Posted in Pictures Desi

Review: Poorna (Hindi) and Talvar (Hindi)

 

Watched back to back two good Bollywood pictures in the 14 hour long flight from America. It is sad that good Hindi films never make it to the headlines and it is the scum (of Khans) that hogs the limelight. Both films seem to be the diagonally opposite: one was of the rural girl Poorna Malavath who made it big from small and miserable village life despite all odds; the other is the sad tale of the upper-middle class girl Aarushi Talwar whose young life was brutally snuffed out one unfortunate evening in Noida, suburban Delhi under mysterious circumstances. Rare for one to get to watch two contrasting stories like these one after another like I happened to, which made it possible for me to make a mental comparison between the two teenagers with hardly a couple of years’ age difference between them in actual life when they were catapulted into national news.  There was nothing common between them even if they’re both from India. Looks like they’re from two entirely different worlds. Each world had its own blessings and woes.

First one was, Poorna (Hindi) produced by Rahul Bose based on the real life story of Poorna Malavath from Nizamabad, Telengana who at the tender age of 13 years and 11 months became the youngest woman in the world to summit Mount Everest in the year 2014. Aditi Inamdar playing the lead as the naive village girl Poorna from Pakala, with Rahul Bose taking on the major supporting role as the Social Welfare Department official, the film is an inspiration in and out and is refreshingly original. Coming close on the heels of Aamir Khan’s Dangal (which probably was inspired by ‘Sala Khadoos”), the celluloid making of Poorna probably risked being labelled a stereotype, but the director-producer seems to have outguessed this, moving away the story line therefore from the predictable and beaten track to chart a different course altogether. Bureaucratic issues and red tape are part and parcel of Indian sports (like it is with any other arena). Untangling yourself from the muddle and raising your standard by itself is a feat, given the complexities that characterize Indian sport. Still, small town achievers have been outshining their urban counterparts in recent years led by none other than the ex skipper of Indian cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni who hailed from Jharkhand himself.

But rural India is mired with its own socio-economic problems. Reeling under poverty and mounting debts, options are limited for the illiterate peasants who cannot afford a decent square meal a day for their families most of the times. Women of rural India are the hardest hit. Poorna’s cousin and friend Priya has child marriage and the same fate awaits Poorna herself (who is in middle school) that she escapes with determination and half-hearted consent from her dirt poor parents, but largely with the help of a very considerate social welfare officer Praveen Kumar (played by Rahul Bose) who is bent on reforming the education scene in the state. Together with Anand Kumar, another teenager, Poorna overcomes the initial hurdles and bests her own physical limitations to conquer the Everest and set a new world record. What happens however to Priya, the teenage mother who carries twins beyond her physical means is tragic. Post delivery, the minor girl develops jaundice to which she succumbs. A bright young life is wasted. A sad reflection on the state of affairs of rural India, 70 years after our independence from the British. Reality can be harsh in Indian villages where everyday life is a struggle. This an other real life story from ‘Poorna’ is an offshoot that aches your heart.

Poorna Malavath is a beacon of hope to rural girls in India who may think all doors are closed on them. She shows how you can succeed yet in adverse conditions if you are strong willed. May be all is not well with India but India is still a place you can flourish if you know how to tap resources effectively. All you may need is a little push and a bit of external help to knock on the right doors or pull the correct levers that may make things work for you. The civil services administration of India need to work in tandem with rural districts to tap the immense potential that this country has to offer.  Devoted and diligent civil services officers who can rekindle the dying hope may be the answers to our prayers, like  civil servant Praveen Kumar has shown with the success of Poorna Malavath.

Aarushi Talwar’s murder shook the Indian nation in 2008. I followed up the story like the rest of my compatriots because, if Aarushi could be alive today, she would be about my son’s age. Her parents Rajesh Talwar and Nupur Talwar were dentists and had a lucrative practice in Noida.

Both Poorna and Aarushi became recognizable names in India around the same age, for different reasons though.

Looks like Aarushi had everything going for her, given her background, unlike Poorna famished and impoverished hailing from one of India’s most backward districts. Aarushi attended the best school, had affluent parents, moved in a good social circle and was a popular and vibrant teenager unlike the shy Poorna. How could things have gone so wrong for her.

Media picked up Aarushi’s case and went for a toss for all the loopholes it presented. Over years, many theories were invented. On one hand, as a parent my heart went out to the Talwars who were demonized by the media. On the other hand, some found Nupur (Nutan played by Konkana Sen), the mother, very impassive to the camera as did seem her husband Rajesh. The grief was missing even if the distraught parents need not have to prove their love and affection for their only child to the world at large. So many pieces did not fit in the jigsaw puzzle as some questions raised about the Nepali men who were friends of the servant Hemraj remained unanswered. Why did the doctor couple have to have a male servant in their house when they had a single teenage daughter, however elderly the man could be. This was what I asked myself.

A friend who happened to read the book on Talwars was already a big champion for their cause. She argued, no parent could murder his/her own child however wayward the daughter/son might turn out to be. I couldn’t disagree with her.  In fact, the picture is based on the book. The best and logical step would be to disown the child. The Talwars did look rather composed given the nature of the tragedy that had befallen on their beloved angelic daughter. Still, honour killing is not for urban India. Probably the parents’ composure went with their profession and their elite social status. But their cool attitude also could have worked against them and turned the public conscience unfavourable. News hour debates were about the Talwars for weeks. The couple were indicted in the case a few years after the murder.

Finally in 2017, the parents of Aarushi, Rajesh and Nupur have been acquitted by the courts for lack of evidence. The picture ‘Talvar’ (sword) is a convenient pun where the Aarushi character goes by the name Shruti. Shruti Tandon. Daughter of Nutan and Ramesh Tandon. Talvar or sword, says the character of the outgoing CBI officer in the film, is held on the left hand of the blindfolded Lady Justice representing the Police department even as the right hand holds the scale of balance.  The investigation of a civil or criminal case therefore is as important in dispensation of justice as the neutrality of the legal counsels be it the prosecution or defense. In fact the tool of investigation (the cops) is vital and imperative to dispense accurate and impartial justice based on which even the legal counsels may build on their cases (in defense or against). So when the investigation is not thorough, it may lead to injustice or partial justice as the film Talvar powerfully and sequentially portrays.

Directed by Meghna Gulzar, the film is the real life story of Aarushi. Yes, it cannot be real life story of Aarushi because the story begins with her murder. The investigation takes its course in various angles played by Ashwin Kumar, a special officer on the case, played by Irfan Khan. Good research (by the scripted character) shows how sloppy the police department in India can be and how laggard we are when it comes to scientific theories and proofs. How carelessly the evidences are destroyed and how callous the public servants (cops in this case) could be that put the tragic parents even more into trauma. It doesn’t stop for the Talwars (Tandons) with finding their precious daughter bloody murdered. Not allowed to mourn their loss, they are dragged into relentless and cruel controversies by the media for TRP ratings and painted as vicious enough to kill their own daughter in cold blood.

The Aarushi case reminds one of the many John Grisham novels that dwell upon wrongful implications and unjust verdicts based on circumstantial evidences where the guilty go free and the guiltless get framed.

Hats off to the director for the convincing and scene-by-scene construction of the plot with strong and substantiated narratives. Grave slip by the cops. All it takes is common sense to see the truth. How easy it is to jump to conclusions carried away by jingoism and populism. The Talwars were accused only for the lack of evidence and any other angle. Honour Killing sounded sensational. The girl was not violated at least, thank god, but that heightened the mystery. The prime suspect Hemraj (Hempal in the picture) was also found murdered which complicated matters. Too many links were missing. The media never zeroed in on the other suspects in the case with the same gusto that they unleashed when it came to villainization of the Talwars.

All the time the character assassination of Aarushi as well as her parents was actively propagated by media cashing in on the sad episode. The nightmare the parents must have gone through. What right do the media have to pass judgement on a criminal case that was still in courts. How much prejudiced that may make out of the prosecutors, legal counsels and witnesses in the case. The harm done to Aarushi’s case by the media is awful. It preempted investigation into many potential and crucial leads that could have led to the murderer(s).

The film ‘Talvar’ was released in 2015 whereas the Talwars were cleared with acquittal only in 2017. The picture closed with the Talwars (Tandons) convicted. I hope the Talwars finally find peace. And I do hope the real killers of Aarushi are brought to justice (though of this I suppose there is least chance. Krishna (Kanhaiya in the film) must have fled India long ago).  Carelessness on part of responsible public servants can lead to gross miscarriage of justice. After what happened to their dear daughter Aarushi, it is a miracle that the Talwars are even sane. It is time to leave them alone finally to mourn their irreparable loss.  Still, thanks to the media, a section of Indians will continue to hold the Talwars guilty of murdering their daughter Aarushi. The damage the media does.

The pictures could be classic case studies on Indian girls/women from village and city since the turn of the century. The films offer a rare insight into rural India and urban India alternatively in different dimensions. One can’t help comparing even the poor peasant parents with the elites at the same time. One world is steeped in ignorance. Another brims with over-confidence. The unmistakable bold streak in the peasant woman contrasts quietly with masked naivety of the urban woman. After a long time, I had the satisfaction of watching meaningful Bollywood films that are brushed under the carpet by the big banner productions. It is sad, these good stories told are hardly commercially viable.

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