Singing Sand and Scorpions

Irrfan Khan as a camel trader in The Song of Scorpions.

Writer-director Anup Singh talks about his cinematic venture The Song of Scorpions, starring Irrfan Khan, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and Waheeda Rehman.

His last film Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost captured the attention of critics. It even won the award for Best Asian Film at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. His latest film The Song of Scorpions had a houseful India premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival 2017, with a serpentine queue outside the theatre.

Geneva based writer-director Anup Singh has been described as an auteur who has the exceptional ability of ‘conjuring intense feelings and capturing human emotions’ through his films. His stories have also had a strong influence of folklore. Talking about his latest tale set in Rajasthan’s Thar Desert, the filmmaker admitted that he had a great regard for folktales. “Folktales talk about emotions that are not direct. They speak to us. That has been an enriching and enlightening aspect for me as a filmmaker,” he said, adding, “Today, cinema is formulaic. But every filmmaker has to find his own logic and trigger for stories. It’s not about how you are supposed to do a film but how you want to do it. That has been my attempt.”

Golshifteh Farahani in The Song of Scorpions.
The Song of Scorpions stars Irrfan Khan, Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani and Waheeda Rehman. The story follows the perilous journey of a tribal woman Nooran (Farahani) and a camel trader Aadam (Khan) after their lives collide amidst sand dunes and scorpion-songs. After a magnetic collaboration in Qissa, Singh brings back his favourite actor Irrfan Khan to play the rustic Aadam in this desert drama. “Irrfan is like a musical instrument which starts playing with a little wind touching it. He is very flexible. Also, with me, he manages to embody a character without making it too evil or goody-goody. He becomes just the character. We will soon be doing our third film together,” Singh revealed.   

However, the surprise package in this film is Farahani, who becomes the Hindi speaking Nooran as effortlessly as she sings folk songs from the desert region. The acclaimed actress has been banned from entering her homeland Iran after posing nude in a French magazine. She has been living in exile for almost five years now. Hence, according to Singh, Farahani has been poisoned by treachery in real life like his character Nooran in the film. “The state of exile opened up a lot of Nooran’s within Golshifteh. Nooran’s displacement resonated with her,” he stated, pointing out that it was Irrfan who first suggested her name for the role.

The Song of Scorpions also has Waheeda Rehman in a never seen before avatar as the revered scorpion-singer and Nooran’s grandmother. “When I first approached Waheedaji, she said she had retired from films and wished me luck for the film. Nevertheless, she asked me about the role. So I said it’s about a woman whose singing blossoms flowers in a desert. Listening to that, she said, ‘I will do it.’” recalls the elated director, adding, “She not only agreed to do the role but for the first time in her career, she sang in a film.”

Along with having a fantastic bunch of actors on board, Singh is also proud of the fact that every single material for this film has come from the desert. The music being at the top of things. “There is one kind of music in Rajasthan that people are aware of. But there is another kind that the women sing. There are songs of daily rituals, songs for every little occasion and event in their lives. These songs are not known as women are not allowed to sing in public. I recorded these sitting outside the boundary wall of these women’s homes. And we created our music from that,” Singh narrates.

Apart from the surrealism of folklore, the real magic of The Song of Scorpions truly lies in its songs. Singh is surely set for another successful run with this film after Qissa.


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