Issue 72 (2021)

Yolqin Tuychiev: 2000 Songs of Farida (Faridaning ikki ming qo’shig’i, Uzbekistan, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

Secrets of Grandmother’s Chest

faridaRecently the 6th Asian World Film Festival (10–15 March 2021) ended in Los Angeles, where the film by Uzbek filmmaker Yolqin Tuychiev 2000 Songs of Farida won the Snow Leopard Audience Award. In November 2020, the film had been honoured with the Grand Prix at the festival of CIS countries, Moscow Premiere, while the world premiere had taken place in Busan at the end of October 2020. The film is a significant phenomenon for the cinema of Uzbekistan in 2020 for another reason: it represents an artistic breakthrough in the contemporary history of Uzbek cinema, marking “the collapse of an old order and the arrival of a new,” in the words of the awarding festivals.

The film’s events unfold in the early 1920s. With the example of a single family, the film tells of the historical events at the beginning of last century in Turkestan, which changed the life of the population in these regions. Far from the adventures of the time, in an almost secret location, General (Dokhdo) Komil leads an apparently carefree and comfortable life with his four wives after having retired from military service. Farida, the fourth wife, arrives at his family home for a special reason: he hopes that she will bear him a long-awaited child. Komil is already sixty years old, and the other wives could not produce any heirs.

The arrival of the new woman in the family is not pleasant for everybody. The beautiful redhead Robiya (the second and, perhaps, most beloved wife) starts feeling hostile toward the newcomer at once, as soon as Farida has made the first steps in the hidden family home. More and more disagreements surface in the relationship between the women, and social quakes erupt in the society around, shaking up the stable and settled order of this household.

faridaUndoubtedly, we must look closely at the place of the family residence of the retired Bukhara general. It is—in the imagination of the production designer Bektash Radzhabov—an Uzbek courtyard with clay-plastered buildings for habitation and housekeeping in an absolutely unexpected place. The actor Bahrom Matchanov, who played Komil, says: “My hero left his palace in Bukhara. He thought that nobody would ever find him and nobody would bother him. He wanted to live happily and quietly in an invisible space with his family. And that’s what he did: when someone rides up to his accommodation, they first see nothing. The house and all the extensions are in a crevice created by a quick water stream during a high water in the spring.” The Estonian producer Tatjana Mühlbayer comments: “This necessary safe-haven is connected with Komil’s shame as a man: he has several wives but no children, and that means shame. On the other hand, there is his unwillingness to serve: noblemen must wear a uniform and be military men, but not all were ready to kill.”

When Komil brings Farida home in a carriage, he stops suddenly, apparently for no reason, in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains. He squints, as if he wanted to make sure that this is the right place, and starts whistling. Instantly, as if from under the earth, a girl jumps up, his youngest wife Makhfirat—she is only 19 years old, but in the hierarchy of the protagonist’s wives she comes third. Makhfirat is an orphan, and the status as Komil’s wife has saved her from poverty. Farida is eight years older, but by her status she is the fourth wife.

faridaThe Uzbek film journalist Mussiyar Maksudova accurately describes the location: Komil moves the cart along a deep trench in the soil toward an inhabited courtyard with several rammed-earth constructions. Here is a narrow courtyard, canopies covered with branches, a square house and on the other side a lodge with one room. Several earthen steps in different parts of the yard make it possible to climb up the hill and onto the roof that stretches over the buildings and connects via the canopies (Maksudova 2021). The film was shot in the south of Uzbekistan, in the reserve Boysun in the Surxondaryo Region listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

2000 Songs of Farida deals with the events in the Muslim region of Turkestan at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, nowadays broadly the territory of Central Asia. Under Islamic law, wealthy people could have several wives, at most four. In the process of the film, it emerges that Komil actually supports five wives: the most senior wife, Hayrinisso, lives away from his home, in a cave in the Singing Mountain. Her feet are in fetters to limit the area of her movement. Once a day, the streetwise Makhfirat, whom Robiya calls “Wagtail,” carries a small bundle of food there. Often a shrill female voice can be heard singing from the cave. 

Farida asks: “Who is the woman, why has such a hard fate befallen her?” Farida tortures Komil’s wives with her questions. Husniya admits that she isn’t the first wife of their “owner.” Robiya shows a scar on her neck and says that Hayrinisso is ill in the head: “You can’t be near her, therefore she is in a cave.” When Farida starts reproaching the older sisters for abandoning Hayrinisso in danger, Husniya and Robiya remark that they can guess Farida’s secret.

faridaFarida quickly gets pregnant and the wise Husniya and Robiya understand that this is not from their husband. Neither of the senior wives could bear the husband a child. Komil’s passionate relations with Robiya over 10 years have not led to a pregnancy. Komil and the young Makhfirat also had no child. And suddenly the newcomer Farida conceives. Farida’s secret will be revealed soon. 

One of the best scenes in the film is a dinner without dialogue. On the roof, a cloth (dastarhan) is spread out, around it some light quilted mattresses are placed. The family members sit around the dastarhan, on which a large bowl (liagan) stands, with pilaf, and a wine jug. The four women have lowered their heads and wait for the husband to begin to eat the pilaf. But Komil first pours himself wine in a big bowl (kese). Then Robiya takes the jug: she has to pour the husband wine. Only after the second kese of wine, the master starts eating the pilaf. This is the sign for the women: they can join the meal. Robiya and Komil flirt with obvious pleasure. After the dinner they retire to the single-room lodge, which is located opposite the rectangular family house. The question of the consumption of alcohol in this scene arises: in the Uzbek lands the habit to drink wine has a long tradition, and continues as an exception in the religious rules.

Another issue concerns the film’s title: Farida does not sing, after all. According to the actor Matchanov, the songs in the film have a special significance, a position; they offer spiritual support for the heroines, and at their heart lies a poetry with a fantastically deep meaning. Tuychiev argues that the songs are of the future. Let us look at some lyrics of the songs sung by Robiya, Husniya, and Hayrinisso. In the wedding scene of Komil and Farida, Husniya repeats in her song that “the bride who comes from far away, tears flow in a stream.” Robiya dances and sings: “I haven’t caught up with my darling. My heart is full of blood. May her road be covered with flowers.” Farida is silent, and doesn’t react in any way to the words. Robiya then sings a frank hint: “If you’re here to kindle a fire, the Smoke will be visible in Fergana.” When Farida hears Hayrinisso’s song from the Singing Mountain, she is quite surprised by the words and says: “Strange. The creature sings lullabies and speaks with herself. For whom? That’s not clear.” So Hayrinisso has given birth to a child that died? Therefore, she has gone mad? But if Komil is infertile, she has given birth to someone else’s child? Or has she not given birth at all? Farida’s interpretations of Hayrinisso’s personal history are too close to her, Farida’s, situation?

faridaRobiya does not sing about Farida but seems to reflect in the songs on Hayrinisso’s difficult history: “Where do such things happens, that a pregnant woman caresses another man? In broad daylight he kisses her, and at night he goes to another, secretly from the world; what do you make of that?” Farida listens to the songs of all “elder sisters,” and winds up their content like yarn. Eventually, she learns who is in the cave of the Singing Mountain, and the theme of the songs she hears doesn’t leave her in peace. On the other hand, Robiya’s words are prophetical: a certain rider from far away tries to make out what happens in the hidden courtyard. Makhfirat makes his acquaintance when she fetches water or takes food to Hayrinisso.

Although Komil wanted to hide from the howling world in the crevice of a picturesque valley where he has created a seemingly ideal family shelter, he doesn’t manage to hide from the world. Either he is visited by White Guards, representatives of the once-famed imperial army; they explain to Komil that the old world order has been torn down, the past cannot be returned and he must run to near or far-away lands. Or he is visited by cavalrymen of the Bukhara army, who say that “the red commander Frunze has gathered an army in Bukhara. The leader no longer has confidence of the national guard, or their trust.” The Bukhara cavalry will take away all living creatures and Komil’s treasures.

Komil is under pressure. He has already met Farida’s lover, whose child she carries. He is the very same unknown rider who observes the family. This man was the secretary of Farida’s wealthy father. The girl once tells the story of her secret love to Makhfirat: “I constantly think of him, his caresses... Like any decent person, he sent matchmakers. But the father’s reproach... where you go. Everything’s crumbling. And here, the father decided, I can sit out all this chaos. God is my witness, we had the best intentions and agree in kind thought, our relations are pure.”

faridaKomil releases Farida with her beloved, and together with Husniya and Makhfirat. Komil releases Hayrinisso, brings her into the house, where none of the wives are left: Robiya has left first to join the Bolsheviks. There is no such thing as a “former” general: understanding that his days are numbered, Komil puts on his military uniform and waits for the soldiers of the new power. With them comes Robiya, and kills her ex-husband.

The transformations of Robiya’s image from Komil’s mean wife into a harsh commissar of the Red Army tells about the thematic similarity of 2000 Songs of Farida with the film The Orator by Yusup Razykov (1999). The speaker, the party orator, adapted to the new realities in order to keep his family with several wives, while Komil preferred death, previously having broken up his family. In The Orator the history about the establishment of Soviet power in Uzbekistan is shown through the relationship of Iskander’s three wives. The commissar’s mistress becomes his fourth and secret wife. The story is told from the perspective of Iskander’s son.

Fortunately, Tuychiev decided against the initial idea, suggested in the script for the film, to provide off-screen text in the finale.

The history of my family over many years under the Soviet regime remained a secret. In the line “origin” in my documents appeared the term “intelligentsia.” Grandma’s chest with the family secrets has always been tightly closed from people’s eyes, from people who could inform the authorities. To me, the grandson, she said that in spite of the fact that grandfather had four wives, he kept cattle and was a reputable man—her opinion didn’t raise any doubts. She never spoke about herself, only said: “I had to survive,” and with bitterness and regret she claimed that she was the only one of her family to survive the brutal slaughter, and was furrowed by the millstones of history.”

The final title in the script reads: “Dedicated to our grandmothers.” In the film there is no such text, no final title of a dedication to the grandmothers. After the departure from Komil, the Reds set fire to the courtyard and leave the killed Komil to burn in the fire. They leave to the sounds of the Russian romance “Black Eyes.” But Komil is not forgotten!

The era of the retired general Komil has come to an end, but in the memory of his former wife Farida he remains the generous man, who helped her remain live, keep the child, and reunite with her lover. The general was a strict person, sometimes cruel with his wives, but before his death he became a wiser man. He forgave Farida, released together with her Husniya and Makhfirat. Only the angry and arrogant Robiya couldn’t forgive her ex-husband whom she passionately loved.

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Gulbara Tolomushova

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Works Cited

Maksudova, Mussiyar. 2021. “Elkin i ego komanda.”, 24 Feb.

2000 Songs of Farida, Uzbekistan, 2020
Color, 110 min, Uzbek language
Director and scriptwriter: Yolqin Tu’ychiev
DoP: Bahadyr Yuldashev
Production Design: Bektosh Radzhabov
Editor Hurshid Alihodjaev
Sound producer: Anwar Fayz
Producers: Doniyer Agzamov, Shavkat Rizaev
Cast: Sanobar Haqnazarova Matchanov, Ilmira Rahimjanova, Yulduz Rajabova, Marjona Uljayeva, Sanobar Haqnazarova
Production: Uzbekkino, Fox Music Cinema

Yolqin Tuychiev: 2000 Songs of Farida (Faridaning ikki ming qo’shig’i, Uzbekistan, 2020)

reviewed by Gulbara Tolomushova © 2021

Updated: 2021