A hard-hitting ‘survival’ film of sorts in two movements, one set in a rural Indian village and the other in Calcutta city, that depicts an ‘Untouchable’ couple’s severe hardship as they try to navigate poverty, helplessness, and even lawlessness, in a terribly unforgiving world.
Dir. Goutam Ghose
1984 | India | Drama | 124 mins | 1.78:1 | Hindi
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some violence
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt, Anil Chatterjee, Mohan Agashe
Plot: When an Untouchable wins local elections in his small village, deadly rioting begins and an impoverished couple is forced to escape to Calcutta, where they hope to find work.
Awards: Won Best Actor & UNESCO Award (Venice)
Source: Shemaroo Entertainment
Subject Matter: Moderate – Class, Poverty
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Paar is surely one of the finest films from Goutam Ghose, a filmmaker I’ve yet to discover. But thanks to MUBI, I’m now gladly starting out in my journey into exploring more of Indian cinema that is not just Satyajit Ray’s.
Split equally into two ‘movements’, Paar is a well-structured film that centers on one couple’s torrid experiences in their rural village, and later on, in the city of Calcutta.
The more complex first half begins with an inciting incident—that of the extrajudicial killing of members of the lowest caste and the torching of their straw houses in what appears to be a violent revenge attack by the upper caste, after an Untouchable’s surprising win in a local election sparks days of turmoil. Extended flashbacks are then employed to show how things came to be for the luckless village.
The more fascinating second movement sees the poor and aggrieved couple at Calcutta in order to escape persecution while desperately seeking work to avoid starvation. Here, we see the sights and sounds of a terribly unforgiving ‘new world’.
Backed by strong performances by Shabana Azmi (from 1974’s Ankur) and Naseeruddin Shah (who won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival where the film competed), Paar is a hard-hitting ‘survival’ film about trying to deal with chronic helplessness, filmed with a great degree of realism.
The English title translates as ‘Crossing’, but while that succinctly—if also poetically—sums up the rural-urban dichotomy as expressed structurally and visually in the film, it is also about the literal as marked by the sheer physicality of its stunning final act, one that involves a great deal of water (that much I will say) in a sequence that I daresay even Werner Herzog would be proud of.