(Published in The New Sunday Express, on December 30, 2012)
Cast: Suraj Kabadwal ,Trimala Adhikari, Abhay Joshi, Kumud Mishra
Director: Manav Kaul
Rating: 5 stars
Note: The film is playing at select PVR screens across the country.
What must it be like to have plenty of land, and no money? In villages across this vast country, families deal with it every day, living their hours out under the shadow of dispossession as those empowered by money and connections go about grabbing their land. As we visit tourist resorts, do we think of what must have been there before? As we take pictures of apple-cheeked children in the mountains, do we wonder whether they go to school? Manav Kaul’s charming story triggers so much in one’s head that I had trouble coming up with a title for this review.
He takes us to a village that appears to be somewhere in Himachal Pradesh, where Chikku (Trimala Adhikari) and her brother Hansa (Suraj Kabadwal) live, with an ailing mother and snappy grandmother. We stay with them for less than a week, and yet we feel we know their entire lives. We see the dangers they live with, the things that make them smile, and the cruelty of the deceptively beautiful surroundings they grow up in, which forces them to be adults even as they scare each other about ghosts, long for toys, and play ball.
What is it that brings normalcy to the lives of these people? Because their childhood instincts are the same as ours, as those of us who grew up in urban settings. They play cricket, they build secret playhouses, they hide toffees in crevices they believe no one will find, they prank each other, they have crushes, they want to get in with the cool kids, they resent being made ‘Dummy’ in important neighbourhood games, they want friends who are truly soul mates.
And yet, theirs is a life we have not known. A man has been forced to abandon his family, and run for his life, and they don’t even know whether he’s alive. The village bully, who has a soft corner for a spirited girl, tries to establish his standing by using English words, to the exasperation of his father. A lecherous villager (Kumud Mishra) offers money to a poor family, but the offer is conditional. An oily middleman (Abhay Joshi) goes about usurping land, snapping at the weak, and turning obsequious when a businessman arrives. A little boy sends messages to his “friend in the city” in the only way he can. A studious child swears he hasn’t given his mischievous friend up, even when subjected to what he considers torture. Throughout, there are subtle signs of how the village has adapted to the tourist potential of the area.
But the mood of the film is so well tempered that we’re given enough relief from the haunting wretchedness it brings home to us. From attempts to return a stolen coin, to a tea-slurping contest, and the antics of a madman who refuses to be cowed down, there are moments that lift us from its dark undertones. And what we take away from the film is the sense that hope survives despite all odds, life will assert itself in the most brutal climates.
The Verdict: If you don’t live in a city where the film is playing, it’s worth making the journey for it.