A beautiful premise goes down the drain

A beautiful premise goes down the drain

Kaun Kitney Paani Mein
Hindi (U/A)
Cast: Saurabh Shukla, Gulshan Grover, Radhika Apte, Kunal Kapoor, Robin Das
Director: Nila Madhab Panda

Dystopian stories have gone from “Imagine a place where” to “Imagine a time when”. And director Nila Madhab Panda has moved along with it, bringing to life two villages where the contrast is the absence of water in one. While the village in the plains that harnesses rainwater is lush and green, the neighbouring village atop a hill has people using packets of water as currency in a weird barter system, from buying sex to sari.

“Kaun Kitney Paani Mein” begins with the landless king of the village on the hill killing his daughter and her lower-caste lover, and ordering all lower-caste people away from the village. These people go down and set up their own village in the plains, and harness rainwater well enough to make even barren lands arable.

Three decades later, when the old king’s son (the ever-dependable Shukla) plans to sell the village and go settle elsewhere, buyers are put off by the lack of water there. And the realities there don’t seem all that far-fetched! As his funds dwindle, his college-going son (a mediocre Kapoor) comes back and asks for money so he can study abroad. Instead, the man who is king only in name hatches a plan to send his son to plant his seed in the winsome daughter (an underused Apte) of the other village’s leader (a surprisingly chipper Grover), who aspires to be a state-level lawmaker.

But as we know, even the best-laid plans often fail, and that happens not just within the story but to it, too! A comical climax that sends all the wrong messages is hardly the best way out of a story that had been spreading the good word of water conservation all through the first half and well into the second!

The two most surprising acts in front of the camera are Grover, who is a breath of fresh air as a simple person with honest but lofty ambitions, and the penniless king’s “sewak”, or Man Friday, Robin Das, who has some of the best expressions and lines in the film. Behind the scenes, the crew seem to have done a stellar job of bringing out the contrast in the two villages, but there is little else to cheer about.

This film is still watchable, but not more than once.

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