Thursday, August 30, 2007

from ritualism to reality;from spiritualism to realisation.

a staunch and hardcore brahmin pandit of benares,ram narayan chaturvedi(pankaj kapoor),fanatically follows ageold rituals of hinduism as defined in the vedas.bred in true brahminical style and living the life of an honourable gruhastha(householder).starting with early morning ablutions immersed waist-deep in the cold ganga waters in the ancient and holy city of benares,pandidtji goes about his 'dharma'(duty) in a characteristically matter-of-fact manner.with a rotund waistline,bare torso,an angavastra dropping over his neck and three parallel lines on his forehead(vibhuti), identifying him as a follower of lord shiva,he returns home every day followed by his loyal disciples and ensuring throughout that he does not come into contact with any member of the fourth varna(caste).and when it does happen,he returns all the way to gangamaiya for a purificatory bath. back home he does his lingapooja,abhishek,chanting of vedic hymns and aarti.with his young and obedient daughter and devoted 'dharmapatni'(supriya pathak),a pativrata woman,in toe.then starts the vedadhyayanam(vedic chanting) with his disciples and discussions on hindu scriptures where even a foreigner is a is an orthodox life full of rituals and deeply embedded spiritualism.pandidtji is a happy and contented man and a loving husband and father.

then one day,the unthinkable happens.his world is turned upside down.a newborn child is left in front of his house.found by the pativrata woman and his daughter.they take him inside their home and pacify the crying child.when panditji returns home and finds a newborn child,he is surprised.he asks how this has happened and when are they sending the child back.there is no immediate answer.the child's antecedents are not known.the child could be from a different caste and community and what if the mother comes back? so,panditji decides to inform the police and ask them to take the child away.persuaded by his family, he is prepared to keep the child for a few days,till the whereabouts of the mother are known.the bond between the child and panditji's wife and daughter develops.even the strong-willed panditji succumbs to the child's cries once when his wife and daughter are away and to stop her crying lifts the boy and plays with him.there is no sign of the mother and the police draw a night when his wife presses his feet panditji sweetly asks her,"kya god lena chahati ho?"(do you want to adopt the child?).panditji's wife is keen to adopt the child.or at least keep the child till the dust clears.apprehensive of the consequences but at the same time seeing the joy in the faces of his family on the arrival of a newborn child,he does not want to break their hearts.panditji's wife makes a big assumption that the child is a brahmin child and conveys that impression to her husband.

he has a rival pandit (dayashankar pandey) who is jealous of panditji's knowledge and the respect he commands.dayashanker is commercialminded and trades on his knowledge of the rituals and does pooja for devotees by proxy.he knows that it does not meet the approval of panditji,but who cares.after all he is competition.and he also has to take revenge for his humiliation by panditji for his commercial approach.there are hindu fundamentalists who cannot tolerate foreigners trying to learn hinduism.and when that foreigner falls in love and elopes with a hindu girl(hrishita bhatt),daughter of an upper-caste landlord,all hell breaks loose.the girl is ostracised and sent out.later in a intergroup clash the foreigner is killed.on the advice of pandidtji,she is taken back in her home as a widow and allowed to live in a separate room. her brother,a bajrangibaliite,is infuriated and is waiting for an opportunity to lit a communal fire.meanwhile,the mother of the boy who is now about four shows up.she is a burqaclad muslim woman.she explains the circumstances under which she had to leave her child in front of their house.panditji's wife is shocked and stunned.panditji is numbed as if felled by a tree.instantly the child,karthikeya,is sent off.mustafa is back home with his mother much against his wish.he cries and cries but to no avail.the door reluctantly is shut on him.

thereafter he starts the maha prayaschittharth(big repentance).a series of rituals and maunavrat to purify himself after the impurification wrought on him and his family.the word goes around that panditji had kept a muslim child for four years or so in his house and brought him up.he then undertakes the chandreya vrat,the toughest penance to food for two weeks excepting a ball of rice in the evening at moonrise.

when he finally breaks the fast,everyone is one dare point a finger at him because of his determination and conviction.he has committed a himalayan blunder as per the shastras and only he has to bear the burden of the consequences.

suddenly one day a flareup between two communities occurs.the city is on fire.mustafa's mother rushes to panditji's house for safe custody to save the boy.panditji's wife refuses initially,ultimately succumbs.panditji who walks the streets where mass killing has taken place due to the mindless communal frenzy undergoes a transformation.a catharsis.he returns home to find fire all around and shouts for 'karthikeya'. the boy rushes to him from his mother's arms.he is relieved.he lifts him up and takes him in his arms.he stops the killers,admonishes them and implores them to stop this maniac killing. we are all one.'vasudeiva kutumbakam'.the universe is one big family.'maanavta paramo dharma:".humanity is every hindu's prime duty.the 103 minutes movie ends.a fitting finale.

an extraordinary and vibrant debut film by bhavna talwar tracing the dillemmas and predicament of an orthodox hindu priest ."dharm" has been nominated for the gucci groups award 2007 at the 64th venice film festival commencing september 3.the film is about religion,communal harmony,parent child bond.there is a progressive interpretation of religion.colour,caste or creed should not be the discriminating factors.when religion gets distorted by vested interests society must get up and bring in sanity.

the sheetanchor of this superb movie is of course pankaj kapoor.he handles the conflict of conscience that he faces with subtleness and powerful dialogue delivery.from an unflinching shastra follower, he evolves to become a persona with great sensitivity and immense compassion.a long journey from his orthodoxy and brahminical arrogance to a liberalised view of people and society.what is the true meaning of dharma,he asks.knowledge of the vedas might not give you the answer,he is harmony,peace,unity and humanity.a superlative performance,he breathes life into the character of panditji.

the script and dialogues are flawless.nallamuthu's photography is superb.the movie has been shot etherally with the latest high definition technology entirely at benares.dileep subramanian's sound is outstanding.costumes by shenar vahnvati are design by wasiq khan is good.

the question that begs an answer is how will this movie fare at the turnstiles? it has not been a runaway chak de.but it has not been a flop either.the response has been average.there are no songs excepting for the background score and themesong by sonu nigam.but one thing is certain.that bhavna talwar's debut direction and pankaj kapoor's scintillating performance and this story of religious fanaticism and caste conflicts handled with great sensitivity will win many accolades. a therapeutic cinema in choleric times.

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