Films centred on environment issues are hard to come by in Hindi cinema. So when Girish Malik promises a drama woven around the water crises in Kutch, the expectations soar. However, in an attempt to please different segments of audience, Jal loses its potency and leaves a bitter taste. It is a laboured attempt which neither satisfies as an artistic take on environment nor does it work as a drama set in rural Gujarat.
Its gorgeous production design and breathtaking cinematography seems like a glossy cover to entice audience at film festivals eager to exploit Indian exotica.
The film questions whether sweet water is more important for birds than humans but does little to explore it.
To showcase the desperation of thirsty villagers, it simply plays on the age old stereotype of naïve villagers versus selfish government officials and foreigners. The obstacles that Malik creates in the path of his protagonist seem to have been drawn more from Bollywood clichés than research.
A Russian ornithologist has to swim in a swamp in the Rann to discover that the birds are dying. As expected the villagers turn into voyeurs.
The main strand is about Bucca (Purab Kohli), a water diviner who is in search of water for his village. He falls in love with a feisty girl of the rival village where there is water, leading to opposition. There is a love triangle going on as well with Tannishtha Chatterjee playing the sacrificing third angle.
Malik wants to squeeze out every emotion but the impact is half-baked and exploitative. For instance, why can’t the villagers take water from the water body where the flamingos come? When men folk can dig wells, why can’t they fetch water? Why do Bucca and his friend have to bury the gold of a village in a pit; can’t they put in a bank locker?
Malik tries to blend disparate strains and as a result the narrative remains incongruent. And the manipulation becomes sickening when two women don’t even try to take on the villain and one of them chooses to surrender to save the other.
The protagonists seem to have been outsourced. Purab and Kirti Kulhari don’t blend in the rustic ambience despite their earnest attempt. The performance of Saidah Jules as the Russian ornithologist is laughable.
Mukul Dev seems to think Kutchis speak in Haryanvi and Rahul Singh pitches in with a Rajasthani accent.
It is the Sunia Radia’s cinematography that stands out and keeps you glued to the screen with the parched land evoking more emotions than the actors on screen.
The director and cinematographer don’t seem to be on the same page. It seems they are selling the same product to two different consumers. Baffling!
Cast: Purab Kohli, Kirti Kulhari, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Saidah Jules, Mukul Dave, Rahul Singh
Plot: When an ornithologist attempts to save flamingos, a water diviner is called to help the geologists. But when he wants a return favour, he faces refusal.
Bottomline: A touristy ride in Kutch.