Director: Kapil Verma
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Arora, Sukanya Dhanda, Aishwariya Sonar
Nitishastra is an angry film. It channels the natural aggression on Taapsee Pannu’s face – not the trained-spy-whose-Naam-is-Shabana kind, but that of the girl from Pink who has decided to take matters into her own hands. It’s not just her action-star physicality; Pannu’s formidable attitude probably stems from an inherent determination to make it in an industry that is unkind to outsiders and unkinder to female outsiders. Her character here, Roshni, is a Delhi professional who trains women in the art of self-defense. I can think of nobody other than this particular actress to look like she is perfectly capable of teaching headlocks without compromising on a sense of fragility.
Evidently, Roshni doesn’t believe in half measures – or even the legal framework in place to “protect” those like her. In short, she is a modern-day warrior. And her war, she will soon discover, begins at home.
The film opens with a shot of soothing wind chimes in the verandah of a house. As the camera pulls back to enter the living room, it becomes clear that the “mini-bells” are in fact substitutes for the blowing of a conch-shell. Because the Kurukshetra kicks off indoors. A girl in white does battle with a boy in black. Furniture is shattered and glasses broken, but it’s the internal battle that director Kapil Verma brings to light by making this a sprawling 20-minute short film.
As they fling each other into the walls, we are – through clever transitions (a hand playfully caressing a head cuts to the hand violently pulling on its hair) – thrown back to the events that have led up to this combat sequence. Bit by bit, we are made to realize the emotions encompassed into the punches and chops, the groans and thuds. It’s an effective, if not unfamiliar, narrative that puts Roshni’s struggle – as a daughter, sister, woman, warrior – into brutal perspective.
In times like these, especially when ‘rape-revenge cinema’ continues to exploit a nation’s mood, Nitishastra somewhat informs the genre by dramatizing the other human angle of these stories. While most movies pivot on the vindictive environment of the hunted, this one explores the conflicted environment of the hunter. But perhaps this film’s strength lies in the fact that it is a gender-fitted reiteration of the Bhagavad Gita – the importance of duty or “dharma” over relationships – and not a contemporary update of its principles.
It is often suggested that we live in a today where Arjuna might have compromised on his identity when faced with the choice between righteousness and attachment. That’s where the concept of Roshni shines a “light” onto the age-old fundamentals of morality. The kicker: she is fighting for Gauri, in the land of Gita.