Wednesday, February 06, 2008
The aptly named 'Bawandar' (Sandstorm) is the true story of Bhanwari Devi, a lower caste woman from Rajasthan whose honor is stolen first by men from her village and then symbolically by the legal system of her country and her fight for justice. Like India itself, the film is one of many contrasts. The beauty of the land versus the ugliness of it's people. The unwavering courage of one woman versus the cowardice of her attackers. The moral code that many Indians live by coexisting with laws that forbid the foundations upon which they are based. Those are the issues that 'Bawandar' grapples with and a spell-binding performance by the lead, Nandita Das, combined with the natural beauty of the 'Land of Kings' (or Rajasthan) make this a must see film that has won countless awards at film festivals worldwide.
The film opens with a scene depicting the age old (but now illegal) tradition of child marriage. It is shot with such rich detail and realism that one first feels that they are watching a documentary - which was the intent of the director, Jagmohan Mundhra. His goal was to capture the rich color of the land like a 'picture postcard' to contrast against the starkness & dark reality of the incident itself. He also made it clear to his financiers that if Nandita Das did not agree to star in the movie, he would not make it. After seeing this modern day Smita Patil in 'Fire' and 'Earth' he knew that she would not only be the face of the movie, but the heart and soul of it as well. It is interesting to note that the movie was shot on location and that many of the children who hung around the sets were already married & that some of the women watching were not allowed to stand near some of the upper caste men - a true case of life imitating art.
The soundtrack of the movie consisted of songs that were written by Rajasthani composers and consisted entirely of instruments and vocals native to that region. It was interesting to me as a speaker of Gujarati (my native state of Gujarat borders Rajasthan) that I needed the subtitles on this movie more than I thought I would. I am fluent in Hindi thanks to Bollywood but the Rajasthani language is an intoxicating combination of Hindi, Gujarati and something altogether different. The song for today is Ab To Jagna which is the centerpiece of the movie and makes an appearance several times, it is sung by Mahalaxmi Iyer.