Cinematographer Rajen Kothari’s Directorial Farewell Is Unforgettable

Das Kapital Ghulamon Ki Rajdhani(streaming  on  Cinemapreneur)

Starring Yashpal Sharma, Pratibha Sharma,Jameel Khan, K K Raina, Manoj Pahwa, SeemaBhargava Pahwa

Directed  by Rajen Kothari, Dayal Nihalani

Rating: *** ½ 

We lost one of Indian cinema’s best cinematographers Rajen Kothari  12 years  ago. Not too many fans  of  Kothari’s  work know he  also directed two films  , one of the  being Purush featuring Ashwini Bhave  as a  rape  victim forces  her powerful  rapist Om Puri to his  knees.

No  such comfort  of justice is offered  to the audience  in Rajen Kothri’s second directorial  venture . Das Kapital Ghulamon Ki Rajdhani based  on  the  stories  of  the well-known Hindi writer Shaiwal, takes  us directly into  a government  office  in a remote town  of  Bihar where corruption is not only  a way  of life  but also  the only means  of  survival.

Without glorifying bribery ,commissions and other under-the-table practises this credible drama of human degeneration plunges us into  cesspool  of  wretched lives, some  of  whom like the sexually exploited wife(Ayesha Raza) are recognizable figures from the writer Shaiwal’s  fictional  themes . Barring the hero Purushottam Ram ,an underprivileged  man with  mounting financial liabilities, every government  staffer is  shown  to have accepted grafts  and bribe as a way of life.

This is a godforsaken , wretched town where eking out  a living is an ongoing  struggle for  the poor, staying  uncorrupted  is an impossibility and  falling sick is  a luxury that  the  characters can ill-afford. Shot on location in Bihar,  interestingly not  by Rajen Kothari himself but  by  ChandanGoswami,  Das Kapital is a  stark and  unadorned  look at irredeemable characters  trapped in a societal lockdown.

 Though this film is set in the  1980s(the period is  sturdily  recreated  without resorting to stereotypical props like songs of  the era, etc) the  decadence and  corruption haven’t changed one  bit. Standing steadily at  the centre  of  the muck is  our hero Puroshottam Ram, trying hard to do his  work sincerely in an environment of unmitigated compromises. 

There is a touching love story  secreted  in the slush between Puroshottam  and  his wife Shuchi(Pratibha Sharma), a timbre of tenderness in the hardcore slush …Watching YashpalSharma  play the loving care  husband and  father and a duty-bound cashier in  an office of  corruption ,is  a reminder of how little  of Sharma’s talent has been tapped by our  cinema. He is a  revelation, and  an indication of the talent at the fringes  of the star-obsessed film industry. There  are other remarkable  performances too particularly Jameel  Khan as  a sleazy corrupt BDO , Ravi Jhankal as the empowered debauch who  redeems  himself  at the end,   and  K K Raina as a  political middleman.

 Watch out for Seema Pahwa as  a Madame  in a brothel that has seen  better days, and the late Asif Basra  as a municipal  assistant. The  film is teeming with characters and  after a while it becomes hard to tell who is who. It’s the stench  of corruption that drives all the characters. The are no glimmers of hope in this heaving  lurching hemisphere  of  darkness.

  In his directorial send-off Rajen Kothari and  his co-director Dayal Nihalani  remind us that life at the lowest level is  a crime. The  poor are punished  throughout their lives for being  poor.This film doesn’t  offer  them any false  promises  of  a release or redemption.

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