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Our inner animals

The BBC can hardly be faulted for thinking small. But in this five-part documentary, the British broadcaster betters itself on the audacity of its ambition.

movie reviews Updated: Apr 22, 2011 23:18 IST

Tahrir: Munshi Prem Chand ki Kahaniya
Prasar Bharati, Rs 395
Rating: 3-1/2

The BBC can hardly be faulted for thinking small. But in this five-part documentary, the British broadcaster betters itself on the audacity of its ambition.

This one is a tribute to Dhanpat Rai by Sampooran Singh. If that doesn’t ring a bell, try this: stories by Munshi Prem Chand written and directed for the small screen by Gulzar.

The production, aired by Doordarshan in 2004 to mark Prem Chand’s 125th birth anniversary, was a labour of love by Gulzar not unlike his tele-marketing of Ghalib. But unlike the previous serial, these nine 20-30-minute episodes are gritty tales from rural India that aren’t lubricated by Jagjit Singh’s ghazals.

The men, women and children in these stories belong to the villages in the eastern Hindi heartland that Prem Chand was familiar with. Their aspirations, though fixated around everyday life, have the air of universality that surrounds basic human emotions. A grandson’s act of love towards his Ammi, an aunt’s generosity towards her family, or a policeman’s steadfast honesty in his job.

But the basal emotions are there, too — reminding us of our place in the food chain. A moneylender’s ruthless usury, a landlord’s revenge on the lower castes, and — in the memorable short, ‘Kafan’ — a father-son duo, both daily wage labourers, wasting on booze the money for the dead daughter-in-law’s shroud. Basic or basal, the emotions are brought alive by experienced thespians such as Pankaj Kapoor, Javed Khan and Surekha Sekri. Just one crib: Gulzar could have updated the economics. The tales would have remained the same. Just that we haven’t traded in annas for long.