Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan: Review

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan acknowledges its debt upfront, with the dedication “For Mani, in remembrance” preceding the opening frame. The film’s director Gurvinder Singh had asked the late Mani Kaul to act as “creative director” on his film. Kaul agreed, but his death last year meant that Singh could only show him the opening ten minutes of his feature debut. The film was completed last year and ended up winning Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Punjabi Film at the National Awards.

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan opens during an eclipse, and, 117 minutes later, the viewer is still in the dark. This is not intended as a criticism, though viewers are advised to go in knowing that that they’ll be offered very little in terms of explanation, expository dialogue or (God forbid) voice-over. What you get instead is rigorous, highly-controlled filmmaking, and a small handful of facts. An old man’s house, constructed on land that’s been sold off to local industrialists, has been demolished. The whole village is on tenterhooks. The rickshaw-pullers union in the nearby town is on strike. And one Melu Singh, who may or may not have stolen money from his wife, refuses to go home.

In place of a story, Gurvinder Singh offers a collection of moments frozen in time (in this, Kaul’s influence is clear). One indelible image follows another: a baby owl in a tree, a group of women silently standing on a street corner, an old man protectively placing his hand on his grandson’s head. Satya Rai Nagpaul’s camera alternates between static, formally beautiful compositions and slow, raking shots that recalled Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice. This is coupled with a sound mix that foregrounds the clatter of everyday life. Tight-lipped though it may be, this is a rare art film that’s free of artifice.

Despite all of Anhey Ghorey Da Daan’s achievements, even patient viewers might eventually start clamouring for clarity. One need only compare it to Michael Haneke’s 2009 Palme d’Or-winner The White Ribbon to see how a film with similar beauty and reticence could be used to make a definite point. Both films create an atmosphere of great foreboding out of little details, but Haneke goes a step further, indicating the kind of collective mindset that led to the rise of fascism in Germany. Anhey Ghorey Da Daan refuses to be drawn out, though if you let it draw you in, you might see a side of Punjab that rarely makes it to the big screen.

This review was published in Time Out Delhi.

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