Director Abhishek Shah touches your heart with a wave sweeping you off your feet
How often does it happen that even after the end credits roll, you just don’t want to get off? In every shot after all, the film has shaken you- deep inside. In one line- this film here should be watched by every Indian, not because it has won the National Award Best Feature Film 2019, but because it is one of the finest films of Indian cinema. Hellaro, meaning a powerful current that glides you away, doesn’t deserve even a point lesser than the ratings gives above. While the National Award itself proves the mettle the film carries, you just have to watch it to believe it. Gujarati industry which has never been able to cope up with its regional contemporaries, only now gives bright hope.
In 1975, when Manjhri (Shraddha Dangar), a young girl is married off in a small village in the Rann of Kutch, she joins a group of women shackled by deeply ingrained patriarchy. Their only escape from the suppression is when they go out to fetch water every morning to a distant water body. One day, while on their way to fetch water, they find someone in the middle of the desert and their lives are changed forever.
Writing by Abhishek Shah and Prateek Gupta is simply exemplary. In fact, this is a film that tells you how a film on women empowerment should actually look like. Right from the time the film takes off from being an idea to what it has become on screen, it’s a breathtaking journey. As the film progresses scene by scene, you as an audience keep evolving.
The film shows you a mirror. The film hits you hard. The film educates you. The film wrenches you in the highest degree. Mind you, this is not only a story of women trying to break free from patriarchy. It has a quality of making you one with the characters wherein you yourselves feel the mental chains- exactly what the characters in the film feel.
The film progresses like a breath of fresh air, a beautiful poem. With the soul right in place, the film has the power to woo you in every scene that appears. Not exaggerating one bit. Every single scene.
Having said all of this, never mistake this one for a film too heavy. The drama has its own share of amusing humor woven seamlessly in the screenplay. There is a sequence right after the women experience liberation for the first time that they try to avoid bad amen. The scene will make you very happy. Such are several parts in the film balancing the nature of the overall plot.
The dimensions are symbolic. The way fire, desert, wind and other common elements are depicted, you need a fine sense of cinematic knowledge to decode what Abhishek Shah wants to say. Right from how the scenes are conceptualized to how much is being told, so much happens in too little. Dialogues and lyrics by Saumya Joshi are to die for. With such great perfection, they convey much more than what seems intended. Mann ni vaat jaani le chhe, nakki chhori j hashe (Understands the unsaid. Surely it’s a girl) or Niyamo emna ne ramatey emni. Enu bhaag nahi banvanu. Bhog banya etlu bahu chhe (Rules are theirs and the game as well. We don’t have to play it. It’s enough that we are victims)- are just two of the many that stir you.
There is not a single dull moment in the film. You marvel at the smart use of Garba, the essence of Gujarat and how the patterns and choreography changes every time it is being done. The film in its holistic approach is a slap on tyranny and patriarchy, at the same time while it makes you weep.
Shraddha Dangar, the leading lady captivates you. She becomes one with you in you quest to attain peace with the world. She is phenomenally brilliant.
So are the other ladies in the film lending a supporting hand. It is because of all of them that Dangar gets strength, both in her character and also as an actor. All of them in their individual distinct capacities contribute wonderfully in the scheme of the plot. One thing to note here- not all of them get significant screen space- but still they manage to shine.
Jayesh More and Maulik Nayak stand out among all the male actors. Firstly because of their well etched roles and secondly with how inclusive their efforts are. While More says it all with his eyes and face, Nayak puts dialogues and body language to constructive use.
Shailesh Prajapati has performed really well within the limitations of his character of a supremo.
Anything said about the songs of this film would be an understatement. The songs and score by Mehul Surti make the film rise to a different high level. The points where they are inserted and the notion that they convey is are simply splendid. Also the subtle score has the power to make you smile and cry, just by the use of a particular tune. Choreography by Samir and Arsh Tanna have done a fabulous job by incorporating several ras into the form based on the mood of the narrative.
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Camera by Tribhuvan Babu Sadineni boasts of a rich palette of colors playing a catalyst in the story telling. The compositions too make the film seem like a painting. The ladies walking in a desert taken in an extreme long shot to how the camera frames dance sequences- is an extravaganza. Production design by Ravi Popat and Sheel Thakore is raw and grand, both at the same time. The film holds you all through with its visual grandeur. Costumes and make-up teams too command respect.
Editing by Prateek Gupta is something to pay special attention to. The narrative structure is not only definitive sticking to the needs of the script, it is equally engaging and entertaining. A difficult plot to edit, Gupta has done a marvelous job. You can just watch the film again and again, only to appreciate its editing.
This one here transcends the boundaries of a particular language. This is way beyond that. Hellaro is a film that wakes you up from sound sleep. Rightly deserving the National Award and probably much more, this film should be watched by one and all. It has mitti ki khushboo, cultural richness, evil societal framework including the system that needs to be abolished. This film from Gujarat isn’t a film belonging to only one region. This should travel places. This should be seen by every one in India and even globally.