A Realistic Film from the Indian Heartland : Chauranga, a Review

Chauranga is a vignette snatched out of a village that still lives way back in the times. While it may seem very difficult for many of us to comprehend that this is still a prevalent situation, the movie itself is also dated by few years, thanks to its late public release.

Bikas Ranjan Mishra’s debut film was conceived during the Screenwriters’ Lab organised by National Film Development Corporation of India in collaboration with Locarno Film Festival and the ScriptStation of Berlinale Talent Campus, a part of Berlin International Film Festival.

Its award tally is impressive – from winning the Incredible India Award for the Best Project at the NFDC Film Bazaar way back in 2011 to the latest Grand Jury Prize for Best Film at 13th Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles 2015 (IFFLA), amongst others.

Overall, the film is neat, with good performances from all its actors. It is refreshing to see Sanjay Suri on the big screen yet again. One wishes this actor is given more roles and not wasted in the sidelines as has been the case. Tannishtha Chatterjee as Dhania delivers yet again.

However, Soham Maitra (as Santu) and Riddhi Sen (as Bajrangi) convince one the most with their natural flair for acting.

Their brotherly exchanges are believable and the storyline beautifully mirrors the adolescent age.

Chauranga is mostly that – a coming-of-age movie about Santu. The little boy is in love with Mona (played by Ena Saha), the daughter of one of the village’s most important man, Dhaval (Sanjay Suri). Little does he know his own mother (Tannishtha as Dhania) has been having an affair with Dhaval, despite being a woman of a lower-caste.

Confused moralities prevail in their village. The blind priest (essayed by veteran Dhritiman Chatterjee) does not hesitate to feel up his goat or the little girl who drops him home. The village strongman who is open in his hatred for the lower caste happily carries on the aforementioned affair. And simple cleansing rituals are performed to erase transgressions and keep an uptight front. Caught amidst this are the two boys – the older one shy yet worldly wise, and the younger one bold and unaware of the hypocrisy around him. And all they want to do is write a love letter to Mona from Santu, with a four-coloured (or ‘chauranga’) pen.

While the film does leave a dent within, one wishes there were more explorations of human behaviour, especially the frailty. Dhania seems too content with her arrangement, not conflicted by the two-faced treatment she constantly seems to get. The kids don’t question essential things like who their father is, and are unsuspecting of what goes on behind their backs. All women characters – although it is possibly the case in many parts of the country even today – seem way too docile and accepting of their situations.

The cinematographer (Ramanuj Dutta) captures the nuances well and certain shots are a beauty to behold. However, there are jarring lapses in focussing at times. The projection in the theatre ruined most of the well-shot night frames, making it look like the post production was done by Instagram (although not as bad as Jazbaa).

The sounds echo the rusticity and forms a pleasant backdrop. The strong point of the film is its final shot where the irony of the situation hits you hard. The entire experience makes you question everything you hold sacred – your beliefs, ideas of love and morality and life itself.

The film reminds one of Kakka Muttai with its similar situation of two boys figuring out about the world around them. However, Manikandan’s film is definitely superior in its details.

Chauranga joins the league of realistic films that have dotted our screens in the recent past. It definitely relays the still suffering Dalits and their fight for acceptance in mainstream society.

Chauranga makes an engrossing watch, although one wishes there was more to its story.


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