Wednesday, August 27, 2014


I saw the film in May at a film festival at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. I was meaning to write about it, but always kept postponing it. Now that the movie is being released in Asom, I thought, I would contribute my two bits.

I was actually dreading to go to the screening. Since the film was being showed at a festival, I expected it to be an arty-type serious drama on the social issue of water. Not that I have problems with those arty-type movies, but at times they can be very slow, and very boring, even if they are making some interesting points. I went to the film expecting to be bored.

Happily, the film was short, by the standards of regular Asomiya films at least, and happily, it was not slow. The action moved at a decent pace, there was no unnecessary rona-dhona and stuff. But did I like the film? I don’t know.

In short, the film is a biting satire not only how the government machinery works, but also the mentality of the people, and also on elections. (I watched the film when this brouhaha about the general elections was going on and it felt really relevant), but the film attempts to present its satire in a heap of comedy, of the bawdy variety that Assamese films are tend to do (like the hand-pecked husband, for example). I am not sure the concoction works. I was not really bored, but I was not really satisfied either.

Paani tells the story of a village in Upper Asom and how the villagers react when the local MLA decides to offers the village free water supply. Before the screening, director Jadumoni Dutta had mentioned how the film is about how best intentioned public service initiatives not always reach the common people due to intervention of various factors in the chain, both public servants and the common men as well.

So, it is. Thus, as one may have expected, the MLA and the irrigation department guys are not identifiably bad people, whereas the poor villagers are not all victims.

The minister wants the water supply to win the elections. The villagers want the water supply because the river, who had offered them drinking water, is now polluted. There is a feisty girl who fights for the rights and helps the minister win for water. There is a mute boy who loves the girl. There is another comic foil to this love story. There is a local boy who is miffed for not getting the contract for the work. There are other assorted villagers.

Then there is the character played by Bishnu Khargharia. Khargharia is a great actor, but I think, in the recent times, he has been type-cast to a degree which is almost unbearable, where he is reduced to playing a cranky old man with a person agenda. Here, is a rich man, who feels slighted by the fact that the authorities decided to install the water tap in the public field outside the village school, instead of outside his house. So, he takes the matter on his own hands, steals some of pipes and builds another tap outside his house. The way these scenes are depicted, it has an obvious comic undertone, and we do not realise the far-reaching consequences of his action until it is too late. The film ends where it begins, of course. The status quo prevails.

The best part is how the director refuses to hammer this story of ineffectiveness of public services on the audience. Instead, he is more interested in showing the villagers react to the event. This, of course, bodes well for the film. There is a slice of life of the village, where nothing is conclusive, not even the love stories, which are just hinted at. This is one of the reasons why I liked the film.

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