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Sonechiriya Is Much Much More Than A Brilliant Dacoit Drama

Subhash K . Jha

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Starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Bajpai, Bhumi Pednekar, Ashutosh Rana, Ranveer Shorey

Directed  by Abhishek  Chaubey

Rating: *****(5 stars)

Some  of our  actors are  so  inured  in brilliance we’ve ceased  to  notice their power .Ranveer Shorey  is one of them. He just blends into the  bleeding colours  of  brilliancy  in  this  exceptional film set in the dark desperate world of  dacoits  in the confounding  ravines  of  the Chambal valley.

By singling out  Shorey’s brilliance I don’t mean to  undermine  the  other performers, most of whom are so skillfully  effective, they  seem to have been born in the  hungering shadows of  their ever-renewable excellence.

But then the point here is not the brilliance.  It is how  the  rites of accomplished filmmakingare applied to a solid  narration that are  on  your mark and all set  to go even  before we are  fully able to grasp  the  wide spectrum  of characters on the  run. Dammit, they are all  fugitives , even the vicious  vendetta-seeking cop played with a iron ironic  meanness  byAshutosh Rana who  is  so bloodthirsty his venom fills the  Chambal  valley with echoes  of exasperating nemesis.

 But Rana  doesn’t play the  most vicious character  in  Sonechiriya. A  young boy with a big gun who plays  Bhumi Pednekar’s  violent  son  is  perhaps  the most  bloodthirsty  son under the sun.He  wants his mother dead, at any cost even when his  father played by the talented Jatin Sarna  (who is  not  really his father) wants to forgive his wife for being  who she is.

A rebel.

 Phoolan Devi who appears  towards  the  end   of  this long unpunctuated treatise on  torment trauma subjugation and  atonement, would  laugh dryly at  the  thought  of  a woman rebel. Are women allowed  the  luxury  of  rebelling against  patriarchal  tyranny without losing  everything? Phoolan and   our film’s heroine  Indumati  Tomar,played   magnificently by Bhumi Pednekar,  hit  it  off  at a  time when their  life is  at the brink of extinction.

The screen Phoolan has  the  best lines I’ve heard  on  patriarchy in cinema.  “The caste system  is  for  the men to fight and gain supremacy. We women all belong  to one caste.”
 Phoolan makes  Indumati  an  offer to join her gang. Does Indumati take up that  job offer after the  movie ends? Is there  any  other  option for  the oppressed  than outlawry? Sonechiriya  is  the  most anguished plea against injustice and oppression since  Bimal  Roy’s  Sujata.  The deep silences in  Abhishek Chaubey’s clenched narrative  reminded me  of  Roy’s film about a  Harijan  girl(Nutan) looking for an identity.

 We don’t have Harijans  anymore  as targets  of   exploitation. We have Dalits, and  gosh,so  many variations  of oppressed communities  in  this  film, I  began to wonder  if there  is any section of  the  society that is  not  traumatized and brutalized!  Chaubey  uses eerie silences in the stunning  Chambal landscape  to punctuate  a sense  of excruciating  oppression.  

I wish Vishal Bhardwaj’s background score was better able to capture  the vile viscosity  of  the  environment , thick with  suggestions  and manifestation  of violence. In this world of apocalyptic  despair  , Sushant Singh Rajput’s  Lakhna  decides to rid his guilty  conscience  of its  inexorable burden  by helping a woman to protect  and  heal  a brutally  raped  girl-child .

I wish the  relationship between  Lakhna and  the  ravaged  girl  was given more space to grow. But then where  is  the  room  for relationships to breathe when  men are constantly  on  the  run, and  not just from the law? I  wished  for Lakhna and  Indumati’s  bonding over the child to end in some semblance of  joy.

But wishes cannot be horses. Not in a dacoit drama  without a single  horse in sight. In fact there is a joke  in the  film about how  Hindi films  show  dacoits galloping away  when in  fact there are no horses in the Chambal Valley.

 There are  no heroes either.  Only victims  posing manfully with guns that  kill not just  human beings. But also  hope.

I came away  with two heroes in Sonechiriya. The  little brutalized girl  from whom the  film gets its title, whose  devastated eyes still secrete a smile after all she has gone through.Some hope!

And cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan whose lenses  render bleakness  into myriad shades  of  life lived on  the edge.Raw  gritty and compelling ,Sonechiriya conveys  a  clandestine  narrative  style  that never impinges on the  violent disarray  of  the characters’ brutal  unpredictable lives.

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