"Hellaro": The most talked about Gujarati Film in recent times.
"We won't stop living for the fear of dying."
In Gujarat, the popular Garba has always been a means of a self expression (a way to express anger, desire, love, happiness) and even the youngsters who play doing the Navratri may not be aware of it.
In the Gujarati film: Hellaro" (with English subtitles: very helpful in understanding the Garba lyrics in the film: its highlights) directed by Debutant Abhishek Shah (37) the film was the surprise winner of the prestigious National Award winner this year (the first Gujarati film to do so) and is also the opening film at Goa's International Film Festival and the winner of the Golden Lotus.
The 13 actresses who form the part of the Garba also received a special mention by the jury for "bringing about social transformation while taking the audience through an emotional catharsis".
It's uplifting that a Garba is used in an imaginative manner to drive home a point just by lyrics and movements. The anger, the happiness, the frustrations, the hope: all are present in the Garba.
In Hellaro, Garba is not only an expression of entertainment but a celebration and finally, liberation.
In this age, it's difficult to believe that in many villages in Gujarat, Garba is still a monopoly of the men folk and a folktale is based on this situation, where the women are expected to fast while the Garbas are performed by the husbands.
The repetitiveness of the distressing lives is not only during the festival season but also the rest of the lives.
Though it's a Gujarati film, it can be significant in any part of India; in fact any part of the world that is sexist, caste-driven and superstitious.
It's a world where men rule and women are just someone to remain in the background, expected to cook and ( as the husbands decide what they will do and what will not) and obviously, the suppression had to emerge in some form: in this case: The final Climatic Garba.
(Hellaro means "the Outburst" in Gujarati.)
When the audience is numbed into a hushed shock at the uncertain climax, we know the film has succeeded at many levels.
The director was prompted to make the women-centrist film while hearing the folktale and also inspired by a story from a friend who refused to put her snap on Facebook (and posted a snap of a Goddess) as it angered her husband who seemingly has a modern outlook.
The story is set in 1975 in Kutch, where the rains not come for over three years and into the newly married, educated girl, ( the only one amongst the other twelve illiterate twelve) Manjri, finds out that she has been thrust into a world where she is merely a toy to be played with, her life reduced to a bleak existence between four walls, not expected to have any dreams or even desires, and the only hope for company is when the women go to a nearby lake to collect the water.
"You cannot go out and you can't fly. If you have wings, please cut them off because if I cut them, it'll hurt you more" says the newly married husband the Manjri.
It is Manjri who draws the women away from the fear, leading them to dance their frustrated existence, their only glimmer of hope in the miserable lives they live.
A chance encounter with a dhol player changes their lives forever.
The film would not have been the same if wasn't for the choreography ( there is some level of earthiness in the steps that was unseen in Garbas in "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and "Ram-Leela" where the chemistry between Salman and Aishwarya and Dipika And Ranvir overtook the choreography. In any case a Garba comes naturally to a Gujarati) by Samir and Arsh Tanna (responsible for the dances in HDDCS and RL) who have given a new level of purity to the steps as the Garba in those times is nothing like what it is now -commercialized- and of the 32 day shooting in 45 degree scorching heat in Gujarat, half the schedule was spent in just the Garbas.
The swirling skirts, the color, the gay abandon of the women, are a visual enchantment.
The music by Mehul Surti is not only melodious but all compositions are all different, with emotional and devotional significance.
Cinematography is excellent, with the arid background of the desert correlating maybe, to the bleakness of the women's lives. The crisp editing is especially effective in the final half an hour.
"Sinners are not punished. If they were, there wouldn't be so many men in the world," says one of the women and this dialogue won the maximum claps in the cinema hall when I saw the film, the claps mainly coming from the males.