The Honor Keeper (Lajwanti): Berlin Review

Time stands still in this nice-looking but patience-trying fable rooted in Rasjasthani culture.

A love story out of a folk take about a woman who claims her freedom in timeless Rajasthan.

A beautiful young married woman in the Rajasthan desert hides behind her veil, until she becomes obsessed with a stranger. This folk tale by writer Vijaydan Detha sounds great on paper, but is paced so leisurely it will appeal mainly to audiences for whom time has no meaning. Even at one hour, this first feature by actor and film teacher Pushpendra Singh seems too long and drawn out. Though it captures the exotic colors and feeling of the place, it misses the bus in the story-telling department, at least for most Western viewers. It could have more luck edited down into a short.

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The desert location is not all endless stretches of thirsty sand, like in Girish Malik’s Jal set in the Rann of Kutch. Here Ravi Kiran Ayyagari’s fixed camera creates relaxing, painterly views of a giant tree offering shelter from the sun and bushes waving from the banks of a tranquil river. A well rises from the desert. Every day six women in bright orange, pink and yellow saris go to fetch water in brass pots, which they carry home on their heads. They mercilessly torment Lajwanti (Sanghamitra Hitaishi), whose face they have never seen, until one day they forcefully unveil her beautiful face. After that she opts to walk by herself. Every day her path crosses that of an eccentric man in white robes and a turban (played by the director), who has taken a vow to collect a huge number of doves. The more he ignores her, the bolder she becomes in declaring her interest.

The story is not only exotic but mysterious, and the ending, when it at last arrives, is a little perplexing. This is a case where cultural authenticity poses a barrier for audiences outside the tradition.

Singh and Hitaishi are as self-assured as actors in a stage play.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Production company: Marudhar Arts
Cast: Sanghamitra Hitaishi, Pushpendra Singh, Sugna Devi, Gaurav Lavaniya, Pooja Sapera
Director: Pushpendra Singh
Screenwriter: Pushpendra Singh based on a story by Vijaydan Detha
Producers: Pushpendra Singh, Sanjay Gulati
Director of photography: Ravi Kiran Ayyagari
Editor: Shweta Rai

Production and costume designer: Pushpendra Singh
No rating, 61 minutes