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A bullock-cart race is on. The bulls are tearing towards the finishing line. The camera catches one of the participants. It’s a woman. And she’s charging on in her bullock-cart in a high-risk race which was once ruled by men.
But then this is Vidarbha — a land where women are used to facing much bigger risks day in and day out. Before it was banned, the bullock-cart race was an important part of the post-harvest festival held at Vidarbha in Maharashtra every year. Some five years ago the women of Vidarbha too had started participating in it.
Baromas (Twelve Months or Forever), a film about the life of a family in Vidarbha, brings out such details and offers an insight into the customs of a region which is today known to the rest of India only for its farmer suicides. At the core of the film, however, remains the plight and helplessness of the farmers.
But this is not a film to be dismissed as yet another tragedy scripted around the lives of Vidarbha’s farmers. It’s a film by an insider. Dhiraj Meshram, the director of Baromas was raised in the lap of Vidarbha. And as he grew up, this is what he realised: “Farmers sell land. They never buy land.”
After he passed out of the Film and Television Institute of India (Pune), he came across the 2004 Sahitya Akademi award winning Marathi novel by Sadanand Deshmukh called Baromas. Deshmukh, another “insider”, had lived in rural Vidarbha surrounded by stories of farmers, their miseries and their rare joys. Baromas was based on their lives. It was the story of farmers who wanted their children to move away from the debt-ridden, uncertain life which their parents were trapped in. It was the story of young men like Meshram who were looking for a way out of Vidarbha — and agriculture.
Meshram knew a film was in order. It was as if he knew every character, every story in the narrative. The two-hour film, starring Benjamin Gilani and Seema Biswas, tells the story of two brothers from a farming family in Vidarbha. Both are educated and both are jobless. Truant weather, a corrupt bureaucracy, money lenders and power-brokers wreck havoc with the family forcing the brothers to take on the system. One does this by taking to banditry, the other turns to democratic channels to weed out power-brokers. Biswas and Gilani, as the old farmer couple confronting poverty on the one hand and the angst of their young sons on the other, make the film a living experience.
After watching the movie, which has been making waves at film festivals, actor Naseeruddin Shah said it reminded him of Manthan (Shyam Benegal’s 1976 film). “A searingly honest film made from the heart with some of the finest acting seen in recent times,” said Shah. He added, “Kudos to the cast led by the magnificent Benjamin Gilani in the role he was born to play.” Others have called Baromas a return to the days when films like Do Bigha Zameen (Bimal Roy’s 1953 film) took viewers into the soul of rural life.
Baromas also offers lessons in how a family copes with the Vidarbha situation. Each member responds to it differently. The father, Subhan Rao, takes the escape route. One of the sons, Madhukar, resorts to shortcuts. The mother, Sevanti Mai, turns to courage and hope. And the other son, Eknath, finds a truthful and fair way of beating the system.
The village politics plays out subtly, says National Award-winning director Umesh Kulkarni. It’s a poignant theme which, he says, the film deals with in a realistic manner.