(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on December 30, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/a-subtle-ode-to-survival)
Cast: Suraj Kabadwal ,Trimala Adhikari, Abhay Joshi, and others
Director: Manav Kaul
Rating: 5 stars
I can’t remember the last time a film made me well up within the first two minutes. Nothing upsetting happens. But the aura of aching despair that acclaimed poet-playwright Manav Kaul layers his debut film with is so pervasive that empty classrooms, a teenager’s memory of childhood, and the smile on a dark, wrinkled, obsequious face are all it takes to stir our empathy. Yet, the film isn’t depressing – with its quirky music, its comic timing, and the many ways in which its one song, Lal Gaind, is used, there’s something uplifting about Hansa too.
It’s hard to classify the film, and harder to analyse it. It doesn’t allow us to be detached enough to examine the lives of people we haven’t known, the mores of hillside villages we’ve only visited as tourists, the dangers we don’t associate with the innocence of rural life, and the inhabitants’ almost indifferent acceptance of whatever life throws at them, through the prism of a critic. To me, it’s a film made up of vignettes – a dripping paintbrush, a suspended ball, a lucky coin, a raunchy joke, a painted face, a cheap toy modelled on Mickey Mouse playing the drum, the mudguard on a lorry, a madman who defies death, the temporary kindness of thugs waiting to take over a house.
Kaul’s skill as a storyteller is in weaving so much into those images that we’re left not with an activist message, but a sense of deep respect for the people who live in these harsh landscapes, each of whom is lonely in his or her own way. We dislike some of the characters instinctively, and some appeal to us immediately. But, as the film progresses, we see each is simply looking out for himself or herself – there’s too much uncertainty in these parts for thoughtfulness. Nothing comes without strings attached. Which is why the tiniest friendly gesture means so much. Which is why some people are willing to do anything to protect those they love.
Hansa makes us think about the things we turn to for solace, when it appears that everything is going wrong. Times when the smallest stroke of luck becomes hugely significant, not because it matters so much, but because it gives us hope that things will turn out all right after all. Bolstering the story is the wonderfully-paced narrative, and the brilliant acting. Suraj Kabadwal and Nanu, playing the eponymous character and his friend, are naturals, while Trimala Adhikari’s soulful eyes convey so much that the dialogue can be kept minimal.
The Verdict: A film that shouldn’t be missed. Rush before Bollywood fare pushes it out of the cinema.