- A protest against the 'alleged' kidnapping and torture of a woman called Manorama saw 12 middle-aged mothers standing naked in front of Assam Rifles headquarters in Manipur, carrying a huge banner that read: Indian Army Rape Us.
Protests against torture and killings by men in uniform are commonplace in the Northeast and Kashmir: protests that often go unreported in the mainstream media.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives counter-insurgency forces sweeping powers: powers that are often misused.
For those of you high on the feel-good jingoistic weed, these are just reminders of reality. A reality you will need reminding of when watching debutant director Kanika Verma's Dansh: a film with an outstanding story -- copied from Roman Polanski's Death And The Maiden -- and flawed, inconsistent execution.
The bamboo flower is a phenomenon that scientists still haven't completely comprehended. It blooms every 50 years or so, and causes an explosion in the rodent population. In 1959, in what is now Mizoram, it happened. Millions of rats attacked foodgrain stocks, resulting in a famine which the Mizos called the mautam. The anger over the Indian government's apathy gave birth to the bloody Mizo insurgency.
Dansh begins with a black and white montage that draws you into this part of Indian contemporary history. It shows how the armed struggle of the Mizo National Front succeeded, and how the Indian Army fought back. It shows how the insurgency painted the hills red with blood: the army raping women, burning villages. It shows how the rebels fought back: bullet for bullet, torture for torture, rape for rape.
The actual story begins in 1986, when the MNF signs a truce agreement with the Indian government. The rebels are torn between the head and the heart. How can we make peace with the soldiers who raped our women, pillaged our land, some of them are asking. The leader Mathew (Kay Kay) is the voice of reason: we have to forget the past for the future, the people want peace, he urges, and prevails.
Even as Mizoram celebrates, a chance meeting finds Mathew inviting a Mumbai-based Mizo doctor (Aditya Srivastava) over to his house. After a drinking bout pondering on war and peace, the doctor is in no state to drive home and Mathew asks him to stay over.
Upstairs, Maria (Sonali Kulkarni), Mathew's wife and fellow rebel, has recognised the man downstairs as the doctor in the Indian Army camp who raped her repeatedly when she had been caught and interrogated. She wants revenge.
But she never saw the army camp doctor. She was blindfolded all the time. So how is she sure this man is the same, a horror-struck Mathew demands of his wife when he finds she has bound the doctor to a chair and started torturing him. I remember his voice, I remember his smell, Maria says. I am innocent, your wife has gone mad because of the army torture, the doctor pleads.
What follows is a night of self-discovery for Mathew, Maria and the doctor. And perhaps, a message for terrorists who believe the 'cause' justifies the means; as well as people who feel the gun is the only solution for dealing with aggrieved, angry people.
As must be evident, Dansh's story is to Bollywood what a bicycle is to a fish, and it's annoying to see attempts at sprinkling some masala on it: like a redundant celebration song. Extras wield guitars like a panda would wield a palmtop and a saxophone plays in open air while the sound is of the instrument being played in a perfectly padded studio room, complete with reverb and delay. Come on folks, in a film where you are justifying Ustad Sultan Khan's sarangi in the background as a radio being on, you don't need a song with lyrics that include khuda and hallelujah.
Kay Kay is extraordinary in his restrained portrayal of a man torn between his beliefs. His skill shines in the way his eyes flash when the doctor tells him, "you might have signed truce but you haven't made peace." Kulkarni, however, falls short of the crucial role's potential. Srivastava too is average.
At times, the interaction between the three -- dialogues and shots -- gets tedious, and the movie could have been tighter.
The music, by Fazal Qureshi, tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain's brother, is rather like the film: brilliant one moment, pedestrian the next.
The winner, of course, is the story: which is lifted. In Dansh's defence, it might be said the plot has been Indianised well. Though it scores zero on the hit-potential scale, the movie is a good effort.