Cast: Saurabh Shukla, Kunal Kapoor , Radhika Apte, Gulshan Grover
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
Rating: * * *
Runtime: 112 mins
Set around a remote principality in Odisha, now in utter ruin through water scarcity, this film sets about it’s water politicking by featuring two villages in a bitter caste and class based feud that has carried forward through several generations.
Meant to be a satire on the misuse of a precious and irreplaceable natural resource- water, this film gets a little too heavy handed with the dramatics to score punchy winners along the way. Nevertheless it’s noble intentions are quite sound and the pathway to it’s expression is also quite meritorious.
Water has become the new currency for Upri goan, a once rich principality, now in utter decadent ruin due to water scarcity so the Raja sahib Brij Kishore Singh Deo (Saurabh Shukla) has no alternative but to seek buyers for the expansive property holdings. Unfortunately for him no one is interested and his only son Rajesh Singh Deo (Kunal Kapoor) is not much for getting the property back into decent shape. The neighboring village though has a rich source of water, a lake spawned from a wall erected to keep the lower castes away from the Upper castes of Upri village. The water rich village, Bairi, has a former wrestler Kharu pehlwan (Gulshan Grover) as it’s Mukhiya/chief. And his pretty daughter Paro (Radhika Apte), an agriculturist, advises them on increasing their yield and quality of rice crop which is much sought after by the neighboring regions. In order to get a handle on their water problem Brij Kishore and his son Rajesh hatch a plan that will lure Paro into a love-trap and consequences thereof, which would in turn ensure water supply to perennially parched Upri. But Brij did not expect his son to fall in love with Paro. The romance sets the two scions at war with each other and it takes the local politician, a temple priest and a whore to hatch a miracle that would get them to accept the inevitable.
Nila Madhav (I am Kalam) Panda always has a message to impart through his films and this one too carries that card forward. Set around 1985 in a fictional village somewhere deep inside Odisha, which has always been ruled by the Singh Deos this film tries hard to take a satirical look at respect for resources, caste divides, and rural life against the backdrop of a traditional love story with water as the new currency, but it’s nowhere near an accomplished achievement. Panda’s activist cinema gets interlaced with flat, unyielding theatrics which end up stifling the light-hearted vein he is trying to achieve. While the film is set in Odisha, a cinematically neglected cultural landscape there is nothing distinctive enough to lend cultural depth to the cinemascape he contrives.
Water politics set in a bygone age where caste and class were clearly demarcated makes for interesting viewing and the drama that ensues from warring regions trying to gain the upper hand in eking out a precious resource is quite worthwhile too. Unfortunately it’s not handled with the appropriate lightness or bitter-sweet subtlety required to deem it a satire. This film is quite engaging nevertheless- even if it doesn’t allow for any thought-provoking sentiment to come through. Saurabh Shukla’s strong presence and performance and a superbly choreographed and danced Sambalpuri number ‘Raangabati’ are clearly the highlights of this noble engagement!