festival circuit December 3, 2019
drama · films
There was a time when Goutam Ghose could do no wrong. One of the great bastions of Bengali
cinema from the 80s, his brand of filmmaking has inspired generations. Perhaps his loss of
vigour in this decade made Raahgir such a triumphant return to form. It sees him go back
to his roots - making films about villages, abject poverty, and the values of humanity that still
reside in those villages.
Based on a short story of the same name by Prafulla Roy (also one of the writers of the film), Raahgir follows Nathuni (Tillotama Shome), who is
the sole breadwinner of a family that consists of a paralysed husband (Onkardas Manikpuri) and
two children. Hunger drives her miles away to a town in Jharkhand’s mining heartland in
search of work. She encounters a lone traveller on her way. Lakhua (played brilliantly by Adil
Hussain) is a loner who walks the fringes of survival, while singing songs and dancing. He is a
peculiar character, one who truly belongs on the roads and not their destinations.
The two encounter Chopatlal (Neeraj Kabi) whose scraped-together van gets stuck in the mud,
carrying an old couple to a hospital in town. The two characters are stuck in a
conundrum. If they do not help, the couple dies. If they do, they and Nathuni’s family will have
to sleep hungry.
The dilemma is one that has unfortunately persisted for longer than it should have.
While crippling poverty still plagues Indian villages, it is also coupled with a deep sense of humanity and kindness. Despite struggling with fragile chances of survival, humans often find it in themselves to help others. When
subsistence becomes the only goal of one’s life, life itself must become a way of achieving a purpose that makes it bearable enough to carry on.
The 69-year-old filmmaker’s strong satire and storytelling is ageless. The film comments
on the plight of the tribal community, the impact of the Naxal movement on them and their subsequent suppression. The
mines and factories that destroy the lush natural beauty of the land are captured beautifully by
the young cinematographer Ishaan Ghose. Wide frames and natural weather play a game larger
than the characters who are at the mercy of the elements around them in the film. The
mesmerising grey hues during rain and storm, contrasted against the green pastures of the land
along with the colourless machinery of the factories, all form a poignant visual treat.
The sheer brute strength of the powerful acting of the four main actors (all of whom could carry
a film each on their shoulders) is enough to invoke deep emotion. Helped with the masterful direction of a visual-based director, one who is both a cinematographer as well as an actor, and a story that has stood the test
of time, the film has all the bases covered.
Raahgir is a film that keeps on giving the more one thinks about it. It works as a story about
humanity that keeps persisting despite all odds. It works just as well as a political allegory,
where all the characters are, but a cog in the machine.
Written by Nimish K Sharma