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Fortune doesn’t always favour the brave : Film Review Featured

Mehsampur (2018)

Director:     Kabir Singh Chowdhry

Writer:        Akshay Singh

With:            Devrath Joshi, Navjot Randhawa, Lal Chand, Surinder Sonia, Jagjeet Sandhu

 

Fortune doesn’t always favour the brave.

-Balkaran S

Most who listen to Punjabi music, whether folk or pop, know of Chamkila and have heard his songs, remixed or not (and some even swear by the artist and his art). Crude as his lyrics might’ve been considered by general sensibilities, he simply wrote about what he saw among those he grew up, and in the language most of those around him spoke. Art, and I’m paraphrasing Ice Cube, comes from the truth you see and hear around you. As much people’s hypocrisy and personal taste might disagree, there’s nothing obscene about life as it exists in its nakedness. Chamkila, though, as astute as he was in his arts, paid with his life for flexing his creativity in the face of a predominantly conservative 1980’s Punjabi culture – he, and his consort, on their way to a rural concert, were shot dead by two gunmen belonging to, allegedly, the then widespread Sikh separatist movement. In Mehsampur.

This is where eponymous the movie comes in, with its perceived premise about events surrounding the killing of Amar Singh Chamkila and days leading up to that fateful day in March 1988 – I say ‘perceived premise’ because the movie spends most its length by camouflaging itself as a documentary about those events, however, in actuality, it is a movie about making the movie about Chamkila’s last days and death. Layered, right? Wait till you watch it. Documentation or ‘the making of’, one might think, tends to be arid and parched for all its lack of creative juices, this – though – isn’t dry. But rather a directed experimental dramatization of the emotional toll incurred by the director Kabir Singh Chowdhry during his research for his actual (and somewhat fictional) movie about Chamkila’s impact and death, which is apparently in production.

Mehsampur is definitely a unique film experience, the likes and art of which have not existed in Punjabi/ Hindi cinema, and, I assert with relative certainty, will not exist anytime soon. Chowdhry switches between dual perspectives in his narrative – one of the chief storyteller, and other of the storyteller in the story. And so the scenes fluctuate from the beautiful to the outrageous, and back to the beautiful – a viewer might experience immense pictorial satisfaction at one sequence, and shortly after, feel her/ his sensibilities graphically (and porno-graphically) challenged.

 As the curator-in-chief, the director does an exceptional job challenging cultural cinematic norms with his “artistic garde” direction as he tackles the tight rope of meshing reality with parallel fiction. And as successful Chowdhry is, most times, with his expression, sometimes the dialogue and script appears to be trying a bit too hard to remain visceral and real – in his defence, three of the main characters in the film are not played by actors but instead by actual people who were involved in some capacity with Chamkila. As for the protagonist, Devrath (Devrath Joshi), playing the researcher and director, is fairly convincing and does bring the viewer along on his self-centered quest of researching Chamkila. He meets an aspiring actress, Manpreet (Navjot Randhawa), who, given the context of the audience, is enormously bold and tackles the demanded surrealism and drama with reasonable nous.

There is another character. And that is the non-speaking but loud role played by the varied geography of Punjab, which the director captures with his staccato visuals chasing Chamkila’s ghost thirty years on. And it takes a brave maestro to reveal the human condition of the state in all its rawness and gunk as he does, especially in a country where societal narrative is predominantly steered by conventional and hypocritical forces.

The short verdict then:

If for nothing else, Mehsampur is recommended for blatant confrontation of preconceived cinematic ideas, and for those who would be open to having their comfort and sensibilities challenged. It is not for the masses or for those looking for conventional gratification, and the director, having worked on “mainstream” projects before, doesn’t appear to have any issue with that. Art and film festivals is where Mehsampur can find a home, and I can safely wager, that it is where it will be found. The film meanders languidly throughout, but is able to maintain the initial curiosity, and keep one relatively interested, but then I am a student of film and like sitting through an audiovisual philosophical lesson. Chowdhry is definitely brave, and so was Chamkila, but fortune and audiences don’t always favour the brave.

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