FILM REVIEWS

Dangal​

Directed by Nitesh Tiwary

161 mins, 2016, Hindi, India

 

Dangal transported me back in time to Bhiwani where i had stayed for an year during early 90s. Such is the authenticity of the film which places you directly in a village in Haryana. The environment, the locations, the dialect the people stages in for a strong establishment. There has been a steady increase in Biopics in Bollywood and this year we have had significant ones made on Sports personalities. Dangal differentiates itself from the others for its production and narrative quality which is quite focused and deals straight only with the characters that are necessary to make the core. Its hard to believe if the real life scenarios that inspired Dangal were so much interesting and dramatic as shown in the film but credits to the writers for making a 160 minute runtime film hold the audience.

 

The casting seems to be perfect. Aamir has been open in trying out different roles and this one probably is something which makes him more distinguished. The personality and physical transformation that he has gone through is phenomenal. The stubborn nature, the strictness and never let go attitude that he has and passes it on to his daughters clearly shows off in the mannerisms and acts. Sakshi Tanwar is at her best and she certainly has potential for strong character roles. She has the minimal screen-time but steals our attention every-time she appears on screen. But the real heroes that are celebrated are played by Zaira and Suhani in the majority of first half and by Fatima Sheik and Saanya Malhotra in the later half. They deserve all the appreciation for their flawless performance. The innocence in the childhood, the transformation to be tough against all odds, the experience of freedom when getting out of the strictness back home and the guilt to get back to what it takes to reach the goal is finely scripted and narrated. This is the central theme of the film and never the narrative goes out from this boundary. Girish Kulkarni as the coach has a significant role but i wished he was made as a good guy than a caricature of a selfish coach. Probably that was to make the drama more connected to the audience but it does take the film down in some sense.

 

When it comes to the feel and experience its quite evident that this film will win over most of the audience. The drama, the emotions, the struggle and the awesome choreography of the wrestling scenarios maybe it in the fields, village bouts or the arena makes you glued to your seat. The shots and the accompanying music adds to the strength of the film. The upbeat music provides in a lot of necessary energy that holds you up waiting for you to respond.

So this films is recommended!

-Harish Mallya

Sanskrit film Ishti 
&
Ghanian film Like Cotton Twines

Two gut-wrenching films with strong feminist undertone, that stood out in their attempt to uphold spirited fight of women, against traditional hegemony and striving for her empowerment made IFFI 2016, meaningful social platform to engage audiences, writes S Viswanath, in his critique of Sanskrit film Ishti & Ghanian film Like Cotton Twines which spotlighted on practices that suppressed woman’s right to freedom and choice through physical, psychological and emotional subjugation.

 

Today’s woman may have broken glass ceiling. Shattered societal taboos impeding her right for independence. She may have come into her own etching identity for self. Braved odds in her struggle to be accepted as individual in her own right, in a male driven society. That woman’s struggle does not confine to one geography or one country to achieve social equality, and is universal, all pervasive, is succinctly brought out by two of eye – opening films screened at recent International Film Festival of India 2016, at Goa.

 

The two, disparate in their cultural specifics, strangely melded in commonality of cause and concern, showcased how, languages may be different, geographies distant, peoples diverse, but registrars that run their social lives, are universally same and practices prejudicial and inimical to women, so prevalent and punishing.

 

If one took historical path to put in perspective how women were trying to empower themselves to emerge from confines of precepts and practices of dominant caste, they are enslaved in, the other, showed how it could be no different even in tribal set up despite modernity of education that has made incursions into its pastoral society.

 

One is Sanskrit film Ishti by Sanskrit Scholar G Prabha, the other Like Cotton Twines, from Ghana, by woman director Leila Djansi, with their commonality of theme and thread of traditional practices inimical and indifferent to women, knitting them.

 

If in Ishti, a young woman is made to surrender to prevalent custom of the times, in Like Cotton Twines, another young woman, aspiring for education to lift her from poverty of her existence, unwillingly bowing to dictates of societal customs and mores ruling her tribal commune.

 

In both, it is religious head of their societies who cite age old customs, beliefs and faiths, his prerogative as elder as spiritual head, and societal sanction, to guide their exploitative actions.

 

Surprising in both, despite forceful external interventions seeking to prevent, prohibit and proscribe the process, young girls, become sacrificial victims at the altar, with men as old as their grandfathers, taking advantage of pubescent victims with social justification.

 

In Ishti it is Namboodiri Brahmin, who, in order to run his household, with large family comprising two wives and demanding adults, decides to remarry. In this case, young woman on threshold of adulthood, purely for jewels and money she brings with her marriage to sustain his family.

 

In Like Cotton Twines, you have the village priest exploiting a family’s nubile daughter paying for inadvertent misadventure of her father. What is disturbing is the mother instead of circumventing it, never tries to help her distraught daughter, but cajoles her to accept the fateful situation, so that the accursed family will be saved.

 

If, in Ishti, director G Prabha makes searing indictment of age old practice through rebellion of Namboodiri’s own illiterate son and more confident and world wise young Sreedevi, his reluctant childlike third wife, in Like Cotton Twines, Leila Djansi’s protagonist, is however, not so fortunate.

 

This despite outside intervention of educated teacher from US, trying to save the young girl from her fate. For here, the Church, which should be progressive in its conduct, tacitly supports the continuance of evil practice, lest it pastor loses his faithful intervening in religious practices of another culture.

 

Likewise, if in Ishti, if the patriarchal Namoodiri Brahmin, scorns at rebellion building, that women be educated for society to progress, stating they are better off without education, in Like Cotton Twines, both the NGO and change agent, the educated insider, stand helpless bystanders as the girl suffers the ignominy of early marriage, the motherhood, resulting in her ultimate death.

 

Director G Prabha spotlighting on deeply conservative Namboodiri family and regressive social milieu, through mechanisation of 70-year-old Ramavikraman Namboodiri, Vedic scholar who preserves the fire from Somayagam to light his funeral pyre, and Sreedevi, young, third consort, brilliantly brings to fore proverbial clash of modernity and orthodoxy.

 

Sreedevi, almost same age as Namboodiri’s own daughter, Lakshmi, is literate and progressive lass. Her arrival at Namboodiri household only stirs things up in the conservative set up. How young Sreedevi ignites fire of rebellion in Namboodiri's illiterate son, kindling in him yen to read and write, sowing seed of courage in him, and wills herself to defy the custom, is indeed engaging watch for discerning viewer.

 

Prabha succinctly and subtly makes caustic comment on traditionalists attempt to balance worldly desires and keep alive rigidity of caste and tradition, despite being detrimental and demeaning to their women folk. What makes Ishti poignant and powerful is pitch perfect acting of thespian Nedumudi Venu and newcomer Athira Patel plays a perfect foil as young Sreedevi.

 

The film's closing sequences where in family heir walks out of confines of his suffocating homestead by burning the sacred thread, and young Sreedevi too following suit, like Henrik Ibsen's Nora, casting away her sacred thaali that bound her to the septuagenarian and acted as noose on her freedom, speaks of film's remarkable effort to showcase the prevalence of dreaded practice of polygamy, and, how, more often, than not, women 40-50 years younger than the man, became willing prey to this evil, much against their wishes.

 

Ishti, which means search for self, like its Ghana counterpart Like Cotton Wines, Ishti, holds mirror to how women, despite progress down ages, in pursuit of that “search for self” seek to rise above constrictive cocoon of existence they are driven into and seek deliverance from it all.

 

Similarly, Like Cotton Twines, which speaks of an American volunteer tutor making futile efforts to save one of his students, a 14 year old girl from religious slavery, makes Leila Djansi's film a forceful indictment of society which enslaves women to selfish ends of religious practices.

 

Djansi, in the process, like Prabha, explores harsh realities of what it means to be young African girl coming into womanhood, where Ancient religious traditions and human will clash with the self-realisation of 14-year-old Tuigi, who herself is yet to fully assimilate the demands of the rituals herself.

 

“In this world, not every woman gets to have a choice,” counsels her mother with anguish and palpable hurt. “Your father did a bad thing and you are the only one who can save us,” she tells a frightened Tuigi who learns she must pay for sins of her father through religious practice called Trokosi. In order to atone for his crime, Tuigi must quit school and “serve at the shrine” a covert form of religious sex slavery.

 

The schoolteacher Micah Brown who makes it his missionary goal to save Tuigi from her fate, however, quickly finds, that his passionate sensibilities of right and wrong have no place in a remote Ghanaian village, steeped in superstition, tradition, and sexual injustice, where the local Catholic head conveniently turns a blind eye citing one should not intervene in another’s customs.

 

Indeed, as Djansi notes  with issues of women in the forefront of every conversation, be it in America, Africa, or the film industry, both Ishti and Like Cotton Twines are grim reminders that not all honky dory for woman of then and today, despite progressive strides world over. How jaundiced cultural and societal prejudices still look at women as second citizens with literally no rights of her own but serve the larger interests of the man and society she finds herself in.

 

However, the two films, are celebration of feminine spirit, which when chiseled in right fashion has power to knock down powerful pillars of patriarchy, despite constituting a microcosm of society. That if she seeks to exit from constrictive confines, these man made  superstructures would crumble blowing the oppressive system asunder and façade of morality and religion can’t save such institutions from falling into dungeons of despair, destitution and darkness.

 

Both films, which turn celluloid beacon on unjust social structures perpetuating atrocities on its women, seeks to warn societies and communities, wanting to keep their women wrapped in the veil of tyranny and oppression, that banner of revolt will ensure women’s aspirations are assimilated as well lest such institutions themselves fall apart.

 

S VISWANATH

© 2020 Suchitra

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