Bollywood’s real life in Reel
The several small-budget films released in recent years have explored real life incidents by fictionalizing them through a story extending from fact. Some of them have done very well, some have done just about average business while some have fallen by the wayside. The USP of these films is not the small budget but the truth behind the fiction – the ‘other India’ that is cleverly hidden behind India Shining. TWF Correspondent Shoma A. Chatterji analyses
Let us take a few steps backwards into time and consider Matrubhoomi, 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 ritually 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 it 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. He said it is a film that can send the entire planet crazy. ‘The visuals will keep haunting me for a long time,’ he said,” remembers Mukherjee.
Mohandas, directed by cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Mazhar Kamran is based on a short story called Mohandas by Uday Prakash taken from the real life incident experienced by his friend in Madhya Pradesh. The four things Mohandas has in common with Gandhi are – his first name, his honesty, his integrity and his pacifist attitude towards life. Born into a family of a very poor weaver, Mohandas tries to rise above his class the only way he can – a good and solid education. He becomes the first graduate in his community.
He 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 to his getting back into his shell of poverty and ignominy. It 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.
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 the bomb blast in the Mumbai local train some years ago. He loses a limb and with it, his purpose of keeping alive. He loses faith in everything around him, including himself. The solidarity of his family – wife and two children, who back him, is a telling comment on unity in desperate and impoverished times. There is also the shadow of terrorism lurking behind around every corner.
The film is a telling comment on how one cowardly act of terrorism can put a man’s character and grit to test. Life makes Madholal realise that he must keep walking. Subrat Dutta who played the central role of Madholal, won the Best Actor Award at the Cairo International Film Festival last year.
Antardwand, directed by Sushil Rajpal, is based on the true story of how a modern young man who has appeared for his IAS examinations to fulfill his father’s dreams is kidnapped by the father of a marriageable girl and forcibly imprisoned in a locked room with the girl, against her wishes too, for some months. This is a common practice that goes by the phrase Pakrauah Shaadi in north India and Bihar. The film disturbs and shocks more than it entertains. It tell us things we never even heard about.
The picturisations, editing and presentation of the shots that show the groom being kidnapped, tortured physically and mentally and his subsequent marriage makes your hair stand on end. The daughter’s sharp reaction in the end is brilliant. The ambience of the film is authentic, enriched by the use of Bihari, the place setting capturing the backwaters of Patna, and the actors who inject life and soul into the realistic characters they portray.
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.”
“Whether deserted or divorced – the life of a hapless girl in such a claustrophobic society becomes a hellish and endless journey. She bears the stigma of being married but not married. I made it on a shoe-string budget of Rs.1.5 crore.”
The subject of farmers’ suicides is not an entertaining one. But Amir Khan’s new film Peepli Live, counters this theory. Written and directed by Anusha Rizvi, the film takes satiric pot-shots through its tongue-firmly-in-cheek stance on farmers’ suicides. The story is about a very poor man who offers to take his own life 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. But Rizvi makes it entertaining instead of infusing it with morbidity and hopelessness.
Says film analyst Taran Adarsh about Peepli Live: “The concept would instinctively translate into a serious, thought-provoking film. But Peepli Live takes a grim and solemn issue, turns it into a satire, garnished it with populist sentiment and makes a far greater impact than a mere documentary. Like all Aamir Khan films Peepli Live marries realism with a winning box-office formula brilliantly.”
Most of the actors are Adivasis from the village of Bhadwai in Madhya Pradesh while other cast members such as Omkar Das Manikpuri are from playwright Habib Tanvir’s theatre troupe Naya Theatre.
Truth in any form, extracts its own price. But the commitment and the rewards make it worth the filmmaker’s aim of reaching it to the masses.