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THE CATASTROPHE

India, 1987 (MIFF 1988, Asian Cinema Showcase)

Director: Jahnu Barua

Despite the shift to regionalism in Indian cinema, productions from Assam (in India's North, bordering onto China and Burma) are scarce. Catastrophe, the director's third feature sets the wider theme of the plight of small landholders in the remote, exotic context of Assam. It is a journey from rustic innocence to the bitterness of political experience.

Rakeshwar is the cultivator of a small paddy plot. His joy at the arrival of the delayed monsoon and the promise of a good harvest turns sour when the local moneylender, Sonathan notifies him that his deceased father had transferred land ownership to him under the pretext of a loan Rakeshwar is devastated and attempts to pursue his case through the Land Settlement system, necessitating massive expenses for the multitude of bribes that are required to navigate him through the bureaucracy. The debts mount and his crop withers with neglect Eventually he meets the District Collector, his last hope for redress, but he finds that his case has no legal standing. But there is on way out... Or is there?

Indra Bania captures his role with simplicity and sincerity and a restraint uncharacteristic of the frequent histrionic of Indian actors The memory of Rakeshwar is indelible and the landscaping enchanting, yet for assorted reasons the resolution of the film fads to satisfy. Is there no justice or even retribution for vicious exploitation, or is the last song unnecessary' The original ending was changed to suit local tastes, where the film was a box-office winner, but the current ending leaves audiences suspended in a state of disquiet - V.D.

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