Sunday, July 7, 2013


Release date:
July 5, 2013
Jahnu Barua


Bishnu Kharghoria, Bina Patangia, Jatin Bora, Zerifa Wahid, Abastosh Bhuyan & Anshuman Bhuyan. 

This lovely poster was designed by Jahan Singh Bakshi

Jahnu Barua’s Baandhon is an unhurried and minimalist film about an elderly couple leading a sheltered existence in a town in Assam. It’s a bare-bones story that is literally just this: a perennially-bickering old man and his wife are unexpectedly visited by the harsh realities of the outside world when their grandson Pona – an IIT Mumbai student who is the centre of their universe – goes missing on the night of 26/11. There are no frills attached, no dramatic plot twists, very few characters, and except for one stark shot of the couple sitting on a bench in Mumbai staring out at the Arabian Sea, it’s not even a film of visual beauty. What’s attractive about it though is its dogged simplicity.

The multiple-National-Award-winning director brings humour and poignance to the depiction of his lead couple in early scenes. At the start of the film, they visit the office of their family friend and lawyer, seeking a divorce. This time, they tell him, it’s final. We know then that they’ve done this before, and that once again, chances are there will be a reconciliation. I guess we’ve all met long-married couples like Dandeswar and Hkawni – can’t live with each other, can’t live without. Their fights, their mutual tenderness despite the ongoing battle and flashbacks to their childhood romance make up the bulk of Baandhon’s running time. As endearing as their relationship is the bond with their young lawyer who cares deeply for them.

The tone and mood of the film change abruptly when the couple travel to Mumbai for Pona. This is where my problems with Baandhon begin. The portion in Assam is a reminder that innocence and uncomplicatedness still do exist in this world. How guileless must you be to openly offer a bribe to an honest government official because that’s what his predecessors wanted? In an age of Twitter posts and youtube uploads, how secluded and un-frenzied must you be that you are unaware of the 26/11 terror strike till a day later because your TV is spoilt and you just didn’t read the morning’s papers? It is here that Barua charms. Not so in the Mumbai segment where Baandhon runs out of steam. The trip to India’s commercial capital adds nothing to the narrative, and personally, I wish the characters had not made that physical journey at all. For it is in a small town in Assam, in a state that copes with its own dreadful troubles daily, that the point is driven home about how grand global gameplans ultimately impact the commonest of the common people.

Of the two leads, Bishnu Kharghoria stands out as he give us a Dandeswar who is by swift turns gentle and gruff, naive and wise. He wishes to protect his wife when news of Pona comes in, yet it is he that we want to protect. While that’s primarily because of the actor’s natural ease before the camera, the other reason is that Hkawni isn’t played as effectively by Bina Patangia. To be fair to the actress, her character is not as well written, the comparative severity of her demeanour might possibly have been dictated by the script, and the story is told from his point of view, not hers. Purely on the barometer of performance though, she is amusing while angry but doesn’t convey the softening up as well, nor does she evoke empathy in the denouement. The rest of the cast are a mixed bag. Jatin Bora as the lawyer and Anshuman Bhuyan as the couple’s domestic help feel real, but there are amateurish moments contributed by others such as the government official’s wife in Mumbai and Pona’s two friends at IIT. In fact, the meeting with Pona’s friends is awkwardly presented.

Bishnu Kharghoria, as it happens, played the lead – brilliantly – in the first of Barua’s films that I had the good fortune of seeing, at a festival here in Delhi. Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door (It’s a Long Way to the Sea) is a work of genius with a premise of breathtaking obviousness. The sort that makes you wonder: am I so selfish or just so insular, that I did not think of this? That 1995 film addressed an elementary question: when the government builds a bridge across a river, you and I – the general public – exult at the progress being made in infrastructure development, but what happens to the old boatman who has spent his entire life rowing villagers across the river and back, and knows no other means of earning his living? Most of North India, however, would perhaps know Barua for his first Hindi film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara in which Anupam Kher played a man with Alzheimer’s Disease. That film could have been so much better than it turned out if it wasn’t for the melodramatisation that Bollywood often seems to demand of its mainstream filmmakers, often to the detriment of good cinema. There can be no other explanation for the long and coherent speech delivered in court by Kher’s character in the closing minutes, a feat that no person at such an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s could possibly achieve.

With Baandhon – the first Assamese film to get a theatrical release outside the state – Barua returns to his pre-occupation with the little folk. “We are common people,” says a character in the film. “The world is too big for us. We have no choice but to trust in it.” For that, and for the historic milestone it has crossed by coming to theatres across India, Baandhon is worth celebrating.

Rating (out of five): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
96 minutes
Poster and film still courtesy: PVR Director’s Rare
Trailer courtesy: PVR Director’s Rare

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