Dedh Bigha Zameen Review: Pratik Gandhi Shines Bright In A Desultory Film

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Pratik Gandhi in a still from the film. (courtesy: YouTube)

A common man fighting for his rights in a system loaded heavily against him is a familiar figure in Hindi movies that seek to address the inequities that plague the nation. The protagonist of Dedh Bigha Zameen is cast in the same mould.

Written and directed by Pulkit and streaming on JioCinema, the film roots for an Everyman who wages a battle against his circumstances, the law and a flagrant abuse of political power. However, the methods it employs are so understated that the anger and frustration of the underdog barely register.

The line between the subdued and the bland is very thin in Dedh Bigha Zameen. The hurdles that the principal character encounters seem insurmountable but he carries on regardless. He fights a good fight all right but the film does not measure up.

The restraint inherent in the telling of the story stands out but the drama says nothing at all that we do not already know. The bad guys here aren’t the greedy zamindars and moneylenders of yore but a dowry seeker, a dishonest broker and a powerful land-grabber.

Dedh Bigha Zameen uses a worn-out plot to drive home the sorry plight of a grain trader who is compelled to take a stand against a local legislator in a small town in Uttar Pradesh although he is aware of his own abject powerlessness.

Bits of the indolent Dedh Bigha Zameen pass muster because of what lead actor Pratik Gandhi brings to the table. Using nuanced means, he creates a believable portrait of a man weighed down by adversity. He shines bright in a desultory film that pieces together an oft-told story.

The film makes its point all right but lacks the potency to make the audience sit up and bristle with indignation at the way things turn out for the hero.

Dedh Bigha Zameen never quite springs to life although there are points in the narrative where the audience feels the tormented hero’s pain. His struggles come across as real and relatable but the impediments he faces – his material needs, his sister’s wedding, a disputed piece of land that cannot be sold, a smarmy local politician who will not budge and the nagging fear of failing in his duties to his family – are overly familiar and predictable. His progress, or the lack of it, does not, therefore, startle.

Pratik Gandhi plays Anil Singh, a faceless and unflappable wheat seller who lives with his mother (Neeta Mohindra), wife Pooja (Khushalii Kumar) and sister Neha (Prasanna Bisht). Trouble erupts when he finds a match for his sister and decides to sell a small piece of land to fund the wedding.

Anil hires a local broker to find a buyer for the land. But he learns that an MLA has grabbed the plot. The proposed wedding is in danger of being nixed unless he can get the politician to relinquish his claim on the land. Thus begins an unequal battle against an invincible opponent who is unlikely to get out of Anil’s way unless his hands are forced.

The wafer-thin storyline centres on the meek Anil who hopes against hope that he can meet the busy legislator and appeal to his better nature. When he finds his chances of regaining control of the land receding, he decides to go all out. I may be a face in the crowd that counts for nothing but I will fight, he says to his wife.

The women around Anil are mute spectators. Anil’s wife does occasionally get a word in edgewise but his sister and mother have no say in his decisions. Anil himself is as docile as a lamb. Even when he is pushed against the wall and has nothing to hold on to, he does not lose his composure. His faith in the law and the property papers in his hand keep him going. But he is thwarted and betrayed at every step.

As indicated earlier, Dedh Bigha Zameen isn’t a typical good-versus-evil drama. The hero does not have an overarching villain to contend with. Evil here is widespread and deep-rooted and manifests itself in small, deadly doses of malice that poison the lives of those who have over generations been browbeaten by the system into believing that they must make peace with the powerful and wealthy in order to survive.

The outcome of the David-Goliath face-off is a foregone conclusion for everyone except Anil and his family. They live in hope. Some of it is reposed in the police. But the law enforcers have no interest in protecting the likes of Anil. Inspector Sunil Yadav (Faisal Malik) gives Anil a hearing on a couple of occasions but does nothing to redress his grievance.

A concerned uncle (Daya Shankar Pandey) and a loyal friend, Asif (Avinash Chandra), do whatever they can to help Anil tide over the crisis but nothing is ever enough. The problems that confront the man are intractable. There are rare moments when Anil takes the law in his own hands, but his aggression usually boomerangs except when it is directed against men who are his size and, therefore, as reconciled to their fate as he is.

His story is as crushingly dreary as the nondescript town that he lives in. There is little in the screenplay that either brings the location alive or has the potential to conjure up situations that could make Anil’s struggles worthy of sustained attention.

One thing that Dedh Bigha Zameen does is eschew false optimism or heroic derring-do, a choice that may seem like a departure from the defining conventions of the genre but in the absence of any significant tonal variations, parts of the 100-minute film frequently sinks into tedium.

Pratik Gandhi is in nearly every frame of the film – that isn’t a bad thing at all – but the maker of Dedh Bigha Zameen would have done well to give the supporting actors more to do.

The way Dedh Bigha Zameen ends is disconcerting, if not surprising. But that is about it. There isn’t much else in the film that comes anywhere near anything that isn’t drably commonplace.


Pratik Gandhi, Khushali Kumar and Durgesh Kumar



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