Kaun Kitney Paani Mein
Kunal Kapoor, Radhika Apte, Saurabh Shukla, Gulshan Grover
Nila Madhab Panda
Water is important, and there are many ways to convey it to a film audience. You can go for a really serious documentary on conservation or you can weave a satirical story around the idea. If you’re interested in a crash course on the latter, here’s director Nila Madhab Panda’s 110-minute film Kaun Kitney Paani Mein. To begin with, it’s an intelligently executed film.
It's set around 1985 in a fictional village somewhere deep inside Odisha, which has always been ruled by the Singhdeos. The drama unfolds when the reigning king’s sister falls in love with a backward caste boy, and the lovers are brutally murdered. Things turn ugly from here, so much so that two villages, Upri and Bairi decide to cut themselves off from each other by erecting a wall. Soon this wall becomes the symbol of animosity between the two classes that live on its either side: Upri belongs to wealthy, ruthless villagers, and Bairi is for farmers still seething in anger for all the tortures they've been subjected to.
Cut to the present day. Upri is reeling under a severe water crisis, but they won't seek any help from Bairi. On the other hand, Bairi is managing just fine because of their knowledge of irrigation techniques and water conservation methods.
In this backdrop, Brij Kishor Singhdeo (Saurabh Shukla) hatches a deadly plan involving his son Prince Raj (Kunal Kapoor) and Paro (
), daughter of a wannabe politician Kharu Pehalwan (Gulshan Grover). But it seems the king is underestimating his neighbours.
Kunal Kapoor in a still from Kaun Kitney Paani Mein.
The strength of this film lies in its idea. It’s so well thought-out that you are hooked to it from the very first scene. Witnessing a funny yet conniving king with absolutely no control over anything around him may look like a far-fetched notion to some. But, Panda spreads his canvas with utmost care by providing details of his past. Like ‘70s kids, this king has also seen the society’s transformation with the advent of technology and economy. But his legacy stops him from shedding his orthodoxy and short-sightedness. This character is the backbone of Kaun Kitney Paani Mein.
Saurabh Shukla as a morally corrupt king is a treat to watch. This guy knows his limits, but he never spares a chance to be one up on his rivals. Just imagine his audacity when he says, "Agar har youn sambandh ka anth shaadi hota toh tumhari maa eklauti raani naa hoti." In another scene, he reminds his son of his tainted heritage, "Beta Singhdeo khaandaan me tumhare jaisa dheela waaris kabhi paida nahi hua." Yet he is vulnerable. Deep down his heart, he knows the futility of everything he does. But, he has been doing it since long and there is no going back now.
His counterpart in Bairi is Kharu, a local leader with a modern outlook. Gulshan Grover plays his part effectively, but it’s not layered and has certain limitations. However his affectionate eyes do the trick in some scenes. Whatever his character doesn’t accomplish is supplemented by Kunal Kapoor and Radhika Apte. Their chemistry is believable and they look completely at ease. There is something about these two actors that brings them closer to the actual Indian middle class. We have seen it in Rang De Basanti and Manjhi, and now In Kaun Kitney Paani Mein. Probably it’s the innocence in their eyes which they put to good use for scene transitions. The screenplay gives ample time to a lot of secondary characters as well but they are mostly for comic relief.
Radhika Apte dances in a song from Kaun Kitney Paani Mein.
Nila Madhab Panda starts narrating the story on a preachy note with dialogues such as ‘Kisi bade aadmi ne kaha hai ki dharm ghareebon ka nasha hota hai,’ and ‘Bandook ki nali ne iska nyay kiya hai.’ Thankfully, he doesn’t continue with it for long and his characters bloom as per the need of the satire. At times, it’s borderline fantasy but it works. For instance, there is a guy deputed to sit on a tree with a placard that reads ‘village for sale’. Or, the king’s loyal servant who keeps positioning his master’s fake moustache at its right place. Or, the village priest who considers marijuana plants his children. These look odd on the outset, but together they create an environment fit for a dark comedy.
Some scenes are so true to the nature of traditional Indian middle class that you automatically give them your approval. For example, the heated debate between the king and his son over ‘consensual sex’ is so amusing that you won’t know which side to take. Similarly, some foreigners come to visit the king’s land which has been described to them as ‘a place where the villagers hang out in the evening’. And then you see two naked children answering the nature’s call right beside them.
Watch: Kaun Kitney Paani Mein trailer
But, thanks to the caricatured character of a state minister, the climax is regular and very much anticipated except the ‘Bihai Mata’ angle which tries its best to hold the resolution part together.
In all this, guess what's the best thing about
? Well, it’s the stand against the caste and class barriers which makes it a special film. The director’s commitment to social values is clearly visible in the film and he deserves praise for his efforts. It’s his conviction that makes the audience overlook the Bollywood-ised version of
Watch Radhika Apte in Bollywood's own Rangabati:
And, of course, the idea of water conservation. It’s a film worth your time.
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