Film: “Panchlait”; Director: Prem Prakash Modi; Cast: Amitosh Nagpal, Anuradha Mukherjee, Yashpal Sharma, Rajesh Sharma, Ravi Jhankal, Brijendra Kala, Lalit Parimoo, Pranay Narayan, Arunima Ghosh; Rating: **1/2
This film is based on the famous short story, ‘Panchlight’ (Petromax) by the most successful and influential writers of modern Hindi literature in the post-Premchand era, Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’. His other short story, “Maare Gaye Gulfam” was adapted into a film – “Teesri Kasam” which was directed by the renowned Basu Bhattacharya in 1966.
Set in 1954 in a village in India and narrated in a non-linear manner, the film gives us an insight into the lives of the people of rural India. It is the story of a village community called Mahato that still has no electricity.
The self-assured and recently orphaned, Godhan (Amitosh Nagpal) returns to his maternal village with the hope of settling down with his childhood sweetheart Munri (Anuradha Mukherjee). Instead he soon finds himself ostracised, by the Panchayat. How he wins the heart of the villagers forms the crux of the tale.
The pressurised paraffin lamp aka Petromax is used as a symbol to show the transition of the villagers from darkness to light.
The story is simple and the plot is astutely handled by director Prem Prakash Modi. The dialect at times is a bit disconcerting, but then 10 minutes into the run-time, the wrinkles crease out.
What keeps you hooked are the interactions between the characters, which seem theatrical at times. While the actors are natural, their demeanour may seem a bit over the top, this is probably to emphasise the period.
Amitosh Nagpal as Godham and Anuradha Mukherjee as Munri are impressive. They make a good pair and their on-screen chemistry is palpable. They are aptly supported by Nayana Bandopadhyay as Munri’s friend Kaneli, Punit Tiwari as Nandji, Malini Sengupta as Gulri Kaki, Yashpal Sharma as the Sarpanch, Iqbal Sultan as one of the panch who calls himself collector.
Visually the look in the film is quite consistent. Every frame is well mounted. The virgin locales are brilliantly captured by cinematographer Joy Supratim’s lens. The few vivid scenic shots canned by the wide angel lens give this film that extra cinematic boost. They add an aura to the narrative.
The background score by Kalyan Sen Barat is light and mellifluous. The music is well incorporated especially with Godham being musically inclined. Breaking into a song seems like a natural process in the narration.
Overall this film is sweet, meticulously crafted but a bit outdated drama in today’s scenario.