Depicting the 'other India'

Depicting the 'other India'

Consider Matrubhoomi, which released a few years back. The film took a futuristic look at a small pocket in India that thrives on female foeticide and infanticide. Directed by Manish Jha, Matrubhoomi – a Nation without Women, opens with the shocking shot of a newborn female infant being drowned in a cauldron of milk. The director takes a time leap into a future in the same village, now devoid of a single female member. Men are forced to hang on not only to homosexual relationships but also to perverse forms of bestial behaviour to gratify their physical desire.

Set in Bihar, Matrubhoomi transports the situation into an undefined time zone. What happens when a young and pretty girl suddenly lands in this no-woman’s land? The film is pessimistic and morbid, but is also grippingly brutal that spares no niceties to drive home its point. Film analyst Ramkamal Mukherjee narrates an interesting incident about a NRI’s response to Matrubhoomi. “When I stepped out after watching the film, I met my friend David who was about to leave for San Francisco where he lived. He said he was terribly disturbed by the film. ‘The visuals will keep haunting me for a long time,’ he said,” remembers Mukherjee.

Another film set in rural India is Mohandas, directed by cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Mazhar Kamran. The film is based on a short story called ‘Mohandas’ by Uday Prakash, which is inspired by a real life incident experienced by the writer’s friend in Madhya Pradesh. The four things Mohandas has in common with Gandhi are his first name, honesty, integrity and his pacifist attitude towards life. Born into a family of a very poor weaver, Mohandas tries to rise above his class through the only way he can — by getting education.

He becomes the first graduate in his community and applies for a job at the Oriental Coal Mines in Annupur and is even selected for a good post. When the call to report does not come, he goes himself, but they throw him out and bash him up saying that he is not the Mohandas he claims to be and that the real Mohandas has already filled up the vacancy! Kamran chose his ensemble, non-starry cast from television that vested the characters with credibility. The film moves from the political to the personal, evolves from an investigative news story to the personal quest of Mohandas and focuses on is his way of rebelling against a system that played a vital role in conspiring with those who stole his identity. He no longer needs an identity that is stained with the blood of corruption and daylight robbery of a person’s name, identity and life. 

On the other hand, Madholal Keep Walking directed by Jai Tank, is about a simple man of a Mumbai chawl whose world comes crumbling down when he falls victim to a bomb blast in a Mumbai local train. He loses a limb and with it, his purpose of keeping alive. He loses faith in everything around him, including himself. The film is a telling comment on how one cowardly act of terrorism can put a man’s character and grit to test. Subrat Dutta who played the character of Madholal, won the Best Actor Award at the Cairo International Film Festival last year.

And it’s not just rural India, but social evils that are prevalent there that inspire filmmakers to make such genre-defining films. Antardwand for example, directed by Sushil Rajpal, talks about groom abduction, which still practiced in many villages. The picturisation, editing and presentation of the shots that show the groom being kidnapped, tortured physically and mentally and his subsequent marriage are shocking. Sushil Rajpal, director of Antardwand says, “This is just one side of the larger story. What propelled the director in me was the other and more moving part of the story — such forced marriages wreak huge emotional damage on both, the girl and the boy.”

Another recent film that takes satiric pot-shots through its tongue-firmly-in-cheek stance on farmers’ suicides is Peepli [Live]. The story is about a poor farmer who decides to commit suicide so that his family can access a government grant. Powerful and corrupt vote-hungry politicians try to exploit the situation for their own nefarious ends and the electronic media jumps on to the bandwagon for high TRP ratings that such ‘juicy’ news will bring them. Despite the dark premise, Rizvi makes the film entertaining instead of infusing it with morbidity and hopelessness.

Says film analyst Taran Adarsh, “The concept would instinctively translate into a serious, thought-provoking film. But Peepli [Live] took a grim and solemn issue, turned it into a satire, garnished it with populist sentiment and made a far greater impact than a mere documentary. Like all Aamir Khan films,  this film too marries realism with a winning box-office formula brilliantly.”

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