Starring: Samuel John, Mal Singh, Sarbjeet Kaur, Dharminder Kaur, Kulwindar Kaur, Labh Singh, Lakha Singh, Gurinder Makna. Directed by Gurvinder Singh (113 mins)
Adapted from Gurdial Singh’s novel of the same name, Anhe Ghore Da Daan is the story of an elderly Punjabi Dalit father who lives in the village (Mal Singh) while his son, Melu (Samuel John) lives in the city.
In the village, the father joins other men of his community to seeks redress for the treatment meted out to Dharma (Labh Singh), a Dalit tenant forcibly evicted and arrested by the police for occupying a house that has been sold by the landlord. In the city, the son is a vagabond of sorts, separated from kith and kin, driving a rickshaw to make ends meet and swigging cheap liquor with other rickshaw-waale on the ramparts of an old fort.
Other than the feisty Lakha (Lakha Singh) who resists his fate, the characters in Anhe Ghore Da Daan are acted upon: a Dalit mother is abused by her employer for cutting some mustard stalks for her animals to eat, one of Melu’s fellow rickshaw drivers curses power plants, alcohol and the callousness of the modern world. Gurvinder Singh paints a world where the pollution in cities, union strikes and factory life slowly encroaches on a village life which is neither gay nor idyllic as otherwise portrayed in Punjabi popular culture.
In a Bressonian style, Singh strips the film down to its bare essentials, letting the images tell their own story from the two horse carts vanishing into the morning fog to the parade of turbans and shawls through the village lanes to Melu asleep in his rickshaw nearby a riverbank with two power-plant smoke stacks looming overhead. The visuals and cinematography of Satya Rai Nagpaul disseminate ideas about the marginalized, suggesting new avenues for story-telling.
The plot may seem languorous, the dialogue sparse and the pace sluggish. Still, Anhe Ghore Da Daan is a welcome experiment in Punjabi-language cinema. The morning fog at the opening of the film is reminscent of that in a Song landscape painting: the characters and details of daily life are insignificant in relation to and often obscured by overpowering, amorphous forces. Beautifully shot and rendered, well-acted, and impacting the viewer slowly, Anhe Ghode Da Daan, along with Sabiha Sumar’s Khamosh Pani (2003) ranks as one of the finest Punjabi-language art films in recent years.