In a year full of movies about families and tragedy, this is the class of the bunch. Antardwand is essential viewing for any student of rural Indian mores and scholar of human nature. The extremely accomplished and deeply disturbing film yields a disquieting portrait of Bihari communities and says far more about the 'Indian experience' than any of the jingoistic anthems in mainstream Bollywood or the pre-packaged patriotic speeches on a politician's campaign trail.
In this dazzling and minimalist drama, writer-director Sushil Rajpal has created an unforgettable portrait of a young man desperate to break free from the shackles of his society. Even those who've boned up on rural Bihari culture will have their eyes opened by Rajpal's gripping drama regarding our motherland lawless and wild. The themes are universal, and the simple (but not simplistic) story is delivered with considerable verve by the debuting director and an ensemble that makes it zing. Rajpal manages to maintain the delicate balance between the gritty realities of the story he's telling and the almost ruthlessly humorous biting irony it renders. He charts with starkly minute detail the fragility of sanity and, even more disconcertingly, the fragile nature of reality. What 'Antardwand' achieves ultimately is the full-scale distraction of its audience.
Raghuveer (Raj Singh Choudhary), a Delhi University civil services candidate plans to get married to his pregnant girlfriend Sia (Himanshi). He decides to make a short trip to his native place in rural Bihar to discuss marriage with his father (Vinay Pathak, in top form). The father is outraged, and so is Mahendra Babu (Akhilendra Mishra), who dreams of getting his daughter married to Raghuveer. Mahendra proceeds to abduct and torture Raghuveer until the latter complies. He even goes as far as instructing his goons to knock Raghuveer everywhere except on his face, so that he looks good in the wedding photos. Mahendra's daughter (an excellent Swati Sen) is left to deal with the humiliation of being forced to wed Raghuveer and face marital rape. Akhilendra Mishra and Vinay Pathak are great, but Raj Singh Choudhary is outstanding - last seen in the underrated 'Waiting Room' and 'Gulal', this is a major indie star in the making. 'Antardwand' really is a sad character study that also works as a stark thriller. And the director leaves the viewer feeling a lot like Raghuveer - haunted. Rajpal should also be applauded for keeping the film going at a nice pace, sprinkling it with few lighter moments, as well as one of the more suspenseful scenes from any movie this year.
'Antardwand' is a an admirable achievement, quite impressive on all levels. It brandishes the type of confidence and clarity of vision all too seldom seen in Indian cinema. We should be producing movies like this 10 times a year, not once in a blue moon.
First published on india.com on August 26, 2010