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When The Lights Go Out

Friday, September 21, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

This week’s release Batti Gul Meter Chalu is about a man getting an inflated electricity bill. In 2009, a Marathi film titled Ek Cup Chya,directed by Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhtankar, also took off from this idea. In BGMC, the fight ends up in court, in the older film, the focus is on the Right to Information Act (RTI), but both films focus on the corruption and apathy of the bureaucracy.

Kashinath Sawant (Kishor Kadam) is a bus conductor with the state transport corporation, living in a village on the Konkan coast with his mother (Kamal Desai), his wife Rukmini (Ashvini Giri) and their two daughters and two sons. Vasanti is a nurse, Vanadevi and the boys, Chandan and Abeer, are still studying.

The Sawants receive a huge electricity bill of Rs.73,000, and are slammed against an uncaring system. The Ek Cup Chya of the title is the equivalent of the more common term “chai-paani” which means bribe. Kashinath is told that his problem can be solved it he coughs up a bribe. Otherwise, he will have to pay the bill and then follow the procedure to get it corrected, or get the power to his home cut off.

He meets Dr.Durga Khanolkar (Devika Daftardar), a social activist; with her help and that of his friend Sayyed (Sunil Sukhtankar), he files an RTI application to the Electricity Board, questioning the inflated bill. It is a long and frustrating battle, which is satire on a system full of people who neglect their duty and function only with greased palms.

The film, made on a small budget, travelled to film festivals and won awards, but it mainly created awareness about RTI, and how it helps the powerless fight their battles. The film eschews melodrama for a tone of gentle humour. What the Sawants go through could happen to everyone, and most would seek the easy way out by paying the bribe.

Like the other films made by the Bhave-Sukhtankar duo, this one also deals with a social issue, and provides a workable solution. In real life, the battle may or may not have a satisfactory ending, but at least cinema offers hope. Ek Cup Chya was a simple film with a simple message, effective writing and earnest performances.

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