There is a certain gritty reality that Abhishek Chaubey brings to his work- those who have seen Ishqiya and Udta Punjab are likely to recognize that feel when Sonchiriya takes you into the heartland of the Chambal valley. He makes you take a closer look at those who think they have sinned and what goes on in their minds as they stare death in the face. This forms the story backed by an excellent cast who has done a phenomenal job in playing their characters.
Though focused around dacoits, cops, gun battle, ambush and dangerous confrontations in the dark of the night, the film isn’t really about crime but the aftermath of it and the curse that follows the perpetrators of violence.
Spectacularly shot across the desolate valleys of Madhya Pradesh, Chaubey tries to get a perspective on the age-old question of morality and where to draw the line between good and bad. He does so through his protagonists, Man Singh, and his men, Vakil played by Ranvir Shorey and Lakhna played by Sushant Singh Rajput. They are God-fearing bandits, who delve into the existential questions without any hesitation.
The film brings out the question early on, with one character asking, “If the dharma of the policeman is to catch the rebel, what is the dharma of the rebel?”
The question is deep, and while the film does it’s best to provide possible answers, it doesn’t engage as deeply or philosophically with them as one would imagine.
The film’s cinematography may make it one of Chaubey’s best yet, but it comes off as slightly superficial and in a few places- trying too hard. For instance, characters tormented by ghosts of their guilt see these ghosts frequently and simultaneously, as if haunted to the very same degree. While it gets a few things wrong, Sonchiriya also gets a lot right.
The provocative film addresses the laws of nature- Those who kill will be killed eventually. It runs a hard-hitting social commentary. on caste divide, gender discrimination, toxic patriarchy, deep-rooted superstitions and why revenge shouldn’t be confused with justice.
The actors at Chaubey’s disposal – the known ones (Manoj Bajpayee, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bhumi Pednekar, Ashutosh Rana, Ranvir Shorey) and the not-so-known ones (Jatin Sarna, Harish Khanna, Sanjay Shrivastava, seasoned theatre actors all) – merge themselves so seamlessly with the milieu of this shot-on-actual-locations saga that they do not seem to be performing for the camera but actually living and breathing the parts. It is an astoundingly unblemished ensemble show.
The title of the film stems from the name of a 12-year-old Dalit girl who has been brutally violated and whose well-being becomes a mission for Lakhan and a woman fleeing domestic abuse, Indumati Tomar (Bhumi Pednekar), with her husband and teenage son on her trail. As the fugitives make their way across the ravines in order to get to the nearest town where the girl can get the medical attention she needs, the film conjures up the Chambal landscape with stunning precision, an attribute enhanced by the authenticity of the Bundelkhandi dialect that the characters speak (which, in turn, necessitates the use of subtitles all through the film).
The balladic songs (music: Vishal Bhardwaj, lyrics: Varun Grover, voices: Rekha Bhardwaj, Sukhwinder Singh, Arijit Singh) extend solid support to a fabulous fable of a flawed land that eschews easy options.