NOV 24, 2009 – AS THE DEBATE RAGES ABOUT WHETHER or not the winsome display of Kareena Kapoor’s bare back was absolutely germane to the narration of Kurbaan, I slink into a press-only screening of Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain), Satish Manwar’s Marathi film where the only backs are broken ones. Can a bleak story revolving around farmer-suicides be leavened with light doses of humour? The answer is a resounding yes – and the film, despite its fair share of finger-wagging touches like the government shill posing shamelessly for a photograph as he hands over a cheque to a farmer’s widow, manages to skirt the perils of the all-too-obvious message-movie. And the cast is excellent – especially Sonali Kulkarni, who’s never impressed me in her Hindi outings, but who dresses down admirably to imbue new shades into the hapless-housewife role we’ve seen a thousand times before.
HAOBAM PABAN KUMAR’S THE FIRST LEAP is among the quirkier offerings of the pre-festival. (I write this on the morning of the opening day, when the opening film, Wheat, is scheduled for the evening.) The director, who confesses to never having seen a Manipuri film in his life, sets about gathering the cast and crew of Matamgi Manipur, the first Manipuri feature film, made in 1972. The shambling short film has the feel of a class reunion, with friends having gone fat and wizened and bald (and, in some cases, toothless). The actors appear unable to see themselves on screen again, after 37 years, what with those long-ago fashions and those long-ago cinematic techniques. But there’s an understandable pride in having been a part of history – a history that would have been restricted to local legend were it not for Kumar’s efforts.
ALMOST THREE DECADES AGO, the director Bharathiraja, in his Tamil blockbuster Kizhakkey Pogum Rayil, centered his climax on the custom of a young woman forced to walk through her village without a stitch of clothing. Divya Dutta faces the exact same predicament in the Rajasthani film, Haat: The Weekly Bazaar, directed by Seema Kapoor, which recalls the custom “Natha Pratha,” wherein a woman who wants to leave her husband has to recompense him in some form. Kapoor’s aims are extremely ambitious – not only does she want to tell a modern-day story about an ancient (and regressive) custom, she also seeks to instill universality by having Dutta become a lightning rod for the humiliations of Woman down the ages. It’s ultimately a bit much, and the rah-rah climax is particularly ungainly, but the film does offer the opportunity to see a bunch of talented actors (Dutta, Yashpal Sharma, and especially Mukesh Tiwari, who actually gets to sing and dance) that, all too often, our mainstream cinema does not know what to do with.
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