Today started with a most heartwarming message from Alan Franey – Director of International Programming VIFF. Thank you Alan for this deep appreciation of our story. You add strength to our voice!
Here’s the message:
Come to think of it, it may be interesting for you if I shared our unpublished programming notes. Feel free to use any of this.
Chattisgarh provides the back-drop to a number of contemporary films (2017’s Newton, this year’s well-meaning but inept Dhoosarit (The Grey)), and one sees why: since the 1990s, enormous mineral deposits have been discovered in this Indian state, leading to the forcible eviction and displacement of millions of villagers, who farmed those lands for millennia. Mining corporations with government backing pay villagers a pittance for their lands, while standing to make billions from the exploitation of coal and other minerals. The Indian army is deployed to drive out the rightful occupants of the land to make room for bandit corporations. National progress is inexorable, no matter the moral price. The righteous indignation of this film’s director Siddharth Tripathy is channelled into this tonally coherent, efficiently and drolly recounted tale of the lone holdout in one such village. Shoukie lacks the vocabulary to voice his convictions, but his connection to his land and his loyal dog are unshakeable. He stubbornly refuses to leave even though the demolition of his village is imminent. He has the battered dignity of the eccentric who tilts at windmills in the face of conventional wisdom and pragmatism. I was entranced by the rhythms of a time and place that have all but vanished, and I salute the Shoukies of the world.
The best thing about this might be its very strong immersive flavours. It really makes you feel in India, more than most other Indian films do. Anil mentions ‘tone’, which certainly is part of it. It’s also pace, camera placement, this specific location, an attentive way with the quotidian details of humble, sometimes cranky village life, and that sound design. In a darkened theatre the very dimly illuminated interior scenes will have been interesting power, especially with the unusual sound design (the buzzing of a single mosquito is a returning motif).
The other strong takeaway is its focussed, intimate, almost private empathy with the dispossessed. Yes, it’s a study of a man who is ‘left behind’, who is not interested in selling or losing his home, who is willing to stay even though it becomes a long nights journey into oblivion, but it also stands for so many people in so many parts of the world, rural villagers, first nations, the elderly. It’s a universal theme.