From a relatively lower caste, traditionally engaged in making ‘tokris’ (knitted baskets from thick threads of bamboo), one, Mohandas, is the bright lad of his village. He consistently tops his class, and thereafter college.
Born to an illiterate family with meagre means, education remains for the boy his only access to a better life. I suspect migration isn’t his preferred option. His parents are old. Usually, a “permanent job”, best thereby if in the government, is the finest route.
Mohandas’s village, in what appears to be Chhatisgarh, is by a prominent colliery, which is owned and run by a public sector unit. He applies for a job there; finds one; submits his educational documents in original; awaits his appointment letter; parties in anticipation. It appears he’d celebrated too soon. It’s been almost four years and he realises another Mohandas, posing as him, has been greasing palms at the post of a depot manager. A minor investigation could detect this fraud. Not when everyone in a set-up is an accomplice to the crime.
Mohandas (Nakul Vaid; warmly sincere) remains the anonymous small-fry, up against the might of a murky system. Helpless, he goes back to his family trade. Neighbours laugh at his early potential: “Kismat ka khel; Padhe Farsee, beche tel (Quirks of fate; study Latin, sell date).”
Mazhar Kamran, few may know, was one of the cinematographers of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya. An American gent called Gerarard Hooper was the other. That film was so strong on material that a really fine camera-work never called attention to itself. Which is the way it should be. Kamran as director underplays his own cinematography here, or he just plays it straight, as he does various other elements of the film, notably, its slackened pace, or super-loose editing.
This is both a minus and a plus for this movie. Rarely does the narrative, humourless to begin with, alternate between emotions. Be that the demands of a fatalistic story, it doesn’t help the audience sustain interest in a script, already so grim on the surface.
Strong realism cannot be the only measure of achievement. Over here, it is. Few films have unpretentiously captured the somnolence, sights and sounds of small-town India the way this one does. Fewer films still have been so doggedly empathetic to a Kafkaesque concern, without being violently bombastic about it (Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor Ki Maut, and a relatively recent, Ashwini Chaudhary’s Dhoop, come to mind).
Based on a short-story by Uday Prakash, the filmmakers suggest Mohandas’s story is entirely a work of fiction. It is still easiest to imagine this scenario in a country where the living often find themselves dead in land-records, and voting by proxy is so commonplace.
A state should be judged by how its worst-off get treated. Few would care about protagonists of this middle or lower India, much less now, when they command even lesser influence in a market economy. It’s more a plutocracy (rule of the wealthy), the film points out, in a slightly preachy sort of way.
A rare television reporter (Sonali Kulkarni), still gifted with fire for journalism, picks up Mohandas’s account. She has a camera in hand, perhaps the best weapon in India since Gandhi’s non-violence. Her editor isn’t entirely pleased with the story-idea. She goes ahead nonetheless. Lakme Fashion Week is the day’s big news. Not too many will care for a random one called Mohandas in a random village, the editor says. I’m afraid that may be true for this movie as well.