We’ve had anti-war movies a dime a dozen in international cinema, with some good ones from regional cinema and Bollywood, too. We’ve also seen several comedies based on political diffusion, though those have mostly been in the foreign domain, with regional Indian films intermittently throwing up a few gems. However, for the first time, a film has come that marries both anti-war themes with political satire and the result is equally funny as it’s allegorical.
Based on the short folk story, Do Behnein, by Charan Singh Pathik, Pataakha revolves around two sisters, Chhutki and Badki, the simmering tension between them since childhood, which exacerbates to boiling conflicts as the years go by, and how it affects all those around them, especially their family. But this simple albeit neat plot taken from Pathik’s story is only used a a varnish by writer-Director Vishal Bhardwaj, who juices dysfunctional family dynamics for brilliant political commentary and anti-war topicality, narrated with subtle dexterity and symbolic
The film is filled with pictorial representations and dialogue that frequently reveals more than is spoken. Each character is a picture held up the ongoing and unrelenting Indo-Pak tension, with not only the two main protagonists, Chhutki and Badki, doubling for soldiers on both sides of the border, but every other important character around them also bearing underlying subtexts of the players who’ve continued to influence and be affected by this never-ending rivalry, such as politicians, businessmen, diplomats, and the common public. Without revealing anything further, we’ll leave it unto you to figure out who enacts what part.
However, unlike many of Bhardwaj’s erstwhile works, he, thankfully, doesn’t adopt a deeply philosophical, drearily dark, or pseudo-intellectual outlook this time to make his points. Even more refreshing is how he infuses his rural-based yarn with witty lines, genuine humor, and, dare we say it, a smattering of laugh-out-loud moments, too. That’s not to say that Pataakha is sans drawbacks. There are intermittent narrative inconsistencies through the film, which become more prominent in the second half, the commentary and message, however subtle, will bounce over the heads of mass audiences, and, most of all, the over reliance on Rajasthani vocabulary makes deciphering many dialogues a real task.
The real heart and soul of Pataakha though are the performances. Vijay Raaz brings dollops of humor to a straightforward role that many others would have simply played to the letter, Sanya Malhotra is dynamite in her first meaty part, and Radhika Madan transcends from television to cinema with a bang, but its Sunil Grover who steals the show as the most conflicting character of the film. The rest of the cast, too, lend a good supporting hand. Other aspects that aid the film are A. Sreekar Prasad’s crisp editing (a rarity in Bollywood), Ranjan Palit’s rustic cinematography, and an enthusiastic background score. The songs could have been better but they at least aren’t a hear-sore.
Pataakha is a first for #Bollywood where a subtle anti-war theme is married with nuanced political satire, narrated under the umbrella of dysfunctional family dynamics. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it certainly has some narrative dips and flaws, but those whose sensibilities it’ll appeal to, will relish every drop of it.
Movified Rating: 3.5/5