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A sophisticated independence story from northern India set during the years of Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement and building up to 1947, when the British left the country, Invincible is a good old-fashioned historical drama that wobbles through the first half but comes into sharp focus in the second, just in time for a moving finale. Younger audiences may find the look too dated and the passion too earnest in this screen adaptation of Arun Sarma’s novel The Hues of Blessings. But the characters are strongly drawn and the themes are satisfyingly complex: the origins of the Hindu-Muslim conflict before India was partitioned, dashed hopes after independence, the courage of women. Its main audience, when it debuts in India in January, will be those who follow Indian history.
Director Jahnu Barua (The Catastrophe) is one of the pioneers of filmmaking in the Assam region, where the story takes place, close to the border of today’s Bangladesh. Hindus and Muslims live separate lives in the rural village, and everyone is carefully pigeonholed by caste. Gojen Koet (Rupam Riyan Deka) is an angry young man who lives with his grandmother; though he dropped out of school, he tutors the no-caste Muslim girl Hasina (Jupitora Bhuyan). He supports Gandhi and believes that once India becomes independent, social injustice will end. The overuse of flashbacks in the early scenes makes it hard to decipher the great trauma of his life — when he failed to arrive on time to cancel a pro-independence demonstration and two protestors were killed by the police as a result of his tardiness.
Most of the film involves Gojen’s defiant rebellion of the richest man in town, who sees Partition as an opportunity for land-grabbing. Gojen is also dead set against caste restrictions and child marriage. He helps a Brahmin girl, widowed at age 18, to elope with a decent fellow against the wishes of her father, a bizarre temple priest. One has to admire Rupam Riyan Deka’s hard-headed performance, which wins sympathy for the slovenly, hot-headed hero solely on the basis of his right-on moral principles. In the concluding scenes, when Independence has been declared and all hell has broken loose in the village, his very traditional grandmother becomes the catalyst for the film’s most touching scene.
The story could perhaps have ended there; instead, it is book-ended by a modern drama that features Gojen’s granddaughter, who has become a high-ranking policewoman. Though its modernity jars with the atmosphere and authentic feeling of what has gone before, it injects a hopeful note that past travesties of justice may be overruled and once more asserts the role of women in bringing about social change.
Venue: Mumbai Film Festival (India Gold), Oct. 22, 2013.
Production company: Shiven Arts
Cast: Bishnu Khargoria, Rupam Riyan Deka, Jupitora Bhuyan, Pratibha, Kopil, Rimpi, Kakshmi, Saurabh, Munmi
Director: Jahnu Barua
Screenwriter: Jahnu Barua based on a novel by Arun Sarma
Producer: Shankar Lall Goenka
Director of photography: Sumon Dowerah
Production designer: Phatik Barua
Editor: Hue-en Barua
Music: Dhrubajyoti Phukan
Sales Agent: Shiven Arts
No rating, 116 minutes.
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