Director Goutam Ghose has often – in his long career which began in 1980 – created a cinema that was provocative and aroused our empathy for society's have-nots. His 1984 Paar (The Crossing ) with Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi was a brutal look at rural exploitation in Bihar. Antarjali Yatra, which premiered at the 1988 Cannes, with Shatrughan Sinha leading the cast, explored polygamy among Kulin Brahmins in 19th century Bengal, and the work lambasted the hypocrisy of the community.
Ghose's latest outing, Raahgir (The Wayfarers) – which premiered at the recent Busan International Film Festival and was also shown at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival – told us in 81 minutes how poverty and deprivation were casting an ominous shadow over rural India. Yes, even 70-odd years after the British gave India its freedom.
Raahgir is a simple story of a three people who bond over an old, seriously sick couple who have to be taken to hospital. Nathuni (Tillotama Shome) has two children and a husband who is paralysed waist down after being shot by security guards during an agitation, but no work, no food at home. So, she begins a trek towards a town hoping to find work, but scared stiff of being waylaid on the lonely jungle path by potential rapists. When she runs into a man, Lakhpathi (Adil Hussain), a wanderer also in search of work, she heaves a sigh of relief. He seems a kindred soul. Together, they continue with their journey, and on the way, meet Chopatlal (Neeraj Kabi), whose motorcycle van is stuck in mud. And he is taking two very sick, very old couple to a hospital.
Raahgir – based on a short story by Prafulla Roy and shot in Jharkand -- raises some vexing questions. Ghose told an interviewer that his movie was a "tale of human empathy during a time of crises. Two strangers, who meet on a journey to the nearest town in search of their livelihood, form the crux of the plot. It is a humane story of common people and their humanity and how they sacrifice their own interests to save the life of a poor elderly couple. I thought it is pertinent to make a film on this subject in today's world where humanity faces a crisis, where everyone is so intolerant and cruel".
Lovely performances by Hussain and Shome lift this simple plot to remarkable levels, and with a minimalist approach, Ghose tells us through a tightly-written script that the world is not all bad, and some genuinely wonderful people do turn up most unexpectedly. Life has this ability to throw surprises.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)
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