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Watch Indian Circus: Busan Film Review

The Bottom Line

A family visit to the circus provides an entertaining metaphor for rural India’s struggle to access the supposed economic miracle of that east Asian nation.

Venue

Busan International Film Festival

Director/screenwriter

Mangesh Hadawale

Cast

Tannishtha Chatterje, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Virendra Singh Rathod, Suhani Oza

Director-writer Mangesh Hadawale approach the issues of third-world corruption and lack of opportunity in this story about young children who want to go to the circus.

Most international filmmakers who focus on issues of third-world corruption and lack of opportunity yet yearn for plaudits from festival crowds bore in on grinding poverty, utter misery and sickening tragedy. In Watch Indian Circus, director-writer Mangesh Hadawale has a better idea: Why not approach these subjects with a lighthearted story about young children who want to go to the circus and the efforts, sometimes quite comical with even a touch of slapstick, by the youngsters and their harried parents to fulfill this wish?

Watch Indian Circus did indeed win appreciative applause at its first screening here in Busan as the film’s two children were adorable yet accomplished actors while the parents were most effective in creating genuine pathos, a rare thing in films. Meanwhile the barren beauty and bright colors of the Rajasthan desert fill the eye with pleasing imagery.

Complete THR Coverage: Busan International Film Festival

But Hadawale’s story always keeps its deeper meanings in mind. It is a family comedy that contains a stinging satire of contemporary India and its rampant corruption.

The idea that India is still third world has almost been eradicated by that country’s wildly successful effort to rebrand itself. The word India today conjures images of high tech progress and tremendous economic growth in a country lousy with billionaires. And yet hundreds of millions of Indians still live in villages without decent water, electricity or access in any way to the “miracle” of modern-day India.

It is in such a state that the film’s parents struggle to earn the money to insure the education of their children. Kajru (Tannishtha Chatterje, star of Brick Lane and Road, Movie) spends as much time giving her kids strong values as she does cooking and maintaining their open-air desert home. Their father Jethu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Peepli Live) is a mute who works long hours on a road crew but must suffer many indignities in silence.

Ghumroo (Virendra Singh Rathod) wants nothing to do with education and runs away from his mother when she drags him off to school. His younger sister Panni (Suhani Oza) picks up a flyer advertising a visiting circus and her goal in life is set: She wants to go to see the “bamboo man.”

But every rupee the family can set aside is for education, not circus visits. The father recently attended a political rally and took a politician’s proffered money to vote for him in state elections. But when that money is stolen in a misunderstanding over his support for a rival candidate, he is embarrassed not to have the money to fulfill his promise to take his children to the circus. His resourceful wife finds a means but she must do so surreptitiously so her husband doesn't find out.

So as the storyline takes you through the trials and tribulations of this circus visit, the filmmaker subtly conveys the larger sense of a nation where doors of opportunity constantly slam shut even as those in charge steal votes and money to leave a Rajasthani family to their poverty.

Metaphorically, the film comes most alive with the circus visit. The self-billed Indian Circus stands in for the nation itself. When there isn’t enough money for the mother and children to all enter, she buys two tickets and waits outside. But Ghumroo is determined to bring his mother inside the big tent. Spying a rupee note, he gives chase, a comical adventure that sees the drifting money always elude him even as he must elude the circus’ Keystone Kop security guards.

Meanwhile his little sister remains in her seat, mesmerized by the clowns, trapeze artists, elephants and her beloved bamboo man, the stilt walker. India is indeed a circus that can entertain and entrance while the venal operators block children in the scramble for ticket money. Political rallies swirl around the circus tent with the spectacle of vote buying and empty promises. One circus is inside, the other outside.

Watch Indian Circus is a charming film that nevertheless deals with tough Indian realities. The film, in Hindi and the Rajasthani dialect, features eye-catching images by cinematographer Laxman Utekar, an attentive production design by Ashwini Shrivatav and both western music by Wayne Sharp and Indian melodies and songs by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and lyricist Prasoon Joshi.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival
Production company: Sundail Pictures
Cast: Tannishtha Chatterje, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Virendra Singh Rathod, Suhani Oza.
Director/screenwriter: Mangesh Hadawale
Producers: Chirag D. Shah, Mahaveer S. Jain, Anil Lad, Vivek Oberoi
Director of photography: Laxman Utekar
Production designer: Ashwini Shrivatav
Music: Wayne Sharp, Shankar Ehsaan Loy
Lyrics: Prasoon Joshi
Costume designer: Sanjeev Raj Singh
Editor: James J. Valiakulathil
No rating, 106 minutes