‘Beehad’, ‘Baaghi’ and Sonchiriya

Abhishek Chaubey’s latest action-drama Sonchiriya is entertaining, gripping and so much more. The authenticity of the characters and setting offer a fresh perspective to an old story. Through Sonchiriya, Chaubey deconstructs the legend of ‘Baaghi’ of the ‘Beehad’ and grounds it in the context of all the forces acting for and against it.

‘Beehad’, ‘Baaghi’ and Sonchiriya ‘Beehad’, ‘Baaghi’ and Sonchiriya Source : Press

Abhishek Chaubey's latest action-drama Sonchiriya is entertaining, gripping and so much more. Featuring an ensemble cast of Bollywood's leading established and upcoming actors like Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Manoj Bajpayee, Ranvir Shorey and Ashutosh Rana all of whom have performed their roles to perfection; and rising talented actors like Mahesh Balraj, Vijay Kumar Dogra and Jatin Sarna(Bunty from Netflix's Sacred Games) are more than just second fiddle to the lead actors. Even lesser known actors like Abhimanue Arun, Shreedhar Dubey, Rahul Ranjan, Abdul Amin, and Jaspal Sharma make their presence felt on screen and credit must be equally shared by writer and director Abhishek Chaubey who carefully weaved every character in the larger fabric of the screenplay. To their credit, all the actors have given a fine performance and make an impression irrespective of the duration of their roles.

‘Beehad' is colloquial for ravines in the greater Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh which shares border with Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. ‘Baaghis' are daaku (dacoits). They are ruthless. But they are also righteous and religious which is why they call themselves ‘Baaghi' (the rebel.) Sonchiriya's biggest draw is that Chaubey doesn't fall into the traps (or tropes) of making heroes or villains out of baaghis, rather in Sonchiriya he attempts to humanize them. Bhumi Pednekar plays Indumati who reinforces this idea and helps in bringing out the ‘goodness' in Lakhna(played by Sushant Singh.) The heavy-handed writing in some of the exchanges between Indumati and Lakhna seem misplaced in an otherwise well-made film. Also, some action sequences go on for too long for they are not the best scenes vis-à-vis the film. The same time could have been used to explore the interaction between baaghis and the state of politics-policy of the milieu.

Chaubey's film derives its title from the name of a young girl in the film who flapped her arms like a "chiriya" (bird.) She had been raped and required medical attention. "Sonchirya" serves as a metaphor in the spiritual journey of baaghis to liberate them from the burden of the curse weighing upon their disparaging spirits.

The music composed by Vishal Bharadwaj is authentic and high intensity. Varun Grover has penned rich and poetic lyrics savored with traditional myth and folklore of the region. The background score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor diverges from the Spaghetti Western tradition to fit the unique setting of Sonchiriya where baaghis don't ride on horses but tread the ravines on feet. The background score is used minimally and effectively by Abhishek Chaubey-at high-intensity moments, the background score suddenly comes alive to elevate the mood and atmosphere and it stays low key rest of the time as the tension slowly mounts towards the climax.

Maan Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) is an upstanding and scrupulous leader of the gang of bandits whereas Lakhna upholds justice over ‘dharma' (duty.) Both of them are most deeply burdened by the curse and have moments of epiphany amid the fury of battle or state of self-reflection, the curse conjures itself in dreamy, surreal visions which suspend their perception of reality and all they can feel in that confrontation with the supernatural is the affliction of the curse. The editor Meghna Manchanda Sen seamlessly cuts to these sequences and in the 135 minutes of Sonchiriya there is never a dull moment. Sen maintains pace and plot progresses at a brisk pace even in the absence of dialogues.

Cinematographer Anuj Dhawan(Simran, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Omerta) has captured the treacherous ravines of Chambal as they are-stark and dreary. Dust and grime become an integral component of the visual look, almost a substitute for film grain. Surreal sequences slowly zone in at the face, tight and wide like the Spaghetti western classics. He liberally uses the drone camera to capture the aerial view of lanes and terraces of the village. The Beehad is spread across the tri-junction amid the borders of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The sweeping shots of the Beehad and the clear waters of Chambal river (there is shot of Crocodile threatening to attack the boat) is a rare landscape, its beauty unusual, its geography untouched by the wave of ‘economic development' as the region still retains its natural form which stretches as far as the horizon and beyond the caste interplay between Brahmin, Rajputs, Gurjars and Mallaahs; baaghis seek solace from the trials and tribulations of a rebel, offering their souls for penitence with the hope that "Mai"(Holy Mother) will absolve them of the "shraap" (curse) to finally attain salvation and become one with the "mitti"(Earth). "Beehad" stands as a perpetual monument of the spiritual recluse for the baaghis.

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