Direction: Girish Malik
Cast: Purab Kohli, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Kirti Kulhari
What should have been a short, sharp film loses clarity over 120 mins.
Jal is about the acute water crisis in arid Kutch, and the administrational apathy towards its inhabitants. The film, then, could have made for powerful satire, or a moving story of human suffering. It tries to be the latter, but is riddled with so many flaws — of structure, editing and direction — that it fails to leave any major impact.
The film moves in a jarringly episodic manner. At the start, a semi-relevant story of flamingo conservation in the Rann hogs the focus. This allows for strikingly beautiful frames, but at halfway point, this story thread is completely abandoned.
Thereafter, Jal is about the rise and fall of water diviner Bakka (Purab Kohli), who is semi-trusted by fellow villagers in the beginning and briefly worshipped when he outperforms the government’s geo-electrical water finder, only to face a harsh turn of events towards the end.
Jal has a lot going for it. It is beautifully, if at times indulgently, shot. It features some strong performances — the underrated Kohli is convincing as he makes the transition from overconfident diviner to man broken by circumstance; Tannishtha Chatterjee is impressive as Bakka’s spurned lover, Kajri.
Jal’s flaws are more basic. What should have been a short, sharp film loses clarity over its 120-minute sprawl. In between is a romantic subplot replete with a feisty love interest and a wicked villain. There’s a take on superstition, though the film endorses rather than debunks it.
In the end, the director tries to say so much that he doesn’t say any one thing clearly. Like water in the desert, it feels like most of it just seeped right through.