Movie Review: “Chaarfutiya Chhokare” is dull, incoherent melodrama

September 26, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In “Chaarfutiya Chhokare“, the principal of a countryside school is shown taking a bath on the school premises while classes are in session. Later, he says that the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Akbar. He is not one to spare the rod either, resorting to corporal punishment for disobedience.

Those familiar with rural Bihar, the setting of Manish Harishankar’s directorial debut, would know scenes such as these are increasingly rare in real life but not as bizarre as they may seem. Village schools often have a very informal set-up, and the instruction imparted there may be inadequate, out of date or even factually incorrect.

The film gives you other authentic images as well. There’s a ramshackle police station with clothes drying in one corner and a sycophantic constable brewing tea for the station’s inspector. The village dwellings look real, and so does a wedding ceremony. But that’s about all you can say in favour of a film that is otherwise painfully dull and melodramatic.

“Chaarfutiya Chhokare” revolves around U.S.-returned software engineer Neha Malini (Soha Ali Khan), who now owns an NGO and wants to build a school in a remote Bihar village. Valued at 200 million rupees, the project draws the attention of several greedy, unscrupulous elements, including the village head, the principal of the existing school, and a local muscleman named Lakhan.

Neha also comes across Avdhesh, Gorakh and Hari, three poor boys forced to take to a life of crime. What follows is her struggle to get the project off the ground and her attempt to help the boys even as an immoral, bloody battle to grab the contract for the school’s construction unfolds.

The script is hackneyed for the most part, of course, but that isn’t the movie’s biggest problem. It is the director’s inability to elicit remotely credible performances from any actor, except perhaps Soha Ali Khan. Her portrayal of a kind, fearless woman doesn’t give you much to complain about. Sadly, the three children fail to evoke interest or compassion because there is nothing believable about anything they do or say. Their acting, pretty much like everyone else’s, is farcical, incoherent and laboured. Seema Biswas, who plays Avdhesh’s mother, looks bored and disconnected and almost sleepwalks through her role.

There are other tell-tale signs of a film that tries hard to move the audience, mainly tear-jerker background songs about the lost joys of childhood and tired kids pleading to be put to rest.

The pronunciation of most characters and their accents are completely off the mark. They sound out of place, although this might bother native speakers of the languages of Bihar more than others.

It takes a special kind of talent to make a movie about gut-wrenching poverty, juvenile criminals and the flesh trade, and yet fail to create a single moment of sympathy or solidarity for the victims.

“Chaarfutiya Chhokare” is a film made by a lazy director who refuses to push himself or his team, and churns out a dud with a clumsy, superficial take on grim social issues.

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