The country’s longest running South Asian themed film festival opened with a film that speaks to the world about the current global health crisis – even though it was made long before the word covid became part of the world’s daily vocabulary…
INDIA is in midst of a terrible crisis due to the corona virus pandemic and yesterday’s (May 26) opening gala film of the UK Asian Film Festival, ‘Raahgir’ (‘The Wayfarers’) was a powerful statement of humanitarian values and the need to come together.
This year the UK Asian Film Festival (UKAFF) – now in its 23rd edition and the longest running festival of its type in the UK – is screening films around the theme of ‘A Ray of Hope’.
Inspired by the films of the great Indian director Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), and celebrating his 100th birth anniversary, this year’s UKAFF has selected features, shorts and documentaries, from South Asia which reverberate with his the great filmmaker’s own concerns and interests.
Last night’s opening film ‘Raahgir’ is a simple tale about two impoverished individuals and a third who has to ferry an elderly couple to a hospital.
It spoke volumes about the need for people to work together and defeat a common enemy – whether that be poverty, hunger or disease – and most importantly not fight each other or squabble.
As lead actor Adil Hussain told us in his interview with www.asianculturevulture.com: “It was shot much before covid and now it makes way more sense than before.”
Indeed, it does (see the review below).
Last night director Goutam Ghose, producer Amit Agarwal (‘Simran’ 2017) and Hussain spoke about the film with moderator associate professor Mukulika Banerjee of the London School of Economics (LSE), in a pre-recorded video Zoom, screened after the film.
Ghose said he had been inspired by Ray’s films, and ‘Raahgir’ represents a similar slice of humanity.
In these two characters’ story, there is an essence of goodness, humility and warmth of heart – Ghose intimated that right now these things were lacking in India. In fact, he thinks that since 1990s Indians have become more divided and that a rampant Capitalism was destroying simple and beatiful existences – often lived in harmony with nature.
Hussain spoke of the two and half months he spent with a tribal group as a young man not long after actor training in Delhi and London and his old acting mentor inviting him to tour India on a motorbike and live with this community.
It taught him a lot he said – and it perhaps explains why he is so good in so many common man roles.
“I don’t judge my characters”, he explained.
It was a great film to kick off a festival that has the memory and legacy of Satyajit Ray at its heart this year.
Roll on UKAFF! See the programme below…
‘Raahgir’ (‘The Wayfarers’)
Simple is beautiful
IF YOU admire the work of legendary Indian film director Satyajit Ray, you are very likely to enjoy and possibly even cherish this.
Veteran director Goutam Ghose has won many awards and this film is beautiful in its simplicity.
Told as a sort of parable, well-known indie actor Adil Hussain as ‘Lakhua’ and Tillotama Shome as ‘Nathuni’, encounter each other as they go in search of money and sustenance.
Both are from impoverished communities – where there is very little in the way of material possessions – a transistor radio appears to be the only modern appliance available to Nathuni’s family, which consists of an invalid husband and a teenage daughter and young son of school-going age.
The opening scene is harrowing and is in a different tone to the rest of the film – it reminds us of the vulnerability of women such as Nathuni. Carrying firewood on a lonely wooded path, she is confronted by two thugs on a motorbike… they are not interested in the firewood.
The story then moves to her family situation – her husband (Omkar Das Manikpuri) seems an affable mild-mannered guy, but is confined to his bed and has to get help for even basic tasks. The family have no regular income – and eke out a very simple existence – at least the children are in school and get one free square meal a day.
Nathuni takes it upon herself to get some money for the family – her husband needs batteries for his transistor radio among other essentials. The family have no mobile phone – it is simply beyond their income reach.
Along her journey to the town to find work she encounters Lakua or Lakhpati (millionaire – he jokes) – initially she isn’t sure about him and this makes total sense from the first scenes of ‘Raahgir’ – but he is gentle, humorous and does not seek to dominate her – in a way that many men in that situation might.
They get on – but the film really takes another dimension when they come across motorcycle cart driver Chopat Lal (Neeraj Kabi).
His vehicle is stuck in the mud and he is trying to ferry two elderly and sick people to the nearest hospital in town. He doesn’t know them, but the villagers have no one else to turn to and he kindly obliges – even though now he is in a terrible predicament himself.
We are put slap bang into the dilemma of these endearing central characters – do Nathuni and Lakua go to help and give up on their urgent plight or do they just continue as fast as they can to get to their destination and get the work they need to feed themselves and their families?
What happens next goes to the very heart of this film.
Ghoshe’s framing is both subtle and powerful and has the intended effect – though he still leaves the audience to make up its own mind.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
If you want to find out when and where Raahgir will screen next follow @Raahgir – it had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2019 in South Korea and does not have distribution yet.
Adil Hussain talked to acv about this film
More coming – including Toofaan Mail and British film, Granada Nights with Antonio Aakeel…