Saturday 9 January 2016

Chauranga movie review: What’s missing in the film & Not glossing over the truths

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Cast: Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Soham Maitra

Director: Bikas Ranjan Mishra

Rating: One and a half stars

"Chauranga" is the story of young Dalit boy Santu and his aspirations to become educated and improve his life. Instead, he only gets to look after a pig all day, because of the rigid caste system prevalent in his village.

Writer-director Bikas Ranjan Mishra has picked up a pertinent issue of caste system and through his film depicts how in their daily lives Dalits are suppressed, meted out unfair treatment and have no right to better their lives.

That caste remains one of the biggest scourges of modern-day India is worth repeating ad nauseam. And that is the burden of this debut feature from a director who knows where he is coming from. The trouble with ‘Chauranga’, despite its crucial subject, is that treads familiar ground without taking the tale too far.

Santu and Bajrangi ( Maitra and Sen, respectively) are constantly castigated as ‘chhut jaat’ in the village they live in with their mother ( Tannishtha). The zamindar ( Suri) lives with his neglected wife, elderly mother and young daughter in a run-down ‘haveli’, and rules with an iron hand-velvet glove policy : lower-castes are to be used, discarded and decimated, whether it is an attractive village woman who over-reaches herself, or a little boy who strays inadvertently into a `mandir’, sullying it. Of paramount importance is the `shuddhikaran’ ( purification) of the temple, rather than the boy who is injured in the flurry.

There’s also a blind priest ( Dhritiman) who stirs the pot every now and then. And trouble is bound to arise when the unspoken adoration of Santu for an upper-caste girl is rumbled, a plot point startlingly similar to the Marathi film, ‘Fandry’, which is also about caste and societal rigidities and how conflict arises when the downtrodden turn around and demand a shift.
Why ‘Fandry’ works so well is that the story propels us towards a shift, and the turmoil caused by it. ‘Chauranga’, on the other hand, peters out. The power that a tale like this brings with it, especially as portrayed by the fresh-faced youngsters ( Maitra and Sen feel as if they have sprung from the soil; Hiwale is effective as an upper caste bully), and the casual brutality inflicted with frightening entitlement in this day and age on humans, doesn’t have enough impact.

I liked the way the two Dalit adolescents keep up their spirits : no excessive drama, no whining. They know their place, and though both react to the oppression differently ( one with a kind of acceptance, the other with a flash of rebellion), both come off as naturals. There’s something about the priest which makes you shiver, especially when he pats his pet goat : an intriguing character you wish there was more of.
What’s missing in between is a fluid narrative, which hobbles the film. Or is the choppiness down to cuts? Either way, this is a film which could have been more.
Chauranga star cast: Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Soham Maitra, Ridhi Sen, Anshuman Jha, Delzad Hiwale, Ena Saha, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Swatilekha Sengupta,

Soham Maitra as Santu effortlessly delivers a power-packed performance as the rebel Dalit boy. Whether it is at the futility of his love for the Zamindar's daughter or the fact that trains do not stop in his village as it is too insignificant a place, Santu's angst and frustration are palpable.

Supporting him adeptly is Riddhi Sen, as his older brother Bajrangi, who too is a natural in front of the camera and expresses himself proficiently as an actor.

Tannistha Chatterjee as Dhaniya, the duo's mother, carries off her character of a Dalit woman with the right amount of attitude and subservience. She obviously understands that bowing down to the Zamindar is the best option and constantly urges her sons to do so.

Sanjay Suri, sadly, as the upper caste Zamindar, in a secret liaison with the Dalit woman Dhaniya, offers nothing to his role, delivering a flat and insipid performance.

Dhritiman Chatterjee renders a strong portrayal as the blind priest who exudes power.

Performances apart, "Chauranga", laced with a powerful message, is delivered in a somewhat convoluted manner, through a haphazard screenplay.

Although the characters of the two brothers are well-etched, there are too many scattered, incomplete incidents in the film, trying to forcefully drive home the message of the frustrations of the Dalits and their ignominy at the hands of the upper caste, giving the film the feel of a documentary on Dalits. The drama quotient is missing. The use of metaphors further lends an aura of unwarranted pretense.

Ramanuj Dutta's cinematography is good in parts. While the village scenes and ethos are beautifully captured, the camera movement at times is shaky and unsteady, making it look a tad amateurish. Also, the constant usage of uncalled-for close-ups and mid-shots, mars the viewing experience.

The title of the film, "Chauranga", which means four colours, does not justify itself properly. Equally limp is the film in its ability to deliver a strong message. The slow pace and lack of high octane action, leaves it looking like a slice of the Dalit life.

The sound handled by Arun Nambiar and Tanmay Das is brilliant and probably the highlight of the film.

The film fails to leave an impact on the viewers.

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