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Swaraj: The Little Republic

Straightforward fare, ``Swaraj''.

ANWAR JAMAL'S debut feature "Swaraj" (The Little Republic, Hindi) has a story line that is as straightforward as it is familiar. Upper caste men in the village council want to use every grant to feather their own nests, while community welfare is prioritised by the low caste women members. Four strong-minded women dig deep enough to find water in their desert land, and start on the quest of persuading government authorities to lay pipes and taps. They pay a terrible price for their success. The film is set in rural Rajasthan, but is based on the real life tragedy of Leelavati, a panchayat member in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, who lost her life when she dared to oppose the tanker mafia in getting water to her village.

Film maker Anwar Jamal.

Though loaded with messages about everything from multi-nationalism to female empowerment, communal harmony to caste politics, Swaraj is able to go beyond socio-political agendas. Jamal is straightforward without sacrificing all nuances. He assembles a range of characters to create a microcosmic world — village dons, local saint, wife beater, trade unionist, bureaucrat, truck driver, women physically and psychologically handicapped, girl child... The universal struggle between good and evil is contemporarised in this humble setting, but not without the powerful symbol of the Karbala, the battlefield where a whole army perished without water, and Hussain was martyred for his convictions. Ritual mourning in Muharram creates a bristling subtext of Sufi music and imagery, Kabir's song, waxing crescent and the taziya outlined thrillingly against dune and moon and sky. The music by the Indian Ocean group was remarkable in adapting music old and new to the given theme. The wind instruments brought the desert alive. Ensemble acting by the theatre-trained cast was a tremendous strength in a film, which emphasised team work, democracy and the bonding of women. Both cinematographer (S. Chockalingam) and editor (A. Sreekar Prasad) gave the film the quickening pace of pulse beats. If the union of the Muslim and low caste village population against upper caste oppressors is more wishful thinking than realistic, the emphasis on plurality was certainly not amiss in our brutal times.


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