to process the ways in which Manzoor tries to restart his life. Even if the narrative does bend towards predictable beats, the effective central performance by Zoya Hussain keeps it going. The Winter Within is an unsettling and essential piece of work, unafraid to face the deeply uncomfortable truths at the heart of Kashmir.

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