Chaarfutiya Chhokare begins ticking clichés with such disturbing alacrity in its first few minutes that you suspect by the time this film gets over, it would have run over every possible cliché. The film is set in a village in Bihar’s Bettiah district. The following scenes open the film: a foreign-returned NGO worker Neha (Soha Ali Khan), who’s come to this part of the country to open a school, spots three village kids loitering together. The boys come towards her car. Will the woman be overly polite (read: patronising) towards these “unfortunate” kids? Check. Will these kids be awed by her plush car? Check. Will she call them to sit inside the car? Check. Will they blush in response, as if hers is an act of unforgettable gratitude? Check. Will their surprised eyes scan the interiors of the car? Check. Will they be delighted when offered a bottle of mineral water (Kinley, in case things like brand placement interest you) to drink? Check. Did you notice the subtle exploration of the differences between the world of the “rich” and the “poor”? I hope you did. Wait, there’s more to follow: does the village have an uncouth, corrupt policeman? Check. Is the headmaster of the only school in the village an incorrigible buffoon? Check. Is the education minister of the state an unlettered ignoramus? Check. Finally: does the village have a depraved, lascivious contractor? Check. If this checklist feels like an entire film, then you are mistaken: this, dear reader, is only the first 10 minutes of Chaarfutiya Chhokare.
Although the film released this Friday, it’s not a new film by any means. You — or perhaps everyone — have already seen this film, or snatches of it, in embarrassing Bollywood flicks: B-grade dramas centered on kidnapping, backstabbing and attempted rape. But what presumably sets apartChaarfutiya Chhokare from unabashed pandering flicks mentioned above, at least in the mind of its filmmaker (Manish Harishankar), is the premise and, consequently, the “message” of this film: the grievous aftermath of child trafficking, and how it must be stopped. In Bettiah, children are abducted and sold on a regular basis; most are privy to this horrific act, but choose to remain silent. Until, of course, a suave woman (she’s also called “mem” later in the film) from the city descends to this village to liberate its denizens from darkness. There’s no denying that child trafficking is indeed a grave problem that afflicts a multitude of villages — or even cities — of the country, but the film deals with the crime with such relentless, shameless voyeurism that it exasperates you. Chaarfutiya Chhokare also keeps unfolding with such blatant falsity that you can’t take anything at face value. For a film set in a village of Bihar, where people speak Bhojpuri or Hindi infused with a Bhojpuri twang, its characters speak a language that’s a muddled cross between Awadhi and chaste Hindi. Because, clearly, why bother yourself with something as trivial as attention to detail when you can keep piggybacking on a message? As a result, the film reduces its characters to caricatures. Zakir Hussain, the antagonist of the film, and an otherwise assured actor, struggles to maintain the imagined accent, and the result, for the most part, is either painful embarrassment or misplaced hilarity.
So caught up is the filmmaker with depicting the divide between the naïve children and invincible, merciless perpetrators that he feels this idea is the entire film. In the world of Chaarfutiya Chhokare, there are only three kinds of people: the poor sods of the village who must be rescued; the rich, morally conscious woman who will orchestrate the rescuing, and a select few depraved, debauched villagers who will oppose and threaten her nobility. Good films seldom materialise through a sanctimonious gaze; this shoddy one does, and in the process ends up condescending to the very people it purportedly holds dear.
An edited version of this review was published at The Sunday Guardian