Director: Abhishek Shah
Writers: Abhishek Shah/ story, Abhishek, Prateek Gupta / screenplay, Saumya Joshi/ dialogues and lyrics
Ratings: 4 stars
In 1980 Ketan Mehta directed Gujarati film Bhaav Ni Bhavai that won the Best Film for National Integration. Now 39 years later, Gujarati cinema has once again come into focus with debut director Abhishek Shah’s Hellaro being awarded as Best Feature Film at National Award 2019. In addition, 13 actresses from the film have been mentioned for Special Jury Award. This is the first Gujarati film to win both, the Golden as well as the Silver Lotus awards and is the opening film at the 50th International Film Festival of India to be held in Goa in November.
An entire village was created in the middle of the vast desert in the Kutch region of Gujarat and costumes prepared for everyone to retain a sense of continuity. Shot in the scorching summer of Kutch desert the film was completed in 32 days.
Hellaro tells the story of a sleepy village that has not seen rain in three years. The villagers believe it is the curse of the Goddess to punish them for all their wrong doings and are forever doing penance to meet her approval. Come Navratri and the men decide to dance all night to evoke the Goddess and seek her blessings. The women are instructed to fast all nine days and are abstained from celebrations of the festival. The discriminations are not restricted to just to the festival but are a part of their life. They work all day but aare forbidden to dream, desire or even to express themselves.
I recommend four reasons for watching Hellaro:
One, the subject is novel and the idea of combining fact, fiction with folklore is intriguing because you are left wondering if this really happens and where? Set against the backdrop of emergency it uses the village as a metaphor for oppression, only in this case it focuses on the subjugation of women. Two, for the important issues addressed, without really beating the drums the film condemns the caste system, the patriarchal society and alters the female gaze through an engaging, involving and emotional narrative.
Three, never has dance been used as a means of change and the credit for this goes to the choreographer for presenting 8 imaginative garbas. It is a visual delight to see the women move in swirling skirts in harmony. For the first time dance is not just used for entertainment but as a mode of self-expression, a reason for liberation and celebration. Four, the message, that oppression beyond limits is dangerous. One woman Kesar depicts courage to defy the system and the entire village is motivated.
So is there nothing wrong with Hellaro of course there is, the music could have been more melodious, the background score more dramatic, some scenes could have been more emotional, the desert could have looked more parched and the villagers more unkempt because of the heat, the day to night transitions could have been smoother but all this can be overlooked because the merits outweigh the demerits.
Hellaro excels in every department -editing/ production design/ cinematography/ writing/ choreography/ costume/ sets and there is both passion and detailing in everything.
Gujarati film Hellaro is released with English subtitles and language, in any case, has never been a barrier to appreciate good cinema. I applaud director Abhishek Shah and his team for a path-breaking film and rate Hellaro with 4 stars.