Anhey Ghorhey da Daan (Alms of the Blind Horse, Punjabi), is the debut feature of Gurvinder Singh, an outstanding director from India. Set in a Punjabi village, it explores the lives of Dalit families who know they will always be oppressed by the system, with no hope of justice. It’s the underbelly of a Yash Chopra film, examining the harsh truths beyond the nodding mustard fields and soni kudis.
Based on a story of the same name by Jnanpith award winner Gurdial Singh, the film is about Mal Singh, whose neighbour’s house is demolished because the landlord has sold the land on which it stood. Mal Singh remains a mute witness. His son drives a cycle rickshaw in the city, living off scraps of everyone’s kindness. Nothing much happens, but the film is richly resonant of a frame of mind, a state of being.
In evoking this, Gurvinder Singh succeeds admirably. Mentored by the late Mani Kaul, who was the creative producer, the film powerfully captures the helplessness and simmering anger of Punjab’s — and India’s — villagers. The cast of villagers, mainly non-professionals, and its eloquent silences and robust dialogues, are its strengths. Satya Rai Nagpaul’s cinematography is remarkable for its precise compositions and lighting, sombre small town moods and haunting, haiku-like mist-shrouded frames. The sound design is evocative and Catherine Lamb’s music is spare, but Sidharth’s climactic ‘ sammi’ song stabs your heart.
However, annoyingly self-indulgent at 112 minutes, the film risks alienating nonfestival audiences. Even so, it is recommended viewing to see the vital alternative possibilities of filmmaking in India — kudos to the NFDC for producing the film and PVR for distributing it. The film was at the Venice film festival, won the Black Pearl at Abu Dhabi, and three National Awards, for direction, cinematography and best Punjabi film. How many first films can claim that?
Meenakshi Shedde is a National Award-winning film critic The film will be screened from August 10 to 14 at PVR Juhu (8 pm) and PVR Phoenix (5.45 pm)