(The second and last part of Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu’s review of Anhey Ghorey da Daan. Link to Part I)
The film narrates a story of one day. In reality as well as symbolically. Much of the story lies in understanding the meaning of the symbols. The film starts early in the morning and ends at midnight. But the dawn is not of “Remembering the Lord’s Name and High Thoughts’, but covered in soot. It is bitter and poisonous. Instead of peace, there is sorrow. There is tumult. The villagers are gathering. There is a powerful party that has purchased land for setting up a factory, they have razed to ground the worker Dharma’s house that was built there. Dharma’s family and his neighbours find this unjust. Brute force.
In Punjab and all over the country, this kind of brutality happens daily. Governments elected by the people themselves are party to this. Various industrial organizations and corporates are being given land. Villages upon villages are being uprooted. This is no longer the story of one village, but that of the entire country, where any protests against such brutality are answered with bullets and police batons. Poor Dharma is an easy prey. Behind the perpetrators stands the might of the state. Police jeeps, and uniformed men holding guns stand in the background. The new owner curses Dharma and, grinding his teeth, asks him to clear off ‘like a gentleman’.
The people of Dharma’s community come together and go to the village sarpanch (village head). They had to go. The lowermost representative of an elected government is the sarpanch. A member of the panchayat from their own community also accompanies them. Despite being aware of everything about the case, the sarpanch feigns ignorance. Instead, his men gather around him and curse Dharma’s men. They insult them. One of them holds a rifle in his hands.- a symbol of the power of those of wield it. Their moustaches are twisted up, bolstered up by their conceit. This is the outer face of the hidden political games that he has played.
The director has not put the two men with upturned moustaches and rifles next to the sarpanch without a reason. ‘The law of the land has to be respected!’ and ‘The government has already pampered these people by giving them concessions (through affirmative action- Tr)- these men riding high on the sarpanch’s shoulders are nothing but Chitragupta- his hidden face. The sarpanch has the obvious look of a hypocrite and a pretender. He promises to reach the courts even before the group that has come to meet him. But his words and behaviour leave no one in doubt that he stands up for those who, according to his inner voice, have become the ‘legal owners of the land’ and not those that have come to him for help.
Even those who have come for help, know that his promises will not be kept. Their own elected Dalit member (of the panchayat) is ‘woman- like’ in the face of Jatts’ bullying, unable to forcefully speak up and make him see reason. The hollowness of the symbolic representation given to Dalits is laid bare open. The Dalit members are also under the pressure of the upper castes. To follow the whims of the upper castes is their political compulsion. To put pressure on the stronger side and speak up for their brethren is not their cup of tea.
The group of men roam through the dark streets in pursuit of justice. Their desperation binds them together, but they do not have the strength to fight the circumstances. They even come together hesitantly, probably out of a sense of shame. Melu’s father falls behind as he follows around with the group. He stops. When the crowd returns, he re- joins them hesitantly. What kind of a battle will such a group of unconvinced men fight? How can it fight?
All through the film, the old man has a blanket wrapped around him. His arms are shown to be always covered by the blanket, and are shown out only when he is tying his hair into the turban; or when he helps his daughter to make tea or when he is eating with the roti in his hands. The film tell us that the as yet the arms of this section of society come out only to the extent of bringing food to quench the stomach’s hunger; these hands as yet are not capable of fighting. These arms are not yet capable of coming out of the blanket and challenging the enemy.
There are a number of short scenes in which many doors in the lives of these small people open. The main woman in the household is sad that she has to hear insulting words for a few stalks of mustard from the landlord for whom she works in the fields. To vent her feelings burning with insults, she talks in a screaming voice. Her pain and her screams are heard only by those within the house or the walls; those whose ears it should reach, never hear it. The weaker strata has to daily bear humiliations from the more powerful group. The young son of the family goes out to graze the goat and is beaten up by a Jatt. He strikes the goat with a hoe and wounds it. This humiliation happen not just on this particular day, but is an everyday occurrence.
The boy’s sister treats and caresses the goat. Perturbed by all these events, she starts to walk out in the middle of the night, when her brother asks, “Where are you going?” She replies that she is going to check if all is well with the goat and that it hasn’t got a fever. How can a poor animal tell? The goat is symbolic of the lower strata. The lower strata; which is wounded every day, is compelled to remain silent.
It’s angst is boiling inside. It is not just the goat that has fever, the entire lower strata suffers from it.
It was probably because of this daily bullying by the Jatts that the elder son of the family, Melu, had gone to the city in search of work. He gets drunk with his comrades. The scenes behind the Thermal plant show that industrialization has either not provided enough, or in fact has snatched away food from them. Life is not easy even in the city. Melu, penniless and passenger- less, cycles his rickshaw around the town in the night. He is not ready to go to his house. How can he go home with empty pockets? He himself eats at the dhaba on credit, how will he fill the stomachs of his wife and children?
This is not a matter of a day or a night. The film is about one night only. It must be a matter of every day. In fact the film symbolically tells that urban life is not worth living either. Melu’s comrades are also homeless and away from their families. They drink, play cards. They are representative of many others that are deprived of homes. All seem to be running away from their circumstances. Melu himself, instead of taking up cudgels against the circumstances, veers towards committing suicide. Happen-stance, he is saved. It seems that this strata is saved by happen-stance. It is walking alive. Otherwise, their life is miserable. They are looking for a meaning to live, like a fish without water. They can’t find the meaning of living. They can’t find a way.
To find a way, Melu had run away from the village. He returns home in the night while still searching. He has left his wife and children in the city. His parents and siblings are in the village. If he had left them, then to whom has he returned now? Why has he left the others back in the city? The watchman’s drinking-hut can’t be his permanent home. Even his own community members and relatives had refused him a place to stay for the night. The village that he had run away from, would that village now provide him relief? He had left the house in the village towards the city. After losing the house in the city, he had returned to the village. Where is his own and real home?
Dharma’s house has, in reality, been demolished. But isn’t it symbolic of the broken, and lost houses of this entire community? The film raises this and many similar questions. For example: the moon is in an eclipse. Rahu and Ketu have surrounded the moon. In this dark night, where should these people go? The lower classes have been trying to appease the two demons with the alms of their labour. For how many generations and centuries will Rahu eclipse the moon? Who are the Rahu and Ketu that control their destinies and lives? For how long will they donate the alms of their labour to these Rahu and Ketus? How can the new generation free its own moonlight?
When Melu’s friend throws the empty bottle of alcohol from the old fort towards the thermal plant, his own voice echoes back to him,” If I had it my way, I would set fire to this entire thermal township.” There is no one except himself and his friends that can hear his words.
One is reminded of Paash’s lines while watching the brother and sister and the mass of recognizable faces in the crowd in the dark alleys of the village:
“When my own voice echoes back while walking in the dark tunnel- like life
Then the only thing left to do is to chase the flying falcons”
In the defiance of Melu’s friends, there is an urge in the sparrow’s wings to follow the falcons. If this defiance finds a direction and leadership, then the new generation can turn revolutionary and if this does not happen, then there are possibilities that they might turn to drugs, lumpenism or commit suicide on the railway tracks.
This film gives voice to this restlessness and angst.
Whatever I have said, is not just made up by me. This and a lot more is told by the film, provided one knows how to view and understand it. This craftsmanship has to be attributed to the director, his technical team and the artists. The film is so realistic that it does not seem that any character is acting. It seems as if the characters are living and talking their daily life. This is probably because except for two or three theater actors, all the characters in the film are played by ordinary villagers. It is also for the first time it has been experimented that the very class of people about whom the film has been made are playing out the characters on the screen.
Certainly, all this is due to the film’s director Gurvinder Singh. This miracle is because of him.
23 May 2012
Translated by Bhupinder Singh