Sunday, March 03, 2019


Call Of The Ravines

Abhishek Chaubey, who has mapped the Indian hinterland in his earlier films, goes to the Chambal ravines, that once featured in dozens of films with horse-riding dacoits. In Sonchiriya, a character laughs at the stereotype, who ever heard of bandits on horseback. The baagis (outlaws) in the film can drive cars (how and where did they learn?) and unlike the Gabbar Singhs of Bollywood, are a tired bunch who have come to believe that prison might be better that this life on the run, constantly looking over their shoulders for bullets that could come from the gun of a cop or a rival gang.

The film is set in the mid-seventies, when Emergency was just declared. Daaku Man Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) and his deputies, Lakhna (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Vakila (Ranvir Shorey) are recovering from a trauma (which is revealed later), that haunts them and makes them question the “baaghi’s dharma.”

In this film the bandits may loot and kill without any twinge of conscience, but they have a code of honour that dictates that they do not touch the bride whose wedding party they have hit;  Man Singh even makes Vakil gift some money to the wailing bride. Chaubey wants to portray these men as noble, but without any back story, it is tough to sympathise with them, and see the pursuing policeman Virendra Singh Gujjar (Ashutosh Rana) as a villain.

Their numbers decimated by the cops (no tears for the men in uniform doing their jobs?) the gang is on the run with inadequate weapons, but Lakhna still insists on talking along Indumati (Bhumi Pednekar—small but effectively played part), who is trying to take a brutalized young girl to the hospital. She has also killed her father-in-law who raped the child, for which her own young son wants to shoot her dead. In the caste hierarchy, she says, women are the lowest of the low.

Chaubey has, with the help of the cinematographer (Anuj Rakesh Dhawan), captured a bleak but stunningly beautiful landscape, wrecked by the violence unleashed by toxic machismo, caste and class divides and a disturbing contempt for women, that gave birth to Phoolan – or Phuliya, she appears later in the film, a woman of courage and compassion.

For all its merits, this story of revenge and redemption has been done before, and without the addition of a folkloric element (that the best Hollywood Westerns manage), Sonchiriya looks dated; it is made somewhat watchable by the strength of its performances—Manoj Bajpayee is brilliant as usual, but the transformation of Rajput and Shorey, and the conviction with which they play their roles is remarkable.

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