wogma rating: Add to “To Watch” list, watch some day (?)
Satish Manwar’s latest film, Tuhya Dharma Koncha?, while being a brave attempt at showing the suffering in the tribal regions of Maharashtra and questioning the importance of religion, doesn’t quite have enough of an emotional pull for it to truly make an impact. It is a noteworthy attempt, but one that is only moderately successful as a film.Read more
After that little gem Gabhricha Paus, director Satish Manwar returns with Tuhya Dharma Koncha? (What’s your religion?), the story of a tribal family that lives in a little village on the fringes of the Tiger Reserve in Melghat. Despite the brave choice of story - an interesting and pertinent one by all means - the film is let down by poor production value and, more importantly by the lack of true emotional heft.
Kavadu, a tribal villager, is arrested by the police for a crime he didn’t commit. While he is in jail, his wife Bhulabai, already encumbered with the responsibility of their two children, one of whom is an ailing infant, now also has to run from pillar to post trying to get Kavadu out. In dealing with these problems, she has to invariably turn to a band of Naxalites, and then to a Christian missionary priest for help. As the story progresses, the question that it invariably poses is the one asked in the title of the film.
What immediately strikes you in Tuhya Dharma Koncha?? is the lack of production value. Obviously, budget constraints will always plague a film that genuinely tries to be different without catering to a mass audience. But with a largely static camera and groups of people like the villagers, the Naxals and the Christians numbering only in handfuls, the film ends up feeling more like theatre than cinema. The film also has a fairly flat graph throughout. You are always watching the suffering of a tribal family in rural Maharashtra, but it never escalates enough to grab at your throat. It always maintains a certain distance from the viewer. While the clear lack of attempt at infusing additional drama into the narrative is probably a directorial choice – indeed a mature one if that is the case – the fact remains that it fails to establish a strong emotional connect with the audience.
The film is also very simplistic in its treatment of the groups I mentioned above. The Hindus, so clearly more consumed by rituals, festivals and tokenism than in any sort of progressive outlook; the Naxals with their one point militant communist agenda; the Christians with a more open outlook, derivative of the Western influences of the religion – each of these are painted in broad strokes, something that doesn’t really do justice to the complex socio-political situations that a melting pot of these groups would doubtlessly create. Also, the film doesn’t attempt to provide any sort of resolution to the important question that it asks in the title – again, a choice made by the filmmakers, but one that further underlines the fact that the film maintains a chasm between itself and the audience, who would want to take something away as food for thought from a film like this.
The prime reason the film doesn’t completely fail in engaging the audience is the performance of the cast. Upendra Limaye, who plays Kavadu, is a fine actor. He does really well as he portrays the anguish of an innocent man locked up in prison. Vibhawari Deshpande as Bhulabai is convincing as the almost gullible but emotionally strong wife, who doesn’t hesitate in doing what needs to be done for the sake of her family. Kishor Kadam as the priest does a fair job as well, though his performances seem to very rarely differ from one another. Also, the entire cast as well as the director must be lauded for the use of the tribal Marathi dialect in the film. While that adds to the disconnect from the viewer to an extent, it can also actually aid in make you concentrate more to decipher them. (The film didn’t have subtitles at the hall where I watched it.)
Director Satish Manwar is clearly a brave man who intends to continue telling stories about those parts of Maharashtra that are hidden by the cosmopolitanism and progress associated with the Pune – Mumbai – Nashik triangle. Indeed, most of us forget that a large part of Maharashtra remains one of the most under-developed areas in the country. So I do hope that Manwar continues making films that show the harshness of life in these regions. For his attempt alone, Tuhya Dharma Koncha? must be supported, even though the film largely remains a surface-level exploration of the role that religion plays at a time when no one religion can fulfill the needs of man, not one that attempts to delve too deep.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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