Starring: Amitosh Nagpal, Anuradha Mukherjee,Yashpal Sharma,Rajesh Sharma
Directed by: Prem Prakash Modi
Rating: ***(3 Stars)
If you’ve ever been in a village of North Bihar, or, better still, lived the life of a North Bihari village in the stories of the great litterateur Phanishwarnath Renu, then you’d find it easy to forgive the amateurishness of many portions of the storytelling in Panchlait .
Instead you’d be happy to focus on the sheer heartwarming naivete of the villagers in 1954 who are consumed by the act of bringing a ‘petromax’ to the village.
There is much empathy and warmth in the characters played by a bevy of brilliant actors.Yashpal Sharma as a villagesarpanch who’s possessive of his pretty wife , Brijendra Kala as a Krishna Bhakt with a secret yearning for spiritual cross-dressing , and Rajesh Verma as a wandering minstrel lend a lipsmacking lustre to the proceedings.But the central romance between Godhan(Amitosh Nagpal) and Munri(Anuradha Mukherjee) lets the down the satirical flavour of the plot.
The narrative also moves forward as a tribute to Raj Kapoor and his persona of the lovable tramp in the film Awara. On another level , as we see a nautanki rendition of Krishna Bhagwan’s Raas Leela being performed, there is a winking tribute to Pahnishwarnath Renu and Raj Kapoor’s collaboration in the glorious but unsuccessful film Teesri Kasam.
All of these scattered and genial images from a rural life of naïve yearnings as seen through the profound prism of Phanishwarnath Renu’s story, is attempted to be assimilated together in what could be best seen as a whittled-down but witty and warm portrait of a rural ingenuity done with sincerity but amateurishness.
The authentic locations enhance the narrative’s constrained appeal. The narrative really comes into its own in the last half an hour when the villagers’ collective pride must be ignited by the lighting up of the petromax. The director gets the satirical mood of anxiety right in those scenes.