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Hindi Film review
Splendid imagery crippled by a wayward script
Cast: Purab Kohli, Kirti Kulhari, Tanishtha Chatterjee, Mukul Dev, Ravi Gossain, Yashpal Sharma
Director: Girish Malik
Rating: * * ½
‘Jal’ is definitely an experience – of the trials and tribulations experienced by tribal villagers living in the Rann of Kutch where potable water is scarce and life is a series of never ending hardships. Rakesh Mishra’s story developed into a script by director Girish Malik and Rakesh himself plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy in part and existential dilemma in the other. Unfortunately the two halves don’t mesh together enough to make it worth connecting with on a more cerebral and emotional level. So the effect is not exactly gritty enough neither does it manage to draw you in completely. And that’s mainly because the story and narrative is logically flawed.
The film opens with a stunningly digitized desert storm coming at you from the horizon, while in the foreground you see Bakka(Purab Kohli) desperately digging a well in search of water for his pregnant wife Kesar(Kirti Kulhari), who is literally dying of thirst. Cut to the past where Bakka is the water diviner who appears to have some innate sensitivity that allows him to divine the position of water several meters below the surface. It’s of course not an exact science but in terms of averages , he is supposed to be successful. The irony though is that the tribal village he belongs to does not have any water well while the rival village has one that is belly full right up to the top. In this scenario, there enters a trio of foreign biologists studying the flamingos that flock to this region year after year. They discover that the flamingo young are dying because of the high salinity in the sea water and decide to build a pond to provide fresh, less saline water in order to save the birds. Bakka’s friend Rakkala(Ravi Gossain) and several others get hired to do the manual jobs while a fuel run bore digger is imported from the city to get the job done. But water is not found and after several unsuccessful digs the biologists seek Bakka’s help. Soon enough Water is found and the birds are saved but when it comes to helping the thirsty villages in the same manner the biologists show reluctance. Tragedy and misunderstandings ensue and Bakka is thrown out of the village.
The narrative scrambles together several subplots in it’s effort to increase the complexity but the result is non cohesive and tending to incoherence. The romance between Bakka and Kesar, the war over water, the unrequited love angle, the betrayal of trust, abandonment, sacrifice, survival are elements that find ample space in the telling but the logical flow, coherence and clarity is missing. The spatial dimensions are also not very clearly laid out so as the story plays along more and more inconsistencies crop up. Also given the tendency of man to find solace in an abode that is located close enough to basic necessities, it’s a little difficult to understand why the village without water never relocated. Or made use of the water pond that was created for the flamingoes. The back story could have been developed to take care of these questions. Also the development is not very accomplished either. In a turn of events Bakka asks his friend Rakkala to head for the mound hiding the jewelry collected from the villagers, while he himself goes to return the vehicle with the bore-digging machine. On his return he finds the mound empty of the hidden jewelry and promptly breaks out in a tearful refrain. He obviously forgot that Rakkala was sent to get the jewelry. Several such narrative inconsistencies could well have been avoided with a few more rewrites. The Indian cast is competent but the foreigners look lost and totally clueless as to what they are doing. Saidah Jones, Gary Richardson both appear out of their elements(in a logical sense). Physically also, they don’t appear to be affected much by the relentless heat and the lack of water. First timer Girish Malik fails to create a believable scenario and therein lies the disconnect. Sunita Radia’s awe-inspiring cinematography is the only truly amazing thing about this film. She manages to make the experience a spell-binding sea of visuals of deserts cape that haunt you much after the movie is done with.
‘Jal’ could well have become the flavor of the year provided the writer and director had the foresight to do a redraft- or maybe several redrafts of the script. As it is, this film demands viewing solely because of it’s stunning, awe-inspiring cinematography and magnificent, desert set-up.