Where do we draw the line between documentary and fictional retellings and if these lines are challenged, where does the audience stand?
Filmmaker Anubhav Sinha returns to the screens with yet another poignant topic with Bheed. Before Bheed, the director has touched upon patriarchy (Thappad), caste-based discrimination and violence (Article 15), religion and extremism (Mulk), and more.
Bheed, written by Sinha, Saumya Tiwari, and Sonali Jain, delves into the migrant crisis in India during the COVID lockdowns. By weaving actual news into a fictional narrative, Sinha creates a gripping film.
Rajkumar Rao as Surya Kumar Singh Tikas, plays a cop who is made in-charge of a check post while thousands are trying to cross state borders to return home.
In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, Pankaj Kapur's Balram Trivedi laments that they're trying to go back home and have also left behind their homes.
Rao is impressive in his role and captures the intricacies of his character brilliantly. In his scenes with Bhumi Pednekar (Renu Sharma) or Kapur, the audience can't help but feel like two fine actors are expertly playing off of each other.
As people continue to line up near the check post and tempers flare, fault lines of caste conflict, class conflict, and more emerge. The film also dives into how irresponsible coverage during the COVID pandemic only made existent xenophobia and Islamophobia worse.
Sinha contrasts this with Renu Sharma, a healthcare worker and the sole voice of reason who few listen to.
On the other hand, Surya's story explores how deeply entrenched caste discrimination is in our society. Despite rising in the ranks in the force, Surya constantly comes face-to-face with bigotry, from within the force and beyond.
Trivedi, a helpless but bigoted patriarch, constantly puts his biases before the needs of his people and it's refreshing that Sinha doesn't paint him as a character who has a sudden change of heart.
Beyond this, there's also a Parasite-esque parallel arc starring Dia Mirza as a woman enroute to pick her daughter from a hostel. She watches everything unfold from the comfort of her Fortuner and despite trying to showcase empathy, only does it within the confines of her privilege.
There is a lot to like about Bheed but it isn't without flaws. Some of the scenes come off as more preachy than thoughtful. The desire to cover several aspects of the crisis clashes with the need for well-sketched-out characters.
Mirza and Kritika Kamra as the well-intentioned journalist Vidhi Prabhakar come and go from one scene to another without much to hold on to. That is not to say that the actors falter in their performance. They take what they're given and manage to leave a mark on the film. But perhaps they deserved more.
Soumik Mukherjee as the DOP and Atanu Mukherjee as the editor, work hand-in-hand to create imagery in Bheed that's both powerful and doesn't exploit its subjects. The decision to make the entire film black-and-white might work for some and might not for others. Personally, it does.
These creative decisions are only bolstered by Anita Kushwaha's affecting sound design and Mangesh Dhadke's moving background score.
Is it too soon to make a film like Bheed? Is it ever the right time to retell stories of human suffering? You'll leave the theater with these questions swimming around in your head. But it'll be tough to deny that the film is powerful and manages to tell the story it set out to tell, well.