Thursday, September 30, 2010

Paltadacho Munis

A searing critique of institutional religion and the ways it is wedded with politics, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar's film Paltadacho Munis (int'l title: The Man beyond the Bridge) is first a thoughtful, beautiful story of a lonely forest guard fighting off his loneliness as much as the greed and corruption around him, with nothing but a big heart and a cane in his hand. The film's strength lies in that without using dialogues, it's sort of a monologue: the forest guard (Chittaranjan Giri) is an insignificant peg in a vast administrative network, and the forest is his closest friend. Every element of the forest means something to him: including the mad woman he first falls in lust with, and then love with.

The theme of loneliness is not simply explored through Giri's nonchalant character, but also through the mad woman's (Veena Jamkar). If she has escaped the taunts and the stones of the villagers, then was it only to lose the last remnant of independence: her ability to roam and to laugh at her own will? Giri wants to care for her, but in the process he forgets how she came to him: and he tries to cage her, and give her an image of his own. But water is not molded; it has to break free, it has to flow on. Giri and Jamkar realise their limitations, and also how each must respect the other, and only then could love continue: because the forest is not only full of silences but also predators. Outside, there is only the forest; and the warmth must be made within, even of themselves, themselves the flint and steel and themselves the fire.

Throughout the length of the film, the hypocrisy of religion, rituals, and politicians is well exposed, albeit as a silent observer. The way in which Giri chooses to fight is being himself, by doing what he wants; rather than anything symbolic or grand, he dares to love, and he dares to protect. And so does Jamkar. The man beyond the bridge may be outside the pale of civilization, but it could be that the world is more beautiful on that side.

Shot in the beautiful Goa-Karnataka border region, the film is made in Karwari and Bardezi dialects and available subtitled in English.