Around the same time last year (2019) Gujarati cinema took a U-turn and dug deep into its folklore. Born was Hellaro and the rest, as they say, is history. Out of all things on Earth women were restricted to and oppressed for, one was playing Garba (a traditional Gujarati folk dance) in this fictional village of Samarpura. It is where men bowed down in front of the Goddess Amba and beat, abuse and subject their women to suppression unimaginable. Today on Koimoi recommends, I recommend you to watch this Abhishek Shah directorial that is both visually and ideologically impeccable.
Director: Abhishek Shah
Available On: MX Player
Language: Gujarati (with subtitles)
The year is 1975, and we are introduced to Samarpura while then Prime Minister of India, Late Indira Gandhi, is announcing emergency over the radio. A man says “This is what happens when you give the power to a woman”, Abhishek Shah puts the patriarchy and male chauvinism at full display. But that is not the only thing he does. Hellaro that tells the story of 13 women who dared to question back the orthodox doesn’t make the gaze of the two parties involved, but that of a third person who may just be a passer-by. In this case, he is a chap from the village who works in the city.
Said to be folklore, this place is so cut off from the modernisation or even progress, that they don’t even know what the world outside their border looks like. Enters Manjhri, played by a pitch-perfect Shraddha Dangar, a newly wedded bride, who has spent her life in a city till now. She is the first woman in this set up who has seen what a school looks like and can read. Her husband tells her to cut her wings and aspirations herself. He says it would hurt if he has to. And that is what follows, Manjhri is subjected to marital r*pe, suppression and even physical abuse.
What makes Hellaro more relatable is the fact that the protagonist, Manjhri here, is not out there to change the world. Yes, she motivates others to dance, but she doesn’t repel when her husband forces himself on her, or when her mother-in-law stops her from wearing clothes that have embroidery on them. There is a fire in her, but she is not out there burning everyone with it. Or the women who feel that they are the reason for all the problems and the not the one creating them.
When the women meet the Dholida (drummer) and the dance of hope begins, the first step suddenly puts you in a thought that what if someone sees? And that haunts you throughout. Costume department deserves a lot of credit here. The women begin with dull clothes and gradually become more vibrant and colourful as they start dancing. Here are the women who only live from one day to another in the hope that the time they set out to fetch water from a distanced pond, they will get to dance.
There is too much to take away from Hellaro. The politics, caste discrimination, misuse of power, the courage, what all our women have been through, and it just takes one to stand and motivate others. What stands put in Abhishek Shah’s writing is his climax. He leaves the end to our imagination. The woman dance in full public display, with their bruises, fire in their eyes, as the clouds pour, and the film ends. We don’t know what followed, did they change the rustic minds? Did they get killed? What if their end was brutal? Shah leaves it to our imagination and, trust me, there could not have been a better end.
Hellaro is a visual spectacle. Something that will enthral everyone with an eye for aesthetic. The cinematography by Tribhuvan Babu Sadineni, lyrics by Saumya Joshi, Samir and Arsh Tanna’s choreography and the various acting performances make this a film at par to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s detailing.
Hellaro means outburst, the movie stands true to its name. Watch the film, it’s folklore, but what reality is the one that inspires it. Watch how regional filmmakers are transcending borders and creating art that speaks to the masses regardless of the language. And as Manjhri says, “we won’t stop living for the fear of dying.” Also, the film won a National Award, if that comes to you as a validation.
PS: In the original tale, after getting caught, the drummer was killed by the men, and the women died by suicide as a protest.