A decrepit corner of a crematorium where four men sit through the night playing cards, drinking and sharing their own personal stories. Their faces faintly lit by a lamp, the night mostly still except for the slow sounds of a pyre burning. Some sentences are left hanging midway… the silence only broken by the wailing of a dog farther away.
Award-winning director Bikas Mishra’s adaptation of Badal Sarkar’s riveting play Pagla Ghoda stays true to the essence of the original (of course the length has been tailored and brought down to a little under 2 hours). We are mostly tethered to this unlikely setup except for the few flashbacks that slowly help us peel through to the truth.
Karthik, Satu, Shashi and Himadri, played with perfection by Ravi Khanwilkar, Gopal Singh, Vikram Kochhar and Anshuman Jha, seem to be in control of the proceedings as the film starts. We gather from their conversation that they have come to oversee the last rites of a woman that all of them claim to hardly know.
Some information is furnished but it’s still precious little.
As they begin to philosophise about life and its meaning with the air of death hanging heavy, one can’t help but wonder if there is something underneath the self-assured smugness of the men.
The ineffectual ramblings soon turn more poignant as they each reveal their individual stories of loss and pain.
Of love not reciprocated or foolishly frittered away. Most women they talk about are just names we hear except for the ghost of the woman they came to the crematorium for.
Vastly effective, newcomer Chitrangda Chakraborty is an unobtrusive presence but one who guides us to understanding her plight better.
Although the play was written in the 1960s, it is eerily relevant even today as not just the women but even the men slowly reveal the corrosive nature of patriarchy. Of how valour, brotherhood, self-control and the straight-jacketing by society can be almost as stifling for men as it is for women.
Pagla Ghoda is not only relevant today for the content that it carries cinematically, but equally significant is how the modes of consumption have changed in the digital age.
As Bikas Mishra, whose debut feature Chauranga was declared Best Indian Feature at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2014, himself puts it.
To release Pagla Ghoda theatrically we will need at least twice the production budget to promote the film.Bikas Mishra
Premiering online for Cineplay on Hotstar today, the makers hope that the digital forum gives them a level playing field and helps them connect to their target audience without surrendering to star power or PR tactics that would have otherwise proved crippling.
As a befitting analogue to Pagla Ghoda (Badal Sarkar), the feature deserves serious viewing.
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