The film is directed by Bikas Ranjan Mishra
Chauranga was in news for having won top awards at 13th Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles 2015, 16th Mumbai Film Festival 2014 and also at the NFDC Film Bazaar, International Film Festival of India, Goa 2011 and Script Funding from Goteborg International Film Festival, Sweden. So its really great to see that 2016 begins with the mainstream release of this acclaimed film. Let's see how it fares...
What's it about:
Set in the hinterlands of UP, which even after more than half a century of independence, still reels under feudalism and casteism. Santu (Sohum Maitra) is a rebellious Dalit kid entering adolescence, who plays around the whole day and is a curious bundle of mischief. He is infatuated with the zamindar's daughter (Ena Saha) whom he watches atop a jamun tree. His elder brother Bajrangi (Riddhi Sen) goes to school in the city, and adores Santu. Their mother Dhaniya (Tannishtha Chatterjee) works as a servant at the house of the zamindar (Sanjay Suri) while also being in a sexual relationship with him. She is quite aware of her amorous charms and she chooses who can be in control of them. Then there are other characters in play like Zamindar's upper caste sidekicks, a perverted blind village priest (Dhritiman Chatterjee), zamindar's oppressed wife (Arpita Chatterjee) and others. The film is about how the high caste still suppresses the low caste while also being victims of their own hierarchy.
The film, especially the first half, is a cruel mirror to what's happening in the interiors of our country. The director wants to point out that while we are obsessed with Facebook and Whatsapp, there are parts of our country, where they haven't even heard about smartphones. It's those regions where casteism, unquestioned male dominance, corruption and blind beliefs still rule over the people. The film is brutal in the sense that it doesn't flinches from showing stomach-churning scenes, especially the ones involving the blind village priest who doesn't spare women or animals from his perverse fingers. There are cuss words, and some are directed towards kids. However, there is a current of dark humour as well. Like when Bajrangi nonchalantly tells the zamindar that his school was closed because the head master wants to use it for his daughter's marriage. Or when villagers ask the priest to cut the rituals short because they want to see a Salman Khan movie. BTW, the Bhai influence is quite there in the film, with Santu often referring himself as Salman Khan. The characters are also well established like Dhaniya who uses her sexuality to fund her son' education, the zamindar (who has no qualms sleeping with a Dalit woman, but flinches when her son tries to touch his feet), the priest etc. Even the performances are realistic, from Sanjay Suri (though I feel he is kinda miscast), Tannishtha Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Anshuman Jha and Arpita Chatterjee (beautiful and heartrending at the same time). However , it's the kids Sohum and Riddhi who steal the show from their senior costars. They share an easy camaraderie between them, and their scenes together are a joy to watch. The film actually peaks when it focuses in these two.
For a realistic film, the flick also suffers from the same disease that plagues many of our Hindi films - the second half syndrome. After establishing the characters and the setting in the first half, it's here that ball starts rolling (the death of a character, the discovery of a love letter) but the film loses steam with too much focus on secondary characters. Like I said before, the films peaks when it brings the kids to spotlight. But the director insists on veering the camera towards the vile adults just to establish the bleak atmosphere. So we don't know what the kids go through emotionally when their mother goes missing. Even though the film highlights real issues of India, by the end of the film, we still feel the director hasn't presented anything novel, unlike say, Masaan! The concluding portions is bleak, dark yet left with a sense of incompleteness. And you just can't ignore the influences of the much superior Marathi film Fandry (which I feel had a better conclusion).
What to do:
Chauranga is certainly not your regular popcorn flick, with several scenes that will make the popcorn in your stomach toss and turn. But if you are an admirer of realistic cinema, this can be your movie of the weekend.
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