Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bawandar (2005)

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.


Anonymous said...

This looks very interesting. I've never heard of it before but it sounds like an unforgettable film.
I was wondering about the whole child marriage thing...After seeing Water, I wanted to reassure myself that it didn't exist in modern India but I just did not know for sure.

Thanks for the recommendation on Bawandar!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen "Hari-Bhari"? It stars Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and others and is a wonderful one to watch.....seems like those old art films almost. Do rent it if you get a chance.

Cheers, Trupti

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Sounds like a 2-hanky movie- do things wk out in the end? I ask cos I am not good w/ tragedies :D

Sanket Vyas said...

Nida - It was a nice surprise for me as well and just fyi, see anything you can get your hands on starring Nandita Das. Child marriages don't exist in 'modern' India per se but much of India is still rural and the practice still continues today.

Trupti - I have not seen it but have it on my Netflix queue. Incidentally it was directed by Shyam Benegal (a premier art house director) who directed the Shabana Azmi's debut 'Ankur' which I posted about several months ago.

Shweta - Things work out in the end to an extent. But I can promise you that this is not a movie with a tragic ending - it is actually quite uplifting so go it is safe to watch ;)

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Nandita Das. Have never heard of this film too, but will definitely look for it. Thanks for writing such a great review!

Sanket Vyas said...

It did well outside the realm of Bollywood but in India it kind of got buried. The director was known more for 'adult' films and this film provided quite a departure for him. A must for any lover of quality cinema anywhere.

Souvik Chatterji said...

Smita Patil is the realistic actress that bollywood had ever produced. She destroyed the myth that actresses require mannerisms to attract the attention of the viewers.

Sanket Vyas said...

Souvik - I agree with your statement and the fact that she did her best work before 30 makes her passing even more heartbreaking. I just cannot imagine the kind of roles she would be taking on in this day & age.