‘Pataakha’ movie review: fierce and fiery

The rustic tale of sibling enmity provides an abundance of wisecracks

September 28, 2018 10:06 am | Updated 10:06 am IST

Pataakha has everything that makes it a perfect fit in Vishal Bhardwaj’s oeuvre: literary adaptation, feisty women, rustic hinterland, unapologetic use of dialect and free-flowing gaalis . Yet, the film doesn’t feel contrived or formulaic.

Instead, the humour is raw and earthy and the impudent simplicity of the narrative is refreshing. There’s no dearth of Hindi films that exploit rural settings and characters for laughter but Bhardwaj’s latest doesn’t stand on the periphery pointing fingers while guffawing. It immerses itself in the dust and grime, the quirks and ordinariness of a small town. The authenticity that emerges can safely be credited to its source material, a short story, Do Behnein, and its Rajasthani writer Charan Singh Pathik, who was inspired by the rivalry between his sisters-in-law.

Like most siblings (and India-Pakistan, as the film insists), there’s no reason for Genda alias Chutki (Sanya Malhotra) and Champa alias Badki (Radhika Madan) to squabble and get into (rather fierce) physical fights. But unlike most of us, they never outgrow their enmity and find newer ways to annoy each other even as adults. Both are bellicose and ambitious but one wants to pursue education and become a teacher and the other wants to drop out of school to become a dairy entrepreneur.

But this fundamental disagreement isn’t as instigating as the comical narrator Dipper Naradmuni (Sunil Grover), who seeks utmost pleasure in being the chaabi (provocateur) in their lives. Bearing the brunt is their “bechara bapu” (Vijay Raaz) and their stalkers-turned-boyfriends-turned-husbands played by Namit Das and Abhishek Duhan.

The appeal of the film rests heavily on one-liners and name calling that flies around throughout the narrative, even as the constant fighting gets repetitive and tiresome occasionally. Chutki and Badki are foul-mouthed girls who use everything from the regular “ chorni” and “ kuthiya” to more silly profanities like “ looj mosan ” and “ kabj ” (constipation), while their husbands have terms of endearment like “meri Bloody Mary” (used when Chutki is angry). There’s plenty to savour in the language and verbal exchanges, some of which are bound to pass over your head due to the sheer speed with which they are delivered.

Aided by a rustic mise en scène , the film limits its geographical exploration largely to a village, which helps you empathise with how smothered the two sisters feel while trying to actualise their ambitions. You often see shots of regular villagers who stare blankly into the camera, adding to the (unintended) humour.

Despite being loud-mouthed beedi-smokers, Chutki and Badki aren’t stereotypical rebels. They also radiate a sense of innocence and naivety, which is comfortably executed by Malhotra and Madan, who are uninhibited in their roles (but could do with less browning of their faces). It’s heartening to note that despite marriage being a major plot point, men aren’t the pivot of their lives - in fact, in many ways, the husbands are a stepping stone towards their goals. Even during their courtship, the women are in charge, as much as the men are made to believe otherwise. The characters and their situations are definitely an exaggeration, but sometimes it takes hyperbole to drive a point home with humour.

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