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Identity under threat

Film>> Tuhya Dharma Koncha, directed by Satish Manwar, cast: Upendra Limaye, Vibhavari Deshpande, music by Dattaprasad Ranade

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Monday 08 April 2013

film“Excuse me, but what’s your religion?”

If that question does not elicit a prompt reply, or finds you falling into a thoughtful silence or leaves you biting your lips in exasperation, then this is the film for you. Welcome to a world where your religion, and by extension your identity, is subject to the caprice of a hundred different forces, all beyond your control, and most you did not know existed. Tuhya Dharma Koncha, a Marathi film by Satish Manwar, takes a peek at the thorny issue of forced conversion of tribal groups in Central India.

Kawdu and Bhulabai are a tribal couple living in a tiger reserve somewhere in Maharashtra. Their idyllic life gets a rude shock after Kawdu (Upendra Limaye), who had gone into the forest to fetch a medicinal root for his ailing baby, is arrested on charges of having killed a tiger. Desperate to save the life of her baby, Bhulabai (Vibhawari Deshpande) rushes to a Christian missionary, and showered with care and concern, embraces Christianity under the belief that this new god has different powers from her “own” gods, and will solve her problems.

However, freeing her husband from jail is another affair, and for this she is advised to seek the help of Naxalites living in the nearby forest, through whom she acquires a new deity—Karl Marx. Even as these new gods find their place on her altar beside Waghdeo and Naagdeo, the traditional nature deities of her community, the community itself shuts the family out for having dropped its own gods. Kawdu, freed from jail, finds that he is no longer considered fit to play the central character of Ravan, the tribal king, in the village jatra.

Even as the family struggles with the challenge of retaining its own identity in the face of survival challenges on the one hand and growing social isolation on the other, a fresh religious assault, this time from an aggressive Hindutva group, threatens to destabilize the whole community.

The film strives to capture a spectrum of pressures against which vulnerable tribal groups in the country are struggling to retain their unique identities and their close-to-nature lifestyles. Excellent performances by the lead actors, authentic music, costumes and settings, and some great photography add to the feel of this earthy tale. The script, which has its poignant moments, could have been a little tighter and more hard hitting. Director Satish Manwar, known for his award winning Gabhrichya Paus, which takes a penetrating look into the phenomenon of farmer suicides, has done his job well, and delivered a nuanced and touching film.

The movie is worth watching, because the problem of religious persecution of tribals and forced conversions is relatively less documented in films; and also for its excellent music and performances.

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