Hellaro Poster

Director: Abhishek Shah
Producer: Ashish C Patel, Nirav C Patel, Aayush Patel, Abhishek Shah, Mit Jani & Prateek Gupta
Music: Mehul Surti
Duration: 2 hours 2 minutes. 

It is 1975, the year of the Emergency. Indira Gandhi’s announcement is playing on the radio in a village deep inside the drought ridden Kutch landscape. Here, the women are not allowed to play garba, knit or purl exquisite embroidery, or even have conversations with men who are not their husbands. Marital rape, domestic violence, idiosyncratic superstitions, and caste norms are all woven into the worn, dusty fabric of this village. Women merely congregate in the morning to collect water from the local pond in brass pots. 

Manjhri, (played by an unfettered, and glowing Shraddha Dangar) a new bride arrives from the city. Her husband, a military man, warns her on the first night that she needs to get rid of both, her wings and her horns, lest he have to get rid of it for her. 

Manjhri

On one of the mornings, the women, on their way to the pond sight a dholak, lost in thirst, the man responsible for drumming up the beats for garba and dandiya. As with most dholaks, he too is from a low caste; he holds onto painful memories of his wife and daughter. Manjhri asks him to play the dhol for them, and the morning routine of collecting water becomes a symphony of joy; women start dressing up in more feisty colours that swirl violently in the bleached, blowing landscape. 

The choreographers of this film, Sameer and Arsh Tanna who choreographed Dholi Taro, Lahu Munh Lag Gaya, and Nagada Sang Dhol from the Bhansali oeuvre

In some sense, this movie is about the discovery of euphoria. The name itself means an outburst. But it never bothers veering into the Bhansali territory, where beauty is pushed into the domain of over-awe. This movie is content with sensory stimulation as opposed to the Bhansali sensory explosion. Here, the beauty is tightly tethered to the narrative, so you don’t distance yourself from it wondering how good that bandhani odhna would look as a scarf on you. (At least you don’t do that too often, for too long) In the final climactic moment when the visual, auditory, and emotional landscape blur together in ecstasy, you are not gasping at the beauty, but clapping at the victory. It’s genius!

However, there were moments I would have preferred exaggerated beauty, for example, when the men empty all the embroidery and cloth into a bonfire, I could hear myself thinking: This is not how Bhansali would have done it. Alas, it’s the curse of referenced movie watching. (The choreographers of this film, Sameer and Arsh Tanna who choreographed Dholi Taro, Lahu Munh Lag Gaya, and Nagada Sang Dhol from the Bhansali oeuvre)

Garba

The simplicity of the film could be perceived as either necessary or convenient. When I say simplistic I mean the absence of grey shades in characters, nuance in plot points, and chaos in the cinematic universe. There are strong binaries- good and bad, rural and urban, men and women, (men do garba with swords clashing, and women with palms patting) upper caste and lower caste. These watertight compartments are rarely if ever allowed to leak into one another. 

The story ends with text on screen: Based on Folklore. This means a certain elevation in the pitch of the narrative. Realism is not a concern here, it is the timelessness of the moral.

This makes sense, since binaries are often birthed from tradition. Life never plays out in binaries. It is our narration of it, which often comes from traditions and beliefs, that often lends itself to these clean binaries. In this movie, these traditions are called “rules”; a rule is always harder to flout than a tradition, there is less wiggle room. You cannot say that a rule hasn’t aged well, something we often say about traditions and beliefs. Therefore, the simplistic narration works, though it does tend to get tedious in bits post the interval, but the raging climax blurs all faults. The story ends with text on screen: Based on Folklore. This means a certain elevation in the pitch of the narrative. Realism is not a concern here, it is the timelessness of the moral. The village, untouched by urban nightmares, could have been in any time, the moral story would have still made sense. Therein lies both the beauty and the bane of this film. The moral is too obvious- don’t be an asshole. But moral stories are rarely about the moral as they are about the treatment and it was precisely the treatment that I was in awe of. 

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