17th November 2019

Hellaro Takes Indian Cinema To The Next Level


Starring Shraddha Dangar, Jayesh More

Directed  by Abhishek Shah

Rating: *****(5 stars)

 Once in  a decade or maybe twice , if we are lucky,  an Indian  film makes us proud  to be who we are. Hellaro is one  such  rarity. It  is  much more  than a  film. The sum-total of its parts  is  so profoundly  moving  that  the work defies a microcosmic  assessment.And  yet  to not probe into its layers  to  gauge how deep its undercurrents of  emotions  run, would be doing this  great film a disservice.

Outwardly Hellaro  is about a bunch of rural Gujarati women seeking emotional and physical  empowerment circa  1975 during the  days  of the  draconian  Emergency,  by defying the patriarchal embargo and  doing the Garba . This  description is  most inapt  in summing what Hellaro does.  This is akin to saying the Garba  is about  two sticks and one pair of  feet.

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 There is  such a sense  of exhilaration and liberation in this dance form  .Each time the  women-folk of  the  film gather together to swing to the dhol beats, something happens.A magic, an alchemy, a sense  of unshackling that  can only be experienced  , not explained.

Hellaro is    a film that  we can’t really  describe. And we shouldn’t even try.The spoken words are in Gujarati. But to  slot it as  “regional” is as insulting as  slotting Lata Mangeshkar as Maharashtrian. The  film sweeps us away from all definition , lingual and emotional, transporting us into a world of exquisite pain and a  primeval brutal beauty where for  all we see is endless  stretches of blistering sand.But  Tribhuvan Babu  Sadineni’s cinematography takes us beyond  what our eyes can see.

 I am  so  glad    the National award  was  given to all the  female protagonists . To single out any one of these luminous ladies is to pluck a flower out of bouquet. When these ladies dance together  their pain dissolves literally in front  of  our eyes. The last  time I saw  this happen was when I  watched Waheeda Rehman throw away her  chains and  caution to the winds ,as she sang and danced to Aaj phir jeene ki tammanah hai in  Guide.

Along with the sense of infinite freedom and exhilaration(and full credit to the music composer Mehul Surti and the choreographers Sameer and Arsh Tanna) there is also the sense of  dread  and foreboding. What  if the women are caught  doing the forbidden?

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“We are dead anyway. We come  alive only when we dance,” one of the  Garba-fixated  women mutters in  a trance-like transformation that happens  to these women when the mysterious dhol player(Jayesh More) comes into their lives and  beats  the drum until the feet ache in ecstasy.

Slicing  through the fancy  hollow  tones of  pseudo-feminism Hellaro cuts a deep wound into the prison of patriarchy where  men, out of a  sense of unquestionable  entitlement, decide what women should and shouldn’t do.And dancing a definite no-no in this Kutch village. The  superbly-meshed  screenplay(Abhishek Shah, Prateek Gupta, Saumya Joshi) takes  these  stifled women  out into the  open to breathe live and dance.

Hellaro is   much more than a  celebration of  the  healing  powers the Garba. It is a transformative  life-changing  treatise on what makes the  Indian heartland such  a fertile breeding-ground for empowering women who  don’t want to teach their  insensitive husbands a  lesson. They just want to dance.

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Bollywood’s song-and-dance  formula is dead.Long  live  the Garba.


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