Since the big triumph of ‘Best Feature Film’ at the National Film Awards this year, Hellaro has been making huge waves across the globe.
Now, the highly-acclaimed and accoladed Gujarati movie, directed by Abhishek Shah, makes its way to Britain, distributed by Red Lotus Events CIC.
Set in 1975, Hellaro begins with a young Manjhri (Shraddha Dangar) being married off in a small village in the Rann of Kutch.
There, she meets women shackled by the chains of patriarchy. Their only escape from the torture is when they go to fetch water from a distant waterbody.
One day, a chance encounter with someone in the middle of the desert turns their world upside down.
The journey of these women who are silenced into submission is sure to move hearts.
Based on Folklore and real-life instances, Abhishek weaves a layered and harrowing story which is presented through enriched cinematic aesthetics.
Be it the crisp cinematography or the succinct direction, this movie is like a painting in motion.
By shooting in the desert, he encapsulates the raw essence of Kutch and Gujarat, which helps to make the storytelling more organic.
At times, the picturesque appeal feels like a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. In a sense that it has the vibrancy, visual delights and an intense narrative.
Particularly, the background score enriches the viewing experience because the frequent dhol beats act as a stark commentary on awaking the women’s repressed voices.
A special mention goes to Mehul Surti for the spellbinding soundtrack as every song in the film is hugely significant to various characters and circumstances and yet are enjoyable to listen to.
Tracks like ‘Vaagyo Re Dhol’, ‘Asvaar’ and ‘Haiyaa’ are synonymous with liberation, celebration and breaking free from patriarchal mandates.
Whilst topics like toxic masculinity, superstition, casteism and domestic violence are addressed throughout the narrative, Abhishek does not make these pertinent issues the focal point of the film.
Rather he integrates these aspects through the location, time and key characters. The film’s backdrop during the 1975 emergency is quite an interesting choice of timing.
At a time of national havoc, this village is so untouched by any modern development. As such, we see a place which is the most remote from any ‘civilised’ law or decorum.
Through such a setting, it reinforces the ‘folklore’ feel to the movie where the barren desert represents the worn-out and regressive psyche.
By male characters mocking the government and hearing about Bollywood films from a city-man conveys how distant the men are from modern livelihood.
From the very scene, viewers are grabbed by the throat. Immediately, we are shoved into this suffocating life in which women are deprived of basic rights.
Ironically, the men worship the goddess but yet abuse their wives. Therefore, the movie smartly showcases the chauvinistic hypocrisy, which is scarily relevant in today’s day and age.
In such a scenario, Manjhri and the Drummer Mulji (Jayesh More) are the heroes from outside.
They are the voices of rationality because Manjhri is an educated woman from the city and is rebellious against living such a tyrannical life.
Mulji has a murky past and believes for equality. He is the idyllic gentleman, but of a low-caste. Hence, both key characters are heroes in all means, but their social statuses become their weakness.
Sameer Tanna’s energetic and eloquent choreography is wonderful to watch, to such an extent that the cinema is left whistling and cheering the dancing.
Garba in Hellaro is like what cricket was in Lagaan. In a way, this sacred dance form becomes an additional character. It’s like a secret weapon for the women to battle their beaten-down lives.
For this reason, the film comes at a very crucial time in Indian cinema as we are prominently seeing such women liberating content.
Interestingly, this venture alongside other movies like Padmaavat, Manikarnika and Anandi Gopal has exhibited Indian women successfully fighting suppression.
It is refreshing and the need-of-the-hour to see such empowering movies.
Speaking of the women in this, Shraddha Dangar is dynamite as the young married woman. Her dialogue delivery, body language and screen presence exude formidability.
In addition to her all other thirteen actresses namely:
Shachi Joshi, Denisha Ghumra, Niilam Paanchal, Tarjani Bhadla, Brinda Nayak, Tejal Panchasara, Kaushambi Bhatt, Ekta Bachwani, Kamini Panchal, Jagruti Thakore, Riddhi Yadav and young Prapti Mehta are phenomenal performers.
Jayesh More is impactful as the ‘Dholi’ (drummer). His enigma is carried across so well throughout the film and his performance lives up to that mysteriousness.
Aarjav Trivedi (as Manjhri’s husband, Arjan) and Shailesh Prajapati (as Mukhi, the village head) play characters that reek of bigotry.
Both of them bring subtleness to their dark characters and shine as key antagonists. The other actors playing respective husbands are brilliant too.
With such strong positive facets to the film, the pace dips slightly in the second half. Perhaps a sharper screenplay here could’ve made the viewing experience better.
But this really is a minor blip. A movie such as this is beyond a standard review as it amongst those rare pieces which leave you in euphoria, anger and amazement, all at once.
The courageous spirits and stories of these thirteen women lingers in our minds way after the credits roll and will continue to do so.
Undoubtedly, Hellaro is Gujarati cinema’s heartfelt ode to female empowerment and a culture that is deep-rooted in venerating the strength of womanhood.
Abhishek Shah’s direction is magnificent. With enriched experience and visual aesthetics, he proves that ‘regional’ cinema is beyond any language, style or other differentiation.
This film is iconic for many reasons and will be cherished for years to come. A MUST watch!
⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 (4.5/5 stars)