Back to the Roots

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (With subtitles in English)

DIRECTOR: Gurvinder Singh

Cast: Samuel John, Mal Singh, Sarbjeet Kaur, Dharminder Kaur

Rating: ****

"Alms For The Blind Horse." That's the English title for this National Award-winning film, whose characters speak primarily in Punjabi, but which shines with a language and texture that is heartbreakingly universal. First time director Gurvinder Singh, a student of Mani Kaul, has wrought a film that's not so much a film but a slow-moving painting, which captures life so realistically that you can smell the mustard in the fields, and the roti off the chulha.

This is not the sarson ke khet that you see in Yash Chopra's Bollywood. Singh's sparse, stark film has no place of artifice of any kind as he tracks the shaky fortunes of a family in a Punjab village where "dalit" Sikhs are treated just as "dalits" are in other parts of the country: their troubles are not taken into account, and if they are given a hearing, it is accompanied by humiliation. Mal Singh (played by Mal Singh, one of the villagers, like most of the actors in the film) and his wife (Dharminder Kaur) and daughter (Sarbjeet Kaur) are caught in the aftermath of the demolition of a house at the outskirts, as they wait for news from a much older son Melu (John), whose migratory flight may have taken him to the near-by town, but hasn't given him too much happiness.

Singh's style is reminiscent of his mentor, Kaul, for whom less was always more. Dread builds up, not by decorative speeches, but by silences, broken by scant dialogue, and scenes: the camerawork speaks. Watching Anhey Ghorey Da Daan, produced by National Film Development Corporation of India, is a meditative experience: you have to let yourself be immersed in the film, and then it will take you down its paths, there to yield the sadness of lives which are not allowed to come to fruition. Give some alms, please, to the blind horse.

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