Mayank Shekhar's Review: Antardwand

antardwandposter.jpg

By Hindustan Times

Director: Sushil Rajpal
Actors: Raj Singh Chaudhary, Akhilendra Mishra
Rating: ***

First, compateeson (competition); then, byaah (wedding). These two simple steps have traditionally defined middle class Bihar’s aspirational ladder. It’s also been for long the feudal obsession of a poor, politically active state.

The competition stands for the IAS, an exam that carries with it a 35-plus years’ warranty of unfettered power and illegitimate wealth. Successful candidates at this annual UPSC test are transported right across to the local marriage mart. Where fresh civil servants fetch highest prices among prospective grooms. The conveyer belt is set. Value for money is guaranteed. So is status for the allied families, in the eyes of samaaj (society). The couple itself getting wedded is not the point.

AntardwandThe hero here (Raj Singh Chaudhary, fine casting), is a graduate student in Delhi, and one such strong candidate. He’s likely to clear the Mains (second hurdle of the IAS exams), as he does later. His father, a social investor (Vinay Pathak), is strongly positioned to extract the best (dowry) deal for his son.

Such cash cows make local news. The father should be careful. The boy, on his way back from the family home, gets abducted in broad daylight. The goons belong to a neighbouring village. They lock him up in a cowshed. He must agree to wedlock. They beat his body to pulp, save the face, of course. The girl’s not known to the boy. He’s already secretly engaged to a girlfriend back in the city. It’s a visible nightmare.

Such shotgun affairs are popularly called jabariya weddings in the region. They’re mostly prevalent among the state’s poor, who can’t afford pressures of dowry and massive ceremonies to marry off their daughter, a social burden. Like the boy’s own father, a feared figure, the abductor -- the bride’s dad (Akhilendra Mishra, crackling show) -- belongs but to the landed rich. They have ‘connections to the top’, a key survival kit for any lawless state.

It’s more a battle of the moocch (the moustache) then. Women, the more caring ones, usually remain sandwiched between male egos at such homes. So is the meek bride, in this case.

Lack of cellphones around suggests the film's set in the past, albeit recent. The leading man, you’ll admit, makes for a poor, amnesic advertisement for things you can do under the influence of alcohol.

But the disturbing premise of the film, and its cultural authenticity, makes up for all its suggested flaws. Abducted grooms, and shotgun weddings, have forever been an open secret of the east’s badlands. That would be a news-feature.

The film fictionally sheds light instead on what plays out between the said couple, and their families, after that dreaded farce, in the dead of the night. Where girls still giggle on their way to the bride’s bedroom. Drunken men make merry around the mujra and rifle shots. Everything, on the surface, seems normal. Society approves. Legalities take over; the morning after. The movie’s bitter. But worth the pill.

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