Religion (Dharm)

Bottom Line: A provocative film that lashes out at religious fundamentalism.

International Film Festival of India

CHENNAI, India -- "Religion" ("Dharm") is a hard-hitting film on religious fanaticism, Hindu extremism in this case. Debuting director Bhavna Tawar courageous movie comes at a time when the divisive forces of religion and caste have been creating havoc in India. So it is bound to make a strong impact not just in festival runs but also in commercial circuits.

Pandit Chaturvedi (Pankaj Kapur) is the chief priest in a Varanasi temple, who lives by the edicts of Hindu scriptures. A Brahmin -- the highest class in the Hindu caste hierarchy -- he will not even cross the path of the lowly untouchable. When his school-going daughter, Vedika (Ananya Tripathi), finds an abandoned baby boy and brings him home, the priest's wife, Parvati (Supriya Pathak Kapur), convinces him they must care for the child till his mother is found. The boy, Kartikey (Krish Parekh), becomes the priest's pet, learning the holy texts and helping him in his daily prayers. However, when the mother turns up suddenly and claims Kartikey, the heavens threaten to fall: She is a Muslim. Chaturvedi is horrified, considers himself defiled and begins a punishing ceremony to purify himself.

Ultimately, "Religion" demonstrates how love and affection can challenge rigid religious laws and caste distinctions. Talwar pulls this off with finesse, effectively playing radicalism and hatred against rationalism and humanness. An extremely arresting moment in the movie comes when a Hindu mob on a destructive march is stopped by Chaturvedi, whose words silence -- and shame -- the frenzied crowd.

Kapur is excellent, looking every inch the pot-bellied priest whose severe exterior masks a gentle soul that understands the follies of misinterpreting religious doctrines. In sheer contrast stands Suryaprakash (Pankaj Tripathi) as the rabid Hindu in a small but memorable role. Parekh is a natural actor, whose Kartikey manages to free the priest from religious dogma with his affection and innocence.

WSG Pictures
Director: Bhavna Talwar Writer: Vibha Singh
Producer: Sheetal V. Talwar
Executive producer: Peter Anshin
Director of photography: Nalla Muthu
Music: Debajyoti Mishra. Varun Gautam
Costume designer: Shehnaz Vahanvati
Editor: Asif Ali Shiekh
Pandit Chaturvedi: Pankaj Kapur
Parvati: Supriya Pathak Kapur
Kartikey: Krish Parekh
Suryapraksh: Pankaj Tripathi
Vedika: Ananya Tripathi
Running time -- 103 minutes
No MPAA rating