Mayank Shekhar's review: Daayein Ya Baayein

By Hindustan Times

Director: Bela Negi
Actors: Deepak Dobriyal, Aditi Beri
Rating: *

Joru, zindagi aur sarkar (wife, life, and the government), they come with no guarantees. Or so observes a village wit as he deals a deck of playing cards. God knows villages are full of such wits and jobless gamblers. The one shown here, a quiet kasbah called Kanda in Uttarakhand, is no different.

The film manages to capture its quietness and nuances quite well. It’s the sort of landscape known more to followers of say Iranian films than Hindi movies, which can’t see a world beyond Bombay’s young or wealthy non-residents abroad.

Life’s slow here. But most seem satisfied still. Cynicism makes for conversations over chai, day in and day out. People take ultimate pleasure in pulling others down, resigned as they are to their own fate. Migration to the city alone offers any kind of promise, even if little else.

One such Ramesh (Deepak Dobriyal) has returned from the big town to this ‘native place’. He’s an idealist poet in this idyllic hamlet; teaches English at a school whose principal is fond of “Shakespeare’s Helmet”, and where computers donated by the government lie unused.

“The man turns into an animal in the city,” Ramesh says now, though he’d said the same thing for the man in the village, before he’d left. He wants to set up a local kala kendra (arts centre). Culture has a civilizing effect on people, he rightly believes. His people don’t feel the same.

Girls are besotted by soap-opera queens from television instead. Guys are happy drinking, discussing politics. They speak in loud, exaggerated tones borrowed from folk theatre. Most of these actors, I’m told, are amateurs from the area. A bit of film training may have helped.

Ramesh finds attention among his peers only when he wins a Chevrolet sedan from one of those caption-writing contests. It’s the first car in his village. The village still doesn’t have proper roads. This vehicle, the neighbour’s envy, certainly changes his life -- in parts for the better, but mostly for the worse. The young man gets instantly exposed to politics within his family, kitchen, neighbourhood, electoral constituency…He gets into huge debt that he doesn’t know how to get out of. The filmmakers dig into a patchy plot they don’t know how to emerge out of either.

Climaxes, one after the other, begin to dull the impact of the picture’s wonderful foreplay. The Chevrolet eventually goes missing. Ramesh and his little boy set out in search of the car and the thief (like the father and son from Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thief). You’re the one tired by now.

I suppose there should be a film-buff term for movies that are sweetly set up, engagingly premised, but written only up till the interval: films that are half full, or half empty, depending on how you look at them. They turn out to be more disappointing experiences, merely for the raised expectations. They go nowhere beyond their crackling mid-point, just when you've returned all gung-ho from the loo break.

There are too many instances of such: Shriram Raghavan’s Ek Haseena Thi, I suspect, tops my all-time list. Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti was this year’s no 1. This 'car-nama' stands a distant second.

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