Though Kawela is set in pre-mobile phone era, but still Its a very much contemporary film; a film of a period, in which everyone feels insecure of each other. An era when everyone is too conscious about his/her own image, where celebrities are criticizing loudspeakers of religious places to get attention. In which someone in Rajasthan and UP is killed on the suspicion of carrying something that is forbidden in the killer’s belief system. Kawela tries to stir the conscience by scratching the surface where right under the skin insecurities are bubbling and about to pop out as blisters with just a petite provocation. It tries to highlight a dense fight between superstition and reality, continues struggle between our past and our present, our deeds and their outcomes. It identifies the darkness of our times and leaves us with a silver lining. The koala is a Punjabi word, a connotation, denoting the odd times. In old times when there were no street lights everyone was supposed to reach their homes before the sunset, before the dark engulfs the soil and the vision, before the Kawela, the odd time, clenches the wandering souls into its bloody claws.
Film Review | Kawela
Deep Jagdeep Singh
Writer/Director: Amanjit Singh Brar
Cast – Harp Farmer, Mahabir Bhullar, Shehnaaz Gill, Baljit Mathoun, Bharti Dutt,
Kishore Sharma, Mani Kular, Chander Kalra
Kawela is a dark film about the dark times of Punjab in particular and India in general.
Kawela begins with the dead bodies of a couple, found at the corner of a canal bridge joining two villages together. No one wants to even utter the name of that one village, the village is assumed to be haunted. District headquarter sends a tough cop inspector Karamvir Singh (Harp Farmer) to investigate the matter with the help of village police station head officer Gurjinder Singh (Mahabir Bhullar) and his team. A wave of fear runs through the village and everyone starts interpreting the incident according their own beliefs. Meanwhile Karamvir has to leave the investigation midway because he is ordered to manage the security of a minister at an election rally. While police party, in the leadership of Gurjinder remains stuck to no nonsense theory and starts the search operation at the spot of the murder in the middle of a forest, four villagers are found dead one after another in consecutive nights including a child. One of the villagers call a Bengali Tantrik. Amidst the whole drama, Gurjinder, goes beyond stipulated limits of his duty and periphery of the incidents and tries to unveil the truth. Will Gurjinder and his comrades succeed in unmasking the biggest dark reality of our times? Kawela revolves around this basic conundrum.
As a writer Amanjit Singh Brar converts a simple story into a complex narrative which hugely relies upon its dark treatment. He tries his best to keep the writing subtle and present it in a gory manner. Sticking to his psychological thriller genre he doesn’t care to explain and leaves everything to the imagination of the audience. Neither he endorses the presence of evil spirits nor does he refute. He only throws the hints that every fear comes out from within human consciousness.
As a director, Brar tries to project the idea ‘As you sow so shall you reap’. He points out about the buried female fetuses, honor killing, drugs, farmer suicides, and blistered souls of our elders, their lost wisdom and how we are killing each other emotionally and physically for our material needs like drugs and turning into blood sucking vampires surviving on the blood of our own people. By inserting scenes of old school Bollywood horror films, he tries to highlight the impact of contemporary cinema and how it helps to fuel the superstition in society. Within the film, after watching one such film a kid goes out by taking the cover of walls in a James Bond style. Sarpanch, by emphasizing that the dead couple doesn’t belong to his village, thus his is a ‘clean’ village, significantly highlights the hypocritical preference to self image than a human life.
Kawela puts the past, present and future in one frame. The director tries to pierce the mind of audiences with the shots of the dead mothers holding the dead bodies of unborn girls, semi-naked dead uncle, blistered from head to toe, working in the fields while dead mother cooking on earthen stove, a farmer hanging on the tree still in the process of suicide along with a dead hanging farmer and a skeleton hanging on the same branch. These mind boggling frames profoundly portrays the age old irony of farmers and a common Punjabi. Overall Kawela is not a run of the mill film.
Even the climax is also not a traditional one. The antagonist (Gurinder Makna), though a drug peddler, does not have an identity, a name; he is the one holding the cycle of time in his hands with his hold on power and money. He is the symbol of Kawela the odd time. He knows he is evil, he knows he need no lethal weapon to destroy a civilization, because he knows that by corrupting the minds of young and old, soils and culture he can turn the generations into slaves. The slaves will be his free workers, consumers and henchmen all together. This climax calls for the rediscovery of inner strength and nobility, getting back to humanity, community and society. Though noble one’s are seemingly weak in the war against evil, but their weakness is not physical, but their lack of judgment, unawareness and they get lured so easily. The age old die hard spirit of Punjabiyat and wisdom of words will help them to regain their ground.
Contrary to the projection, Kawela is not of a Harp Farmer’s film; it is the second installment of his debut, first was Bambukaat, Kawela belongs to Mahabir Bhullar, Mani Kular and Jassi Jaspreet Singh. Character wise, Mahabir as Gurjinder, even being a junior officer and near to his retirement, he strongly holds the batten, breaks the stereotypes and risks his life. Brar deserves the special applause for daring to project a gray beard man as lead hero in the end. Mani Kular perfectly get’s into the skin of a duty bound policeman as well as a helpless uncle who can do nothing to save his own nephew. He toggles between the softness of a family man and a hardness of a tough cop so easily that his expression keeps you haunting. Jassi, as a psychopath, perfectly represents a common man. Harp is just there to pose and give tough glances. The voice used for his dubbing doesn’t suit on his face at all. Why would a director choose someone else for his voice, this will remain a puzzle like the story of Kawela.
Kawela is an abstract dark film almost out of the reach of a common Punjabi audience. I am not trying to take the Punjabi audience granted, but still Punjabi audience is tuned to watch slapstick and romantic comedies and retro Punjab is the new trend. These kinds of films are much suitable for film festivals.
Cinematographer Gagandeep Singh successfully captures the darkness and the fear with finesse. Background score enhances the thrill. Being a psychological thriller 160 minutes is too lengthy because after a point of time, thrill starts irritating. There is a lot of scope for crispier editing, but editor Abhineet Grover preferred to go a longer route. Music director Gurmoh and Gavy Sidhu used lyrics written by medieval poets Sant Kabir, Baba Bulleh Shah and contemporary legends Ulfat Bajwa and Surjit Patar, but Brar chose to underplay the songs in the screenplay that goes in the favor of the film. Song Yaar Jalandhar has been used appropriately in smaller chunks at various locations. Other songs are for jukebox only.
If you are looking for a different cinema in Punjabi, if you can face the harsh realities in a real crude manner, and if cinema is not a synonym for entertainment to you then you can definitely go and watch Kawela. For soft hearted people it can be a disturbing film so go with caution.
Deep Jagdeep Singh is a freelance journalist, Screenwriter and a Lyricist.
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