Reviews

Kaun Kitney Paani Mein: The glass is half-full

Shekhar Kapoor has been keeping us parched all these years. Meanwhile, Nila Madhab Panda has come up with his own version of Paani. It is a comeback of sorts for the director of I Am Kalam after the immensely forgettable Babloo Happy Hai. He flourishes when he looks at complex socio-political reality from the prism of wry humour and here through water crises he takes a dig at the class and caste divide and doesn’t hold his punches when it comes to obscurantism.

A rare Hindi film to be set in Odisha, it is about a royal family which loses power to the commoners because it could not hold on to its most prized resource –– water. It has got the land but no water to nourish it. So much so that he has to drink neat and has to think twice before answering to the nature’s call.

Inverting the imagery of Neecha Nagar, here the erstwhile king lives on the citadel but has little power to control the lower city which is the repository of the resources. It reflects the subaltern politics of the hinterland where in the last decade we have seen tremendous rise in the socio-political influence of the so-called lower castes in the power structure of many Indian states.

Genre: Satire
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
Cast: Saurabh Shukla, Gulshan Grover, Kunal Kapoor, Radhika Apte


Here the lower village is represented by a Dalit leader Kharu Pehlwan (Gulshan Grover) who carries years of rancour against the royals now represented by Brij Singh Deo (Saurabh Shukla). Panda tweaks the formulaic representation of class identity in popular culture by making Deo as a clean shaven, pot-bellied king while Kharu is proud of his moustache and flaunts his body. The role reversal leads to funny situations and once you get the sub text the impact is stinging. There are times when Panda gets carried and takes humour to farcical proportions. There are periods where the uneven treatment irks. There are sub plots which are not fully exploited like the one involving the weaver who is digging his way out of penury but it never gets reduced to a tedious, preachy exercise.

Things change when circumstances force the next generation — Kharu’s daughter Paro (Radhika Apte) and Deo’ son Raj (Kunal Kapoor) to understand each other. Both want to change but he holds the broom like a sword and as an agriculture expert she now holds the key to satiate the region’s hunger. As the two grapple with in-built-notions, it generates frisson.

In Saurabh Shukla, Panda has an actor who understands the said and the unsaid in the script. Delivering one of his best performances, Shukla as the cunning king who reveals his insecurities after a couple of pegs, becomes the pivot around whom the film revolves. He gallantly faces the friction caused by Kunal Kapoor and manages to rub some of his spontaneity on him but in Gulshan Grover he finds a rock, who refuses to capture the sur of the satire. Similarly Hema Singh as the Odia politician fails to get the dialect right and as a result the flaws in the script get magnified.

Still it is a film that needs to be discussed and debated.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 8:14:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/kaun-kitney-paani-mein-the-glass-is-halffull/article7590940.ece

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