BIRZHAN AND SARA
Fairground festivities in the Kazakh village of Kulyandy. Traditional folk entertainment – wrestling, anklebone shooting, swings. Young Yestay brings good news to the villagers: his friend, everyone’s favourite, folk singer and poet Birzhan is coming. The most excited is a young girl named Altynay, who is in love with the young poet. She tries to find out from Yestay, if Birzhan thought of her during his journeys. Yestay tries to laugh it off and avoids giving a direct answer. But the girl manages to find out that Birzhan’s mind is captivated by splendid Sara – an inspired folk singer. She is also going to come to the festival – and the audience will witness a creative competition between Birzhan and Sara, the two renowned masters of folk singing. Birzhan’s song, praising his homeland, is heard from afar. The people joyfully welcome their favourite. But the celebration is overshadowed by the appearance of the rich Zhienkul, an all-powerful landowner. He brings his large retinue, guards and servants. Among them is the sneaky and smooth-tongued Serik, the bodyguard of the despotic local ruler Zhambota. The ruler himself shortly appears as well. The appearance of the splendid Sara does not escape Zhienkul’s attention; her beauty amazes him. Sara’s thoughts are only with Birzhan, and Birzhan thinks only of his beloved Sara. After greeting each other the folk singers start a debate of which song is better. Sara sings songs of mirth and joy, while Birzhan sings about struggle and wrath. The singers’ debate is interrupted because the rich Zhienkul summons Sara – she is to be his fourth wife. The girl refuses to obey. Birzhan addresses the rich Zhienkul and the ruler Zhambota with a sharp diatribe, and answers the ruler’s threats with a witty song, mocking Zhambota. The ruler orders his guards to seize Birzhan, but the people protect their favourite singer and force Zhambota and his entourage to leave the fairground.
Birzhan is sitting in front of his yurt on the banks of a lake, singing passionately of his beloved Sara. Birzhan’s old mother is worried for her son. His father, cowardly and cowed by hardships, is even more worried, for he has been warned by the mullahs about the dangers of going against the rulers. But Birzhan is not scared of the tsar’s minions and the opulent. He is not alone, the people are with him. Birzhan readily tells his friends the stories of his travels, about meeting the remarkable poet and advocate of freedom Abay; he sings to them Abay’s marvelous songs. Birzhan’s beloved Sara is among the youth who came to see him. So is her rival – Altynay. His faithful friend Yestay manages to distract the jealous girl. Left alone, Birzhan and Sara swear to each other eternal love and faithfulness. But danger already lies in wait for the lovers. Zhambota and his guards force Birzhan away from Sara and take him to Zhienkul’s house.
Lavish and rich is Zhienkul’s wedding. Songs, dances, games. Wanting to help his friend Birzhan and save poor Sara, Yestay decides to scare the rich landowner and his guests. He spreads the word that Birzhan has lost his mind from grief – a madman is more dangerous than a wild beast. As he expected, these news quickly reach the rich landowner. The festivities go on, merry songs do not stop, and the guests dance and propose toasts. At the ceremonial moment of the groom’s entrance, the guests scatter, shocked by the appearance of Birzhan. Terrified, the groom flees as well. Alone with Sara, Birzhan proposes to run away to distant lands where Russian friends can help them. But driven by blind jealousy Altynay brings the guards to them. The brave poet is determined not to give up – the enemies recoil from his dagger. But the sly Serik creeps up from behind and throws a rope around him. Birzhan is thrown into prison.