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India, 1997 (MIFF 1998, International Panorama)

Director: Prakash Jha

Sunset. A wide-screen expanse bathed in a blood red glow. Two women, their colourful saris almost luminous, crest a hill bathed in the last fiery rays of dusk. The scene is stunning, gorgeous for a few seconds until - like (American) Indians in a classic Western - the silhouettes of a mob, literally baying for blood, rise behind the women. In the ensuing horrific seconds the women, one of them pregnant, are captured, beaten savagely, stoned and their corpses tossed unceremoniously from a bridge.

Whewi Where do you go after an opening like that? Director Prakash Jha takes the challenge and crafts one of the most exciting, beautiful and incendiary Indian dramas in a decade. While retaining classic structure and themes, Death Sentence is more like High Noon in Bihar. Often 'socially progressive' films from the region make only slight criticism of the prevailing order or stop short of an aggressive attack on convention. Jha slams the treatment of Indian women from daily disrespect to abhorrent execution practices, targetting petty corruption, religious hypocrisy and a seedy assortment of sins from blackmail and extortion to murder along the way.

Ablaze with colour, Jha crams each frame of Death Sentence with the golds, reds, greens and blues of Northern Indian landscape, architecture and costume. A crooked quarrying deal, a sect of murderous monks, dynamite boobytraps and forced prostitution ferment into a violent cataclysm where Hell hath no fury like a woman pushed too far. Explosive, crucial viewing!

Prakash Jha - born in 1953 in Bihar, the setting of Death Sentence - has long been associated with the Indian grassroots movement for social and cultural renaissance. Having worked on many acclaimed documentaries and television series, Jha has won numerous awards for his previous films Damul and Parinati.

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