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The story of a simple village: Panchlait (Film Review)

Panchlait (2017), screened at the International Film Festival of India held in Goa, was part of a special package, a special experience. None of the usual protagonists appeared on screen; instead, there was a Petromax lamp, brought to light up the village in 1954, in the remote interiors of Jharkhand. The simple and basic plot of Panchlait belied its stature as a cult story of Hindi literature. Penned by the legendary Hindi writer Phaniswar Nath Renu, whose short story ‘Mare Gaye Gulfam’, and novel ‘Moila Anchlal' had already been adapted for the films, 'Teesri Kasam' and ‘Doctor Babu’.

Panchlait stands out for its immense simplicity, rooted in nature narrative, and the portrayal of humanity striving to reach the next higher level. Yet, the film avoids the inevitable, and near-universal pitfalls of most filmmakers; it does not portray Indian villages as a hub of all social injustice and evils, inequality, superstition, poverty, gender discrimination, and everything else undesirable. The credit must be given for remaining true to Phanishwar Nath Renu’s original vision, that went far beyond the myriad projected faults. In consequence, the Petromax light assumes an allegorical role, symbolizing the simplicity of the village, where dreams bloom among the suffering; leading to a quest for the light, which will lighten the paths of humanity.

Therefore ‘Panchlait’ is able to draw the audience into a much wider frame of reference that transcends the village in Jharkhand, to encompass the simplicity and sensibility of all villages in India, and is able to etch their very soul.

The original story stands out in its simplicity. The villagers are normal human beings with natural virtues and faults, the author does not judge characters, rather, he keeps an epic detachment from the characters; this detachment helps the characters to grow at their own space and speed. This philosophical aspect of the story is religiously captured by the screenplay and the director, who have not missed a step in their visualization of the soil and its people, presented with deep faith and affinity for the original literary source. Therefore, even the necessary additions to create a two-hour-long feature film out of a tiny short story, meld seamlessly with the original appeal and character of the story. The proficiency and sensibility of Rakesh Kumar Tripathi’s screenplay are truly commendable.

Every creative work stands on its character and personality. The character is a conceptual attribute, while the personality is physical. The persona of the story of 'Panchlait' is strong yet smooth, and the character is simple, vibrant, and earthy.

Director Prem Modi has certainly scored high invalidating these traits; a testimony to his mature grip of the art form and technical aspects. Thus, he is able to harmoniously juxtapose both seasoned and new actors, as required by the storyline of Panchlait. He is also successful in holding the attention of the audience in the absence of the usual measures of provocative excitement, events, or complexity in the story. It is almost incredible the manner in which the dedicated performance of the actors and the combined collaborative effort has held the audience captive.

One of the main pillars of the film's success is the simple and meticulously planned cinematography of Supratim Bhol. The balanced frames beautifully depict the underlying brightness and vibrancy of the film's plot. Bhol's application of the 'rule of third' in shot composition has helped to structure the basic personality of the cinematography and provided space for the free air to play around the characters of the village. The cinematography takes the audience to a rural landscape, replete with trees and cooling winds. Yet, the authenticity of the rural ambience is certainly weakened by the cinematographer’s rendering of abnormally bright night scenes; the art department seems to follow suit with the use of garish colors for the houses and doors. The other major discordant note is generated by the two songs that do not complement the rural overtone of the narrative.

The editor Sanjeev Dutt has admirably controlled the pace of the story in a film that is low on action and dramatic scenes; and succeeded in whetting and satisfying the excitement and expectations of the audience. His intelligent cutting has transformed some simple scenes into dramatically enriched episodes and added flavor to the entire narrative.

It is the director's skill to draw out outstanding performances from the entire cast in a film. In Panchlait, the entire village is manifested as the principal protagonist, focused on bringing new light to the village. The Petromax light is the very embodiment of the enlightenment, that has removed the darkness of discrimination, among the people of the village. Thus, the very backbone of the story, the illuminating transformation of the villagers has been expressed with deep sincerity, simplicity, and honesty, by the Director, Prem Modi. The film is a complete, successful, and responsible Indian film both in terms of philosophy and making.

About the Film

Director: Prem Prakash Modi

Producer: Anup Todi, Anil Somani, Pramod Goyal

Story: Phanishwar Nath 'Renu'

Screenplay: Rakesh Kumar Tripathi

Starring: Amitosh Nagpal, Anuradha Mukherjee, Yashpal Sharma, Rajesh

Sharma, Ravi Jhankal, Brijendra Kala,

Music: Kalyan Sen Barat

Cinematography: Joy Supratim

Editor: Sanjib Datta

Production Company: Funtime Entertainment


About Utpal Datta

Utpal Datta is a National Award-winning Film Critic, as well as an author, photographer, and film director. He is also the festival director of a popular Chalachitram National Film Festival. He is also a recipient of several other awards and recognitions, including RAPA for Radio Production, the Moonlight Media Award for Cultural Journalism, the Jyotirupa Media Award for Film Criticism, and many others.

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