Bheed Review: Rajkummar Rao And Pankaj Kapur Deliver Outstanding Performances

Bheed Review
Bheed Review

Bheed Review: The other cast members – notably Ashutosh Rana, Bhumi Pednekar, Dia Mirza and Aditya Srivastava – are no less effective.

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Bhumi Pednekar, Dia Mirza, Ashutosh Rana, Pankaj Kapur and Kritika Kamra

Director: Anubhav Sinha

Rating: Four stars (out of 5)

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In Bheed, out in the theatres three years to the day after the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was announced, writer-director-producer Anubhav Sinha stresses the importance of knowing “your history” and being aware of “where you’re coming from” through Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Buffalo Soldier.

As a fictional account of the effects of the pandemic – and the total nationwide lockdown – on migrant workers and daily wage earners left to fend for themselves, Bheed – filmed entirely in black and white – does indeed demonstrate where we’ve come from and where we’re headed as a nation divided.

It exudes compassion and empathy for people who are condemned to languish on the margins of a society that doesn’t care enough for them. Through the fallout of a sudden lockdown, it ruminates on privileges we take for granted and inequities we ignore.

Gutsy, multi-pronged narrative, peppered with allusions to India’s strengths and flaws, lays bare the schisms and fractures that undermine the essence of a diverse and complex nation.

Bheed opens with a harrowing sequence of exhausted, faceless people walking along a rail track – it’s not a crowd, just a small group. As they lie down to sleep, a train whistle pierces the night’s silence. A disquieting hint of what’s to come, the sound soon merges with the wails of humans.

Anurag Saikia’s music score, which later uses the high-pitched sound of a shehnai – it’s like an unsettling howl – turns a lovemaking scene involving an unmarried inter-case couple into a nervous defiance rather than a promise of all-encompassing passion.

Bheed shows how the nation’s underclass was thrown in the deep end without even a bare-minimum contingency plan. We showed our collective indifference to people exploited, marginalised and conditioned to accept their precarious situation in our cities and on our highways.

There’s a lot of divisions in this movie – between the government and the people, the law and the people, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the downtrodden, the sensitive and the callous – that get worse when there’s a pandemic.

As well as being an act of courage, Bheed is an urgent plea to the privileged to shed their habitual complacency. A calamity can batter a society where marginalization and othering of minorities are the norm.

Written by Anubhav Sinha, Saumya Tiwari, and Sonali Jain, the screenplay exposes the fault lines starkly and austerely. With Soumik Mukherjee’s restless but unobtrusive camerawork and Atanu Mukherjee’s editing rhythms, the visuals are enhanced.

Even with the deletions, Bheed makes its point well enough. Bheed does a commendable job telling a story – actually, a bunch of stories – that simply needed to be told.

Because it has to interpret complex issues in basic and immediately tangible terms, Bheed might feel a touch simplistic at times, but never does the film about people scrambling to get back to their villages as state borders are sealed and the police are ordered to stop them seem less than relevant.

Sinha paints a picture of a world where the poor and the powerless, regardless of their caste identities, are left to fend for themselves thanks to a terrific ensemble cast.

A Brahmin watchman is pitted against a Dalit policeman based on caste and power. Watchman Balram Trivedi (Pankaj Kapur) is the son of a village priest. His social capital is gone.

Surya Kumar Singh is a low-caste cop with an altered family name. He’s supposed to enforce the state’s will on men (and their families) who have hit the road without any idea what’s ahead.

Both thematically and creatively, Bheed follows Sinha’s Mulk and Article 15. Similarly to Mulk, it refers to the calumny heaped upon the Tablighi Jamaat during the pandemic to illustrate Islamophobia. When a bearded old man distributes food packets to starving migrants, he faces humiliation.

Using the backstory of the male lead who has personally suffered atrocities, it captures the repercussions of caste violence on the defenceless. Like both films, Bheed weaves its story from multiple news reports.

As a metaphor for a final impasse between the police and a man who wants to ward off hunger, a deserted mall, Lotus Oasis, serves as a metaphor for a bubble that serves as a metaphor for a bubble.

Most of the movie takes place around this mall. There are barricades on the road outside the edifice – they’re totally out of sync with the surroundings – and buses and other vehicles are stopped. As tensions rise, tempers flare, and animated negotiations fail.

Subhash Yadav (Ashutosh Rana) makes Surya in-charge of the police post instead of Thakur Ram Singh (Aditya Shrivastava) – a move with varied effects. The girl Surya loves is Renu Sharma (Bhumi Pednekar), a medical intern sent to the spot with test kits and medicine.

A small-time politician’s relative thinks he and his men are above the law and barricades are for the poor. (Dia Mirza) is desperate to get to her daughter’s hostel before her estranged husband does.

Aditi Subedi, a young girl with an alcoholic father (Omkar Das Manikpuri), struggles to find her way. Vidhi Prabhakar (Kritika Kamra) is flummoxed at how things are turning out amid the pandemonium, and is hard-pressed to do her job.

The actors blend with the film’s physical space to perfection and achieve phenomenal emotional depth. The performances of Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Kapur enhance the film’s impact. No less effective are Ashutosh Rana, Bhumi Pednekar, Dia Mirza and Aditya Srivastava.

A cynical photojournalist says: ‘We’re a sick society’. Bheed points out that fear might not be unfounded. Viruses alone aren’t to blame for what ails us, it says. There’s more to this malaise than meets the eye. Anubhav Sinha doesn’t shy away from the rot. What’s better than a filmmaker who stands up for what’s right?

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