Issue-based films tend to get themselves into trouble. And we don’t mean just the trouble caused by disgruntled parties, political or otherwise. The balance that needs to be struck between headlines and their cinematic interpretation often tends to get lost thereby defeating the noblest of purposes and the best intentions of conscientious filmmakers who look at the cinematic medium as more than just entertainment.
Ajai Sinha who has his roots in meaningful television entertainment, boldly takes on the theme of khap (community) justice in rural Haryana whereby any marriage between two individuals of the same gotra (clan) is punished by local village panchayats. It’s a powerful subject that needed a single-mindedly uncompromised treatment.
Sadly Sinha dilutes the theme with dollops of formula-baazi. There’s a teenybopper love-angle featuring two relative newcomers who need a crash-course in basic acting and grooming. The young love-birds chat online with what they feel are sweet cute and funny lines.
If only they knew! The entire treatment and development of their romance is redolent of amateurishness. Precious time is frittered away in gawkily composed and choreographed song and dances where the love birds coo sweet-nothings into one another’s ears.
You feel like pushing these two campus wannabes out of the way to watch the impending drama in a village of Haryana where the panchayat is a law unto itself. The interweavement of characters into a dramatic circle embodying outdated customs and their clash with contemporary mores, could have acquired a greater validity if the narrative had focused more on hard-hitting rural prejudices rather than jejune urban affectations.
Om Puri as the village sarpanch is the pick of the plot. He gets the meatiest part with the best emotional graph. He doesn’t need to make much of an effort to make the part his own, and he doesn’t even try. Nowadays a kind of laziness has crept into distinguished actor’s repertoire. It’s wonderful to see the talented Manoj Pahwa grab a pivotal role. Pahwa was hilarious as Ayesha Takiya’s delusional suitor in Wanted. Here he sinks into the role of a village elder who once watched his daughter being slaughtered for the village honour.
Ajai Sinha’s antecedents from television make themselves evident in the way the drama unfolds in episodic overtures covering huge time-frames with soft punctuation marks.
The film would have worked better with a more confident cast of younger plays. The elders can only take the drama so far. Khap is finally betrayed by the wimpish and awkward portrayal of the urban young and by too many attempts to draw out a soap-opera-styled drama from situations that seem to plead for more finesse in presentation.
Nonetheless Khap should be commended for attempting a socially-relevant theme with some amount of detachment and equanimity. Should love between cousins or people from within one family be sternly discouraged just because the village panchayat feels it is damaging to the social framework?