And A Farmer Had to Die

"Gabhricha Paus" (The damned rain), written and directed by Satish Manwar and produced by Prashant Pethe, is about the suicides of cotton farmers in Vidarbha. It's a subject that has been dealt with before in short fiction films, documentaries and dozens of newspaper reports and analyses. But Manwar's film tells the story with such controlled subtlety and restraint, that you simply cannot escape feeling personally implicated in the tragedy. Why do we allow our farmers to die for want of so little?

Manwar knows that we will care about the problem if we care about the people it affects. So he gives us an utterly lovable family. Kisna (Girish Kulkarni) is burdened with debt. His wife Alka (Sonali Kulkarni) watches his every move with dread. She has just come away from yet another suicide funeral and finds everything Kisna does suspicious She instructs her son Dinu (Aman Attar) to tail his father to farm, city and funeral, and report right back if he notices strange signs. At home she posts her mother-in-law (Jyoti Subhash) as watchdog.

The tale is told with wry humour. While we smile at the situations Alka's anxiety creates, Kisna fights the odds stacked against him. He sows the seed. A fortnight's dry spell dries it up. He owes the money-lender already, so he can't borrow more. Alka offers her ornaments to be pawned. There's money now for a second sowing. Hope rises. The seed is sown. The rain comes down in demented torrents, flooding the land. When it stops, the seed has rotted. The pawned ornaments are now sold. A small crop is still possible. But this is just enough for the money-lender to cart away as repayment in kind of the money owed to him.

Manwar's money-lender is matter-of- fact. He's simply playing by the rules of the game. He lends; the debtor repays. If the debtor's family starves as a result, that's his bad luck. The indifference of nature is matched by the indifference of the system.

Everyone in the cast delivers intense performances. Even minor characters, created with love and care, are credible human beings within the small space allotted to them. The superbly cast Madhukar Dhore as the old farmer whose son commits suicide, turns this minor role into an unforgettable symbol of quiet endurance.

It has been said that Marathi cinema has come of age over the past few years. The pertinent question is, has Mumbai's Marathi audience come of age? Like the system that traps the cotton farmer in Vidarbha, there is a system of distribution and exhibition in operation here that can kill a good film if the audience fails.

When "Gabhricha Paus" premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in January, it was so well received that it became the only Indian film to win a distribution grant of 15,000 Euros from the Hubert Bals Fund. Producer Prashant Pethe admitted at the premiere that it was this grant alone that had enabled him to release the film on Friday. But that Friday, at a multiplex in Dadar, the manager looked at the small queue outside the booking office and refused to sell tickets. The 20 odd people who had come to see the film were unceremoniously turned away.

Do audiences have rights against such a decision? Does Pethe, who has shown such courage in backing the film to the point of release, have rights? What are the relevant clauses in the agreements that distributors sign with exhibitors? Is sale or non-sale of popcorn one of them? I'm told that multiplex managements don't like Marathi audiences because they don't buy popcorn. So the good seed that a filmmaker sows gets blown away by something as light and silly as popcorn. No wonder blogs are bristling with calls to boycott the concerned multiplex. Perhaps Marathi film ads should carry the warning: "Popcorn khal tarach film pahal!"    

Published On : 21-07-2014