It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.
That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.
Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?
Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.
The title of the story is taken from Hindu mythology that portrayed Dalits as the descendants of the asuras or the demons. When there is a lunar or solar eclipse, the demon Rahu comes on a chariot led by blind horses to settle scores with his enemies- the Sun and Moon gods. . The title itself speaks a lot about the theme of the film.
The film starts with the demolition of Dharma’s house by the local landlords who have sold their piece of land, as well as Dharma’s, for setting up a factory. When Dharma and members of his landless Mazhabi Sikh community approach the sarpanch to intervene, they are asked to go to the courts. The sarpanch, who is evidently a representative of the landholding Jatts uses a combination of guns and mollycoddling to evade the group. Soon, Dharma is arrested and his community is scared off.
The film’s main protagonists are the family of Dharma’s neighbour, whose wife has to beg for a few stalks of mustard from the landlord for whom she works. Finding no support from his own community in the face to the landlords and village sarpanch, her husband decides to leave for the city at the end of the day where his son, Melu is a rickshaw driver. Melu is a hard worker, yet he is unable to make ends meet and provide for his family. His health deteriorates and he is injured during the demonstration earlier in the day. A fellow Mazhabi doctor treats him. Another two of his associates drown themselves in alcohol, while ruminating on their existential condition. Despite being a leader of the town’s rickshaw pullers, Melu is a fatigued and defeated man. Late in the night, he decides to take the train back to the village- even as his father takes the opposite direction. His sister, driven to restlessness, wanders out in the midnight fog. At that point, her brother returns, and they walk back home in silence.
The characters in the family are driven from the village to the town, and from the town to the village, unable to find succour.
Just like its theme, the film’s form and the narrative structure display dissonance. Even though the story is about one day in the life of the family, the way the film is structured brings to mind a jigsaw puzzle. Each character takes one aspect of life in the family- the sequence is not very clear as each episode comes to an abrupt end and then it moves on a to a different one. Most of the characters are played by non- actors and they don’t seem to get or ask for the viewer’s sympathy or understanding. Each episode, however, takes the viewer to experience a slice of their grinding life and underlines a certain aspect.
The film has won many international prizes. It has also won the best director’s award for the young Gurvinder Singh and the best cinematographer (Satya Raj Nagpaul) at the Indian National Film Awards.
It is pertinent that a film like this belongs to an aesthetics that is foreign to the sensibilities of the large chunks of people that speak Punjabi. It is also pertinent that a film that speaks about the most marginalized castes and sections in Punjab should be made by someone who grew up outside the state.
21 thoughts on “Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review”
Nicely appraised this gem. Got a fortunate chance to watch this move recently. Amazing piece of art and beautifuly explained in your blog
Don’t know why you even bothered compairing it to the “mainstream” punjabi cinema with such bitterness.
Also, personally, I long to watch a well made film based on “militant patriots like Bhagat Singh”
Thanks for your comment. I had to bring up the question of mainstream Punjabi cinema as this film has won the national for for the best Punjabi film- the contrast is, I felt, unavoidable.
There has been a number of films made on Bhagat Singh, and I understand that one or two are quite good. Still- that would highlight just another stereotype. The theme of Anhey Ghorey is truly exceptional.
Dear Mr. Bhupinder,
Its been a finest feeling for Punjabi cinema again that a movie came out with such a subject that need to be invent in our visions. After Madhi Da Deeva, this is the only single movie I’d say has excelled in subject matter. Is there any possible way to get the movie online or any alternative to grab the movie. It’s just for a collection purpose. Do mail me at
If you have any probable way.
Thanks anyway for presenting a review which is much essential in terms of quality the movie is speaking.
I agree with you on the quality of the film. It is rare to come across one this one in any language.
I haven’t come across any online version as yet. In case I do, will send you an email.
it was a nice movie..well directed…Could you pls tell me exact Punjabi meaning of the title…I couldn’t understand..please email me at email@example.com
The meaning of the title is “The Gift of the Blind Horse”
I am curious about the title as well…The gift of the blind horse is the literal translation… I am sure there is a meaning and a motive behind the title – What does ‘Anhey ghrey da daan” actually mean? Is it a phrase in the native language, or a reference to a myth or folklore?
The night watchman, or is he a beggar, who walks around calling out this phrase – why is he doing that? What is the symbolism of that?
I watched the movie very carefully. It has all the qualities the reviewer mentions. Gurdial Singh must be a very ruminative novelist. As far as the narrative goes, nothing seems to happen! I had the same thought after watching another movie based on his book. ‘Marhi da Deeva’. Despite Raj Babbar and Deepti Naval in that movie, slow pace was grinding. What holds the attention of the viewer is the pain and suffering characters experience. But to what purpose?
I haven’t watched Marhi da deeva so cannot comment. As to the purpose of this one, I think it depends on what the viewer takes away from the film.After watching this one, I was much moved, and better informed about the conditions of the people it deals with. I think it has made me a trifle more empathic to the lives of fellow humans- which I believe is one of the purposes of any art.
Having grown up in a middle class family in Punjab I am familiar with the plight of poor and marginalized communities. This movie depicts the conditions in a village of which I do not have much experience. For a Punjabi movie it is exceptional as it realistic. But the structure of the movie simply presents some vignettes of life in the village and city. Focusing on several characters who are barely making it in society and seem to be resigned to their fate does not make a very strong narrative. It is more of a documentary style with a missing theme. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.
I agree with your observation that the film lacks a strong narrative structure. I think what helped me appreciate it was familiarity with Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinema where the film moves not because of the story but the emotive structure built by each frame or scene. Anhey ghorey has a grammar that is different from what one is usually encounters in mainstream cinema. Part of the experience in watching it is to try and understand its language.
I also agree that some of the portions are dreary and make the film weak at those places particularly where it drags on in a very documentary-like manner.
this novel as well as maddi da diva tell us the plight of people who live in villages. ..in these areas people from lower cast still has the same condition. .they work as ‘Seeri’ or Labourer in the same family for many generations ..because they can’t pay the money. .
Absolute work of art….brilliantly presented …was broken into tears..have myself seen these people in my village..every dialogue delivered is a reality…
Great review. Your summation is impressive and very observant one. The dissonance is deliberately created to outsync our simplistic mental image of Punjab. Great beginning for young Director and real Punjabi movies.
i watched the movie on lok sabha tv as they run only national award winning movies…..to my utmost surprise …..i didn’t know that this kind of punjabi movie is made …..for me appreciation is beyond words…..i think if we take a holistic view,very few people get the chance to transform their lives 360 degrees…and that’s what we have learned as becoming a hero is….but in real life every common person is the hero of his/her life…a movie shouldn’t necessarily be a motivating one ….sometimes we need the doze of confronting with the reality and that is what this movie does…..full in its glaring emptyness……