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The Boy's Life

Friday, February 15, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

The simple but strong narrative style that Iranian cinema introduced to the world, lead to a lot of films with children made in Marathi. Nishil Sheth’s crowd-funded Hindi film, Bhasmasur, made it to film festivals and then a streaming platform,that probably gave it an audience that an indifferent multiplex release could not have managed.

The film captures with beauty and compassion a slice of India that is not seen much in our films these days. Set in picturesque Rajasthan, Bhasmasur tells the story of an impoverished family – Dhaanu (Imran Rasheed), his widowed sister (Trimala Adhikari), his two kids and their pet donkey, given the odd name Bhasmasur (a demon from mythology). It is revealed through a dialogue that the sister’s husband had committed suicide.

Dhaanu owes money to the landlord, and has no means to repay. So he decides to go to the city and sell Bhasmasur. The son Tipu (Mittal Chouhan), who loves the animal, is distraught, but he is forced to travel a long way on foot with his father, because the donkey obeys only the boy.

The arduous journey over stunning landscape helps father and son bond silently, and when one thinks of these scenes in the light of what happens in the end, they are doubly heart-breaking. They eat the food they have carried, and there is no change of clothes—they have just one set of drab clothes, Dhaanu’s bright red turban providing a dash of colour to the arid surroundings.

When they do talk, Dhaanu and Tipu open up about things they never discussed before, like the dead mother whom the child misses so desperately that he carries pieces of her saris tied to a stick—probably the only possession he has apart from a pair of goggles gifted by his friend for the journey.

They reach the city, almost lose the donkey, make some money to eat a decent meal and buy a pair of shoes for Tipu and then comes the shattering ending.

With remarkable economy Sheth tells a story that actually has so much simmering under the surface, and gets wonderful performances from Rasheed (a theatre writer-director-actor) and newcomer Chouhan, a little boy with a very expressive face. The only nods to Rajasthani folk culture are the scenes with itinerant singers in the desert and a fair in the city.

The plight of farmers in Maharashtra, and the tragic suicides of debt-ridden men have found their way into films, but the condition of the poor in India is the same everywhere, and children often have to bear the burden of keeping their families afloat, but the shackles of debt never seem to break. Bhasmasur is a film worth looking out for and catching for a glimpse of this neglected India.

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