Director: Ketan Mehta; Writer: Ketan Mehta, Dhiruben Patel; Producer: Paresh Mehta; Cinematographer: Pammy; Editor: Ramesh Asher; Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Mohan Gokhale, Om Puri, Dina Pathak, Suhasini Mulay, Benjamin Gilani, Pransukh Nayak P. Kharsani, Kailash Pandya, Satish Pandya Mansoor Badri, Balmiki, Nimesh Desai, Gopi Desai
Duration: 02:10:23; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 30.759; Saturation: 0.259; Lightness: 0.292; Volume: 0.318; Cuts per Minute: 10.154; Words per Minute: 33.774
Summary: Mehta’s debut is a remarkably successful transposition of the folk performance idiom to the screen. It is dedicated to Brecht, Goscinny and to the inventor of the Bhavai, Asait Thakore, who was a Gujarati Brahmin cast out from his community. He proceeded to live among the lower castes and his descendents, the targalas, are the traditional Gujarati performers of the plays he wrote and dedicated to Amba, a mother goddess. The Bhavai evolved into one of India’s most energetic folk music and dance dramas. It has an episodic structure consisting of Veshas (playlets set in medieval Gujarat stressing masquerades and offering much scope for improvisation) and mobilises a wealth of religious, political and mythological references, usually held together by a male Rangla and female Rangli chorus. The film deploys a ‘chinese box’ structure. In the framing narrative, a group of persecuted Harijans (Untouchables) are migrating to the city and pause for the night. To the accompaniment of Malo’s (Puri) music, a story is told of the time when Harijans had to have broomsticks tied to their backs in order to erase their footsteps while walking. The tale is of a king (Shah) with two wives. When the elder queen delivers a male heir, the younger one (Mulay) conspires to have the child killed. But the child survives and, raised by Malo, grows up into the handsome Jivo (Gokhale). The climax of the film combines Jivo’s sexual awakening in response to the wild tribal woman Ujam (Patil) with the digging of a well by the Untouchables to propitiate the gods, so that the king may have another heir. However, in a traditional happy ending, the well yields water, Jivo is saved and the people freed. This ending of Malo’s story is disputed by his audience, who suggest an alternative: Jivo is beheaded and Malo jumps into the dry well cursing the king with his dying breath; his sacrifice results in a flood that washes away the evil rulers (this ending is intercut with documentary footage of India’s freedom struggle). The film’s own end shifts back into realism showing the Harijans approaching the city. The film succeeds mainly through the extraordinary performances of e.g. Shah, Gilani (the commander) and Mulay, enhanced by comic-strip-style camera angles and exotic locations. Its several contemporary references include violent caste riots in Ahmedabad and the severe drought in Northern Gujarat.