Who would have thought that the Kedias gleefully dumped by the ‘Urban Gujarati Film’ revolution would eventually revive Gujarati cinema? Director Abhishek Shah’s film, Hellaro, which means ‘a strong gust of wind’, is indeed a breath of fresh air in Gujarati cinema. The film attracted audience primarily due to its recent accolade of bagging the National Film Award for Best Feature Film at the 66th National Film Awards.
Attracting audience with such coveted accolade is one thing and holding the audience’s attention for 121 minutes is a much tougher feat, given the kind of shrinking attention span of our 4G Generation. Hellaro goes on to achieve that as well, and how! Not a single sound was to be heard all throughout the film’s screening, which goes on to prove how well the film resonated, as well as connected with the audience. Even a kid sitting with wide eyes on the aisle seat before us was all hooked to what transpired on screen, with frequent comments like, ‘Aa badha logo kharaab chhe?’ (Are these bad people), while watching the men of Hellaro, except Maulik Nayak and the dholi Mulji, Jayesh More.
We shot the film in approximately 35 days at a nondescript village of Kutch and stayed over at a dilapidated closed resort’s Bhungas (Mud house of Kutch), but it was all worth it!
States actor Jayesh More in a telephonic conversation with BuddyBits. The actor went the extra mile of learning to play the Dhol. Ask him what made him do that, when he could have easily mimicked the act of playing a dhol, he states,
There’s always a connection between the musician and the music instrument. This connection is manifested, both at a physical, as well as mental level. I wanted to bring this connection to the fore, through my performance.
The dedication of Jayesh More pays off in every frame he features in, making his character, Mulji more relatable. Right from his first scene, you can see the pain and yearning in his eyes and are sure to stumble upon a touching back story along your way towards the film’s end. Thankfully, you aren’t disappointed there. The other character that gradually grows on you is of Maulik Nayak as Bhaglo, a guy who is the only connection between the village and city, Bhuj. Maulik’s comic timing, as witnessed in his previous outings, is spot-on, but he equally shines in the film’s climax at a pivotal moment.
Shraddha Dangar is quite a find and makes the most of this opportunity to breathe life into her character of Manjhri, a girl who has studied till seventh grade (Which is a bit more, according to her husband Arjan ably played by Aarav Trivedi). Shraddha Dangar delivers a completely restrained performance, even when she has to vent out her pent up anger towards the film’s end.
The actor surely has a bright future ahead in not only Gujarati cinema, but also in the Hindi mainstream, given her strong screen presence and impeccable dialogue delivery. If only the writer-director would have chosen to invest more in her character. The audience would have loved to know more about her character, her life back home in Bhuj and what made her choose a frown-faced husband like Arjan.
Denisha Ghumra as Radha, Kaushambi Bhatt as Champa, Brinda Trivedi as Kesar, Nilam Paanchal as Leela, Tarjanee Bhadla as Gauri, Tejal Panchasara as Gomti, Jagruti Thakore as Rudi, Ekta Bachwani as Hansa, Shachi Joshi as Ganga, Kamini Panchal as Mena, Riddhi Yadav as Kanchan, and Prapti Mehta as the lil girl Sita make for an excellent ensemble of female actors and come across convincingly as rural womenfolk. As mentioned earlier, we would have loved to know what makes Denisha’s Radha the way she is, what’s the story of Champa? What dreams does Sita’s mother nurture for her daughter while raising her amid such a patriarchal community? In fact, do the people of this village have any dream?
In such scenario, Garba proves to be the only solace for the womenfolk of this village. The men, comprising Aakash Zala as Joraavar, Rajan Thakar as Ranmal, Kishan Gadhavi as Ravji, Kamlesh Parmar as Savji , Nilesh Parmar as Kanji, and Shailesh Prajapati as the Mukhi of the village mostly idle away their time discussing the roster of women who would carry water from the distant lake.
Here, too, we know little about the male characters or what they do for a living. Writers Abhishek Shah, Prateek Gupta (Also the editor of the film who deftly cuts Hellaro to perfect duration), and Saumya Joshi, who has also penned the film’s dialogues and lyrics, transport you into the remote areas of Kutch and make you part of their world.
Saumya Joshi shines bright when it comes to lyrics, especially in the opening song where the men are playing Garba while the song being played is melancholic. This contrast is beautifully set by his words and beats of music director Mehul Surti. The music is woven into the film’s narrative so seamlessly that it becomes a character of Hellaro, from the opening frame to the closing credits.
The film is set in 1978 and which film has ever chronicled this era without the mandatory ‘Emergency’? Here, too, emergency finds frequent mention as ‘Katokati’, only to be later replaced by films like ‘Bobby’ and ‘Sholay’. The men perform Garba (Excellently choreographed Talvaar Garba), while women are forbidden to indulge in such revelries.
The only question that lingers on one’s mind is why such prohibition exists in the village, especially in a land where Garba has been enthusiastically played by women, or at least the general perception says so. Maybe a narration in the film’s beginning could have set the context and tonality right so that the audience wouldn’t have been bothered by such questions.
All said and done, Hellaro is a film that deserves your time and money for a big screen viewing, especially in Gujarat, where people generally don’t watch Gujarati films in the multiplexes and rather wait for its online release. Nevertheless, it’s high time we support such quality cinema and as Jayesh More aptly puts it,
The change that Hellaro might usher in, would be that the producers invest in quality cinema rather than just zero-brainer entertainers.