Chauranga: Rebel with a cause

A first-time director effectively takes on the dynamics of the caste system

January 06, 2016 03:40 pm | Updated September 22, 2016 10:42 pm IST

At the centre of Chauranga is a rebel with a cause, an angry young Dalit teenager Santu (Sohum Maitra) who wants to seize what he feels he deserves — education and the love of a pretty young upper caste village girl. However, the hierarchies and status quo imposed by the staunchly caste-ist society of his village come in the way even as he closely watches the trains that whiz past his village, without ever stopping, because his village is not important enough for civilisation. Is there a way out for him then beyond looking after his pig?

Debutant director Bikas Mishra provides us a view of the social microcosm of rural Bihar, a world divided between the haves and the have-nots, between the privileged and the disadvantaged, between the landowners and landless labourers. It’s a world where zamindari has been abolished and yet not quite, where they have the upper hand as a matter of entitlement. It’s a world where the lower caste has to go through daily discrimination and humiliation and exploitation of women, whatever caste they may belong to, is a given. The myriad characters don’t just exist as individuals but have a larger role to play — to bring alive the social fabric and its dynamics and powerplay. Mishra tries to weave in little details — the all nighter with films, the Salman Khan and ‘Munni badnaam hui’ obsession, the school being used as a janvasa (guest house for the groom’s family) for the principal’s daughter’s wedding, the whole ritual of touching and washing of feet of the upper caste. It’s a world that may feel lost in time to urban India but is it?

Director: Bikas Mishra

Starring: Sanjay Suri, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anshuman Jha, Sohum Maitra

Run time: 88 mins

Rating: 3.5 stars

The love angle, the anger of the protagonist may remind the viewers of the Marathi film Fandry and of one of the tracks in the Hindi film Masaan . But should the déjà vu undermine Chauranga in any way? Not, when, even as the film gets released, you hear the horrific news of a Dalit school boy in Jodhpur beaten mercilessly by his teacher for mistakenly picking up a plate meant for his upper caste schoolmates. The caste narrative hasn’t quite lost relevance in India. Not as yet.

In the caste-class structure the most discriminated against are the women. Be it Santu’s mother Dhaniya or the zamindar’s wife and daughter. In fact, Chauranga is interesting in how it shows that a disadvantaged woman could use the exploitation to her own advantage, being more proactive than her mute upper caste counterparts. That, perhaps, is the only way out for her. So Santu’s mother Dhaniya (Tannishtha) will play the sex game if it ensures that her sons can get educated and rise above their limiting situation in life.

As against a seething, fuming Fandry , Chauranga is a lot more muted and quiet in its rage. But the thread of protest runs through it nonetheless as Santu retaliates against each bit of random violence heaped against him or his brother. But the one big act of Santu’s dissent involving Shiva’s bull, Nandi, is as radical, drastic and revolutionary, if not more, than the stone flung at the audience in Fandry . Protest is all Santu has as an empowering tool. And a ride on the train to a more just and equitable world. Hopefully.

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