Sonchiriya review: Salvation at any cost

Final destination: Sonchiriya starts off with a corpse and death ominously stalks almost every frame  

No two films could be as different from each other as Madhu C. Narayanan’s Kumbalangi Nights and Abhishek Chaubey’s Sonchiriya. One set in the Kerala of today, other in the 70s Chambal where gangs of dacoits are fighting among themselves, even while taking on the cops. Yet they stand on a similar ground when it comes to their women. In Narayanan’s film the female characters are on the fringes of the narrative, in Chaubey’s there are barely any women visible in the entire scenario. Yet, women are the pivots in both the films, on which the explorations of patriarchy, masculinity, gender and caste (in the case of Sonchiriya) exploitation swivel and spin.

  • Director: Abhishek Chaubey
  • Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Ranvir Shorey, Ashutosh Rana, Manoj Bajpai, Jatin Sarna
  • Storyline: Gangs of dacoits fight among themselves and take on the cops in the ravines of Chambal in the 70s

Chambal is all about suffocation and victimisation when it comes to being a woman. It’s where you are no more than a piece of meat for male consumption or a marker of the male honour. Gender meets caste in Sonchiriya, and it gets that much more complicated. So, protection and respect are earned if the woman is of the same social stature. Beyond that no voice, identity or worldview can be allowed. And you have absolutely nowhere to run and hide if you are a woman at the bottom of the caste ladder; you are destined to be used, abused and violated in unimaginable ways.

Yet rebellion seethes silently behind the ghoonghats (veils) and boils over to seek basic human dignity and the right to live. Violence is the recourse opted for when the very fundamentals are denied. Sonchiriya presents the smothering of women searingly. Women are a separate caste, the lowest of them all, asserts the film. But patriarchy doesn’t just claim women as victims, it also affects men as much, driving their misplaced notions of masculinity inherited over several generations; it can emasculate one son and set off another against his own mother.

It’s an intricately woven script which strings many threads and themes together—crisply, economically with hardly a note out of place. The sure-footedness, self-assurance all adding to a deadly impact. Almost every scene and sequence tingles with latent, troubling energy. It’s an insight into the life of the band of brothers – their bonds, emotions and loyalties. The mourning for a leader gone yet the infighting because of a difference in principles. Their beliefs, practices, customs and superstitions. Their allegiance to “baaghi ka dharma”, the defined way of life of a rebel yet the dilemmas—how the pride in being a bandit is making way for a sense of shame. Will surrender lead to better days? Will there be mutton and kheer in the prison cell? It’s the baaghis or the rebels you end up feeling one with. The brutal are humane in the oddest of ways, especially in following the unwritten codes of honour. Haunted by crimes gone wrong, bearing the burden of a hidden guilt that they want to let go of, seeking salvation at any cost, even in death. On the other hand is the police aiming to clean up Chambal – at times for personal reasons – there’s a thin line dividing revenge from justice.

Every actor in the multi-starrer gives his or her all to the character. A special word for Bhumi Pednekar who is emerging as Bollywood’s every woman. She can play and be one with a character from any part of the country. Ranvir Shorey finally gets a role he deserves, underlying the ruthlessness of his character with a rare pathos and poignancy.

Sonchiriya starts off with a corpse and death ominously stalks almost each and every one of its frames. It’s in the sound of the bullets, spurting of the blood, in the many, fabulously mounted encounters. Sonchiriya is a rare bird, the metaphorical redemption that everyone is seeking. Apni apni Sonchiriya, apni apni mukti. It’s ultimately a journey towards finding your own bird of salvation.

Chaubey evokes the sense of place by going beyond the arid, stark, larger-than-life landscape. He turns it into a character itself. The sense of place is seeped in the Bundelkhandi, the dacoits speak, the risque and raw humour in the dialogue. It’s in the way they dress. It’s in their body language, their mindsets, in their culture and perceptions. It’s in the minutest of details— whether it’s the reference to the guns of the 1962 war or the Special Task Force, the morning cackling of AIR or Indira Gandhi’s announcement of the Emergency. Then there are nice political potshots that lift it from its specific location and period, to give it a larger universality. It’s like one of the rebels talking about how no one dies from the bullet of the government but by its [false] promises. Hear hear!

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 10:51:05 PM |

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