Friday, October 18, 2013

152. Indian film director Praveen Morchhale’s film “Barefoot to Goa” (2013) in Hindi: Accomplishing an unintended comparison of real rural India with urban middle class India

Young Praveen Morchhale evidently wrote an original screenplay for his debut film that was pegged on the tenuous relationships of the typical family as larger family structures of traditional rural India are dismantled into smaller nuclear families in their urban contexts. The sweet grandparent and grandchild relationship gets diluted by distance and economic constraints in the modern developing India. Morchhale’s debut film achieves what it set out to achieve—to underscore the importance of the larger Indian family.

Love through sweets

The film is a tale of two school kids who decide to visit their ailing grandmother in Goa without the knowledge of their parents who live in a modest apartment in Mumbai. It is a road movie with a difference. The kids get on trains without tickets and get off trains without any plan of their next mode of transport to their destination. Director Morchhale is not interested in pre-occupying the viewer with details such as their likely encounter with the ticket inspector—he is interested in moving forward with the journey to Goa, train or no train. Conversations are minimal, but interactions aplenty. In fact, the film is unusually populated with key characters who cannot speak or hear, a clever ruse of the screenplay writer and director to add economy and impact to the film’s narrative or perhaps to indicate that one would not listen to those voices if they could be heard.

Seeking love when parents don't have time for them

But more than that, Morchhale achieved another feat: his script is a rare testament to the unbridled hospitality of the rural and small town India towards strangers put in contrast to the unmindful and hurried world of the emerging urban India. Parents in the big cities have little time for their children, urban families traveling in cars buy roasted corncobs from rural roadside vendors but forget to pay for their order, and harried city police station officers have little concern for mothers who are worried about their missing children because they have been unaccounted for a mere few hours. All this is presented without the script appearing to be a sermon on the eroding values of developing India. Morchhale’s film reminds one of the Algerian filmmaker Amor Hakkar’s lovely 2008 road film La maison jaune/The yellow house, which had, like Barefoot to Goa,  reinforced the contrasting worlds of the uncorrupted and considerate world of rural Algeria with the corruption of the richer townsfolk in that country. In Barefoot to Goa, too, there are glimpses of negative elements in society: shoes of the kids being stolen at the entry point of a temple forcing them to travel barefoot and corruption of the police who demand bribes and free meals, which is contrasted with the innocence of children who free pigeons caught by a benefactor who had given them a free ride on his motorbike without realizing the economic loss their well-intentioned action would cause to their benefactor.

This critic appreciates cinematic works that are based on original screenplays a lot more than adapted screenplays. Barefoot to Goa demonstrates the new generation of Indian filmmakers’ attempt at brevity of detail without compromising on quality of the narrative. The film is able to convey the tale without the crutch of the spoken word in many scenes—the spoken lines are minimized. When the children speak, their words are the bare minimal quantum needed to move the story forward. The end of the film breathes a freshness rarely encountered in Indian cinema—it tells a story without spoon-feeding the audience with a little help from clever editing and intelligent photography.  Barefoot to Goa is not the best of world cinema but is definitely a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema, struggling to survive in a cinematic whirlpool where world cinema is progressing by leaps and bounds.
Dictating a letter to a letter-writer through silence
Barefoot to Goa can be described as a children’s film as the main characters that drive the film are two school kids. Yet the film grapples with issues that are larger than those of small school kids—it deals with family relationships (loss of ties with parents after marriage, lack of empathy towards the old, the bonds of small townsfolk, the valuation of a parent’s role by those who miss out on a loving, caring parent). Sweets prepared by a caring grandmother might be devalued by an irate daughter-in-law but they signify a bonding that economic progress cannot obliterate. The sweets (Indian ladoos) are a prop that raises the film from a mere children’s film to a film that reflects on the values of family bonding that go beyond the nuclear family.

Apart from writing a commendable script, director Morchhale’s direction of the two children played by Prakar and Saara Nahar is commendable as they portrayed body movements that were real and believable without resorting to bouts of tears and merriment. Similarly the role of the mother and irate daughter-in-law (Purva Parag) was brief yet credible. The film might not have had the same impact were it not for the role of the editor (Ujwal Chandra) and the sound editor (Bibek Basumatary). The importance of Barefoot to Goa is in the way the story is presented rather than the tale itself. It is a breath of fresh air for Indian cinema accomplishing much more than it intended.

P.S. The film has been entered in competition in the Celebrate Age section at the Mumbai international film festival, 2013. Amor Hakkar's Algerian /French film La Maison Jaune/The Yellow House (2008) was reviewed earlier on this blog.

Barefoot to Goa - Film Trailer with english Subtitle. from Praveen Morchhale on Vimeo.