Three directors who work in different languages and regions, each with a distinct metier, foray into narrative zones they haven’t explored before and tell three quirky stories from the backwoods in Lantrani (Tall Tales). These are stories with heart from the heart of India.
The Zee5 anthology film is studded with arresting flourishes – they range from the funny to the provocative, the absurd to the deadpan, the serious to the tongue-in-cheek. Although none of the three short fiction films is anywhere near the filmmaker’s best work, the triptych works primarily because of the stylistic and thematic range that it offers.
One film is darkly comic until it culminates in a tragedy, another is satirical, at times uproariously so, while the third is a tangential take on a dissenting subaltern couple fighting for the woman’s right to be heard.
Bengali filmmaker and actor Kaushik Ganguly (Nagarkirtan, Ardhangini), who works in the mainstream space but makes films that bear an unmistakably individualistic imprimatur, takes a shot at homophobia and the law in Hud Hud Dabang.
In Sanitised Samachar, Assamese director Bhaskar Hazarika (Kothanoi, Aamis) crafts a sly send-up of the business of television news in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dharna Mana Hai sees Gurvinder Singh (Anhe Ghore da Daan, Chauthi Koot) zero in on a female sarpanch of a village and her husband on a silent protest outside the district development officer.
Hud Hud Dabang
Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Dilip (Johnny Lever in a role that isn’t remotely comic), a policeman stationed in a rundown outpost is hours away from retirement. One final assignment holds him up. For the first time in his career, he is told to ride a motorcycle and is handed a gun with a single bullet. A dreaded unnamed criminal (Jisshu Sengupta) in his custody has to be transported to the district court 250 kilometers away.
It is a massive deal for the jaded cop because he has never had a service revolver all to himself. On his way to the hearing, Dileep stops at a dhaba for a quick meal and does not lose the opportunity to let the world know that he is armed. A bridegroom on his way to his wedding poses a problem. The brooding undertrial offers to help.
But that is only one facet of Hud Hud Dabang. The film changes tack and assumes a serious tone as the action moves to the courtroom. The transition is a touch abrupt, but Kaushik Ganguly navigates the tonal shift deftly enough for it not to appear laboured.
Johnny Lever, known for his comic acts in Bollywood films, is terrific as the policeman experiencing the highs and lows of an unexpected assignment. Jisshu Sengupta, who barely speaks uring the character’s lockup-to-courtroom journey and thereafter, serves as the perfect foil.
Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
The middle episode of Lantrani 1 flies off in a completely different direction in terms of both tone and substance. A television newsreader is fired in the middle of her show, Aaj Ki Badi Khabar, on which she promises to deliver a “manoranjan bhari report“.
Even as Millie Sinha (Preeti Hansraj Sharma) tells the world that a multiplex and an airline have retrenched a bulk of their employees, she is bodily picked up from her seat by a man in a PPE suit and thrown out of the frame. All this happens in the opening moments of Sanitised Samachar.
Pretty much like the Coronavirus-infected world around them, Millie Sinha, the channel that has sacked her, and her under-pressure boss Pinaki (Boloram Das) have much worse in store for them. Salaries haven’t been received for three months, defaults on house rent have mounted alarmingly and despair has set in all around. The news operation is itself in danger of going belly up.
A new powerful hand sanitizer (named Covinash) arrives as a ray of hope. But its advent and what the brand makes them do for their survival exposes the rot at the heart of the news channel. Somebody quips: “New hai par hai toh India hi!”
Bhaskar Hazarika, working with material that represents a marked departure from the core of his two Assamese feature films, maintains a firm grip on the orchestration of the disparate elements that he uses in the exercise to look at the funnier side of a deadly virus that takes a toll not only on the bodies of humans but also on their their minds.
Dharna Mana Hai
Director: Gurvinder Singh
Gurvinder Singh, whose independent Punjabi films have premiered at festivals in Cannes, Venice and Rotterdam, steps into the heart of India to explore the dynamics of a protest launched by a village sarpanch and her husband, two people perceived by the administration as pushovers.
In the process, Dharna Mana Hai touches upon the themes of bureaucratic power and apathy, the uses of peaceful dissent, and the odds that the meek and hapless have to contend with in a broken system of redressal, besides bringing up, in passing, the question of caste discrimination.
It is 2015. Six months have elapsed since the panchayat elections. Gomti Devi (Nimisha Sajayan in her first Hindi-language outing), sarpanch of Lakshmipura village, and her supportive husband Debu (Jitendra Kumar) begin a dharna in the town of Bairipur.
Their silent protest is against the four other panchayat members, who have been stonewalling a crucial proposal. The duo takes a vow of silence, triggering a rigmarole that sends the local bureaucracy into a tailspin but does not stir them into action.
Nobody is interested in the least in giving Gomti and Debu a ‘hearing’ and addressing their grievance. The couple isn’t in a position to verbally deliver their message to the administration. Their story is a parable about the masses who can fret and fume as much as they want but they are rarely, if ever, heard.
The District Development Officer Gautam Bajpai (Rajesh Awasthi) is confident that Gomti and Debu can be rolled over with ease. But the two stoic protestors are made of sterner stuff.
Nimisha Sajayan, who has only half a line to speak, does a fabulous job of using her eyes and face to communicate the turmoil raging within Gomti Devi. Jitendra Kumar, playing the common man for the umpteenth time, manages to invest the role with fresh angularities.
Johnny Lever, Jisshu Sengupta, Jitendra Kumar, Preeti Hansraj Sharma, Boloram Das, Nimisha Sajayan, Rajesh Awasthi
Kaushik Ganguly, Bhaskar Hazarika and Gurvinder Singh