Cast: Kunal Seth, Rahul Patel, Farrah Kader, Katarina Kajkus
Director: Bhavin Wadia
Rating: * * ½
Runtime: 110 mins
Farmer suicides have hit the roof all across the country and their plight is still just a footnote in the governments’ scheme. In the past few years more than 4 lakh farmers have ended their lives. There has been little effort to get at the root of the problem and try and figure out a way to help farmers cope with the loss of livelihood options brought on by undependable weather patterns and genetically modified seeds. ‘Project Marathwada’ hopes to become the last voice of the struggling, almost dying farmer. Unfortunately, this cry for help is so feeble that it’s more than likely that it will go unheard.
The film starts off in a parallel vein. Tukaram Ingale (Om Puri) is in a shanty with a rope around his neck and a fan on the floor. It’s obvious he has made yet another unsuccessful suicide attempt. The mobile rings and the relative whose house he is staying in, tells him to call a party politician, expressing hope that he will get help there. And Tukaram is willing to give it yet another try. Parallel to this track is the track of four college students reluctantly setting out to visit Nanded in the hopes of garnering material for their project on farmer suicides. The two tracks are set on a collision course of course.
The SUV carrying the students inadvertently crashes into Tukaram. Though Tukaram is unhurt, the students offer to take him to the nearest doctor and thus begins their journey of discovery. From the letters he is carrying in his bag, the students realize they have a live example of farmer anguish just waiting to be exploited by them. And they grab at it with both hands. They pretend to be from an NGO and make tall claims of helping him achieve his goal of reaching the CM. But the minute their work is done they dump him and Tukaram goes back to fighting his battles on his own. He gets rebuffed by the MNC that has been gifted his land by the state and the CM’s guards mock his attempts to meet the CM. A despondent Tukaram goes back to the site of his humiliation with a can of kerosene and attempts to self-immolate. He is prevented and taken into police custody. The students see the saga unfolding on TV and decide to go back to talk to Tukaram. By then it’s all become breaking news. The reporters ring out the clarion call, the opposition gets into the act and the CM starts engaging in damage control. The Student’s parents set up a new rung of hurdles which stymie their new found conscience led efforts to help Tukaram. Does Tukaram find justice in the end?
It’s a grand idea to start with but the writing doesn’t go beyond the commonplace, unfortunately. The urban-rural divide is brought to a head with the students being involved in Tukaram’s cause but it’s not a layered understanding, just an obvious one. The narrative makes an effort to point out the mental health aspect of the issue but it’s done in too cursory a fashion to resound effectively. Tukaram’s life appears to have become a never ending tragedy with his son having committed suicide and his daughter entering the world’s oldest profession in order to prop up the family’s fortunes. And his saga of woes continues with several more suicide attempts going awry. This attempt to show us the depth of his despondency doesn’t come off all that well either. The actors essaying the roles of the four students sound like puppets mouthing dialogues rather than real life people.
They have all the mannerisms associated with modern youth but none of the instincts that could deem them human. Govind Namdeo as the CM and Dalip Thahil as the Boss of the mega-corp play their roles with contrived stereotypical relish. So it’s mainly up to Om Puri as the beleaguered despondent farmer, and Seema Biswas as his wife, to shore up this enterprise. And they do it faultlessly. But for them, all the earnestness of this enterprise would have been turned into insignificant drivel.
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