A father murders his new borns. A schizophrenic stepmother makes up her mind to murder her stepdaughter. A jealous mother decides to marry off her daughter to a python believing that the snake will grant her vast riches. A mother who has given birth to an elephant-apple tries to unlock the secrets behind it following her everywhere she goes. Four stories unravel by the banks of the same river Brahmaputra. Director Bhaskar Hazarika has been able to create one of the most polished, intriguing and wonderful Assameese films of recent times. Each of the tales have been taken from the famous Burhi Aiyor Xhadhu compiled by famous Assamese author and poet Lakshminath Bezbaruah. The words “compiled by” are used instead of a just “by” because these are folk tales which were handed down from generation to generation. Bezbarua mentioned in the preface of his book that these stories were taken from varied sources and even mentioned some of the source’s names.
Since the stories are folk tales, Bhaskar Hazarika had the liberty to interpret them according to his likes. He was also able to tweak and change the stories wherever he wanted. Whether that went down well or not with the masses is another story for another time. Here I would like to dwell only on the film at hand. The stories build up slowly letting the audience connects with the characters. You love some, you hate some and you are intrigued by some. The tales unfold simultaneously and yet the director ensures that you are able to follow the proceedings without any fuss. A large credit for that has to be given to the manner in which the film is edited. It also has to be taken into account that some of the stories criss-cross each other and yet there is total control in the manner in which they unfold and they make complete sense.
It has to be kept in mind that this is in no way a children’s film or a feel good film for that matter. The film is laced with brutal scenes of torture and subjugation that mostly unfolds off-screen but has enough references to make you nervous and unsettled. The fact that many of the principal cast members suffer and it is mostly the innocents that have to bear the brunt, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The guilty don’t find justice and the film ends without any wish fulfillment. I really liked this characteristic of the film. Very recently I watched a Marathi film called “Court” which treads a very similar path even though the subject matters of both the films are completely different. I loved the ambiguity that the story has attached to it and the director does a brave thing by not walking the tried and tested path of complete resolution.
The next highlight of the film is the performances. Led from the front by Zerifa Wahid and Seema Biswas, both of whom are extremely hateable, every performance is perfect. While Zerifa plays the schizophrenic step mother to the innocent and lovable Tejimola, Seema Biswas is the jealous mother of Bonlotika whom she wants to be endowed with great riches like her stepsister. Wahid’s character gets crueler as the film progresses. She sees visions (or we see the vision) of a man-jackal who is shown giving her ideas. It is left undisclosed if such a character actually exists or is it only the figment of her imagination. Kopil Bora plays the father who murders his own three children one by one as they are born. He does so as his uncle, who means the world to him, asks him to do so. He is pained by what he is forced to do and that shows in his act. The resolution to his story is superb and the most uncanny of the lot. The audiences will be confused with their feelings for the man.
Urmila Mahanta plays the mother to an elephant-apple. She at first remains oblivious to finding the secret of the elephant-apple that follows her everywhere she goes but with time she grows curious too. On repeated requests of a merchant, she finally sets out to learn the secret of the elephant-apple. Another excitingly scripted piece. Urmila is natural and effective in her act. Adil Hussain has a bits and pieces role that assumes importance as we go along. His character too is very subdued and in close proximity to the real world. I have always admired Hussain and his act here is no less exciting. Special mention has to be made of Kasvi Sharma playing Tejimola. Her act extracts genuine emotions and in many ways elevates Wahid’s act. We hate Wahid more because we are so much in love with Kasvi’s innocent Tejimola.
Kothanodi boasts of sweeping cinematography. The visuals are in strong keeping with the mood and tone of the film. The surrealistic view of the Brahmaputra, the long tracking shots, the sudden close-ups, the peek behind the trees and walls all add up to give you a feeling of what it would have meant to be an invisible voyeur to the four stories. This is a better looking Assamesse film than the best of the best I have seen over the years. While the cinematography is spot on, the color correction and digital works also seem to be impeccably done. The sound is terrific. There are so many scenes where the sound design helps in instilling a sense of fear in you. While the atmospheric sounds are elevated and replaced by numerous sources, the scores too are beautifully envisioned and executed. Whatever little visual effects are there, are done with aplomb. The sequences involving the python devouring a major character, the ones which has the elephant-apple following its mother are all executed with authority. They never feel cheap or unbelievable and thus in turns hugely add to the inevitability and access of the film.
Overall, Kothanodi is a brilliant picture that can be watched and re-watched. It is not an exact recreation of the fables from yester-years but Bhaskar Hazarika’s own take on the stories. I was intrigued by what he had to offer and for all those who are willing to shun their sentimentalities for the fables and watch the film with an open mind, there is a lot to look forward to. Brilliant acting, superb techniques, terrific and captivating screenplay mark this gem of a movie. Do watch Kothanodi. It is one of those near unmissable films that keeps becoming more and more rare.
Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)