Our heroes do not feel the pain. This one is no exception. He even challenges the police inspector to prove the contrary. The policeman tries, but having been designated as a villain in the story, he fails. The filmmaker spectacularly succeeds in making a villain out of an entire police force, in the process. The audience grown up on a discourse which does not brook any nuances, laps it up.
Trying to tell the story of mothers who lost their sons in the period it shows, would always have been risky. The filmmaker covers that risk with terrible non-realism. But the casualty is not merely ‘factuality’. Much more can be discounted in pursuit of a commercial success. What it takes toll on is something much more precious and fragile.
Trying to come to the terms with loss of dear ones in a mindless violence in the name of a movement and the state’s response to it, one is left with a numbing feeling what a terrible waste it was! But a narrative that can’t do without ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ can make only for a successful movie. It is doomed to remain short of becoming a human document.
That would, perhaps, be asking for too much. The filmmaker has made no such claims either. But by placing his story in a period from a recent history with contentious simultaneity of narratives, the filmmaker is treading a path that needs one to be careful of where he places his foot. The filmmaker chooses an easier way.
In this narrative the state represented by its police is making extremists out of ordinary people in cahoots with some corrupt elements from the movement. To bring in a semblance of objectivity, there is an odd policeman,who declines to be part of fake encounter team. But the movement gets a clear sympathetic treatment that is at odds with obvious.
Having said so, what marks the film apart is its steering clear of endorsing the violent movement. The apologists of the movement make a distinction between different kinds of violence, as do a character in the film. The protagonist in the film clearly does not agree with his justification to kill ‘innocents’ but justifies violence, nevertheless. In fact, he glorifies it with some spectacular killings in true ‘filmi-style’. Keeping up with that style he makes a spectacle of returning to the village triumphantly shouting slogans of Jo Bole So Nihal. The resolution is brought about by getting him shot dead by the husband of the girl he was in love with. That brings the film to close in a style.
The style defines the film. That does not make up for the deficiency of the substance but provides the film some of its moments. Those moments are enough to carry the film to a level Punjabi cinema has not seen. That is what redeems the film as a ‘Punjabi film’.
But the problem is the film claims to be about Punjab in a particular period. Whichever side one may be on but one can’t deny the fact that those were traumatic times. The film bases its story on memories of unresolved pain of that phase.
It ends up caricaturing that.
(The review was first published in Punjab Panorama)