Director: Mrinal Sen; Writer: Munshi Premchand, Mrinal Sen, Mohit Chattopadhyay, Veerendranath; Producer: Allareddy Parandhama Reddy; Cinematographer: K.K. Mahajan; Editor: Gangadhar Naskar; Cast: M.V. Vasudeva Rao, G. Narayana Rao, Mamata Shankar, Pradeep Kumar, A.R. Krishna, Krishnamurthy, Kondala Rao, Rama Devi, Siddapa Naidu, Lakshmi Devdas, D. Ramgopal, C. Ramesh, Vijayalakshmi
Summary: Story: Munshi Premchand's Kafan (The Shroud)
After the masterful Mrigaya (1976), Sen’s first Telugu film continues exploring the contradictions of resistance. Set in UP by Premchand but shifted to Telangana for the film, the story tells of old Venkaiah (Vasudeva Rao), an obstinate eccentric fighting social oppression through determined indolence, and his son Kistaia (Narayana Rao) who follows in his father’s footsteps. However, their individual resistance depends on the backbreaking work of the son’s wife Nilamma (Shankar) who desperately tries to achieve a more civilised lifestyle. The sterility of the two men’s rebellion is cruelly demonstrated when they refuse to help the pregnant Nilamma when her labour goes wrong and she is left to die in agony. Convinced they are right in rejecting society but unable to comprehend the import of their own actions, the two men sink into demented fantasies. The film replaces the end of the original story, where they spend their money drinking in a bar, with a more rhetorical style featuring the father-in- law’s soliloquy, the image of the dead woman, and a song about how only fools toil in the fields while the rich reap the harvest. Premchand’s cruellest story was adapted by the playwright Chattopadhyay and the dialogue was translated into a widely understood, non-dialect Telugu. Sen acknowledged the help of a local political activist, Krishnamurthy, in adapting the film to its regional setting. The film is dominated by the savage performance of Vasudeva Rao, chosen by Sen after seeing him in Karanth’s Chomana Dudi (1975), ‘for his coiled energy, sarcasm and fury’. The work prompted several New Indian Cinema directors from other languages to work in Telugu since that region’s displaced peasantry and absentee landlordism adhered to the stereotypes of 70s ruralist political films about feudal oppression: cf. Benegal’s Kondura (also 1977), Raveendran’s Harijan (1979) and Gautam Ghose’s Maabhoomi (1979), continuing the local trend of e.g. Bhoomikosam (1974) and Tharam Marindi (1977).