From Churails to Kaagaz, ZEE5 is no stranger to presenting narratives that champion women rights as well as highlight thorny social issues. Their next film 200: Halla Ho, is another such title.
Directed by Sarthak Dasgupta, the movie is inspired by a shocking true story based on the Akku Yadav Nagpur Case, in 2004. Going by the trailer, it certainly seems to be quite the hard and bitter pill to swallow, especially in light of India’s marginalised community.
It promises to be a compelling narrative chronicling the oppression and injustice suffered by Dalit women and the circumstances which led them to take a drastic step.
Balli Chaudhary (Sahil Khattar) is a mobster. He is a vile criminal who is behind gang rapes, murders, robs and terrorises 300 families without any fear of law, for a period of 15 years.
He takes a special interest in using the rape threat to break and humiliate the Dalit community.
He allegedly rapes over 40 women and children, gets arrested 14 times but is never sentenced, therefore he has no fear of law and randomly picks up any woman he fancies – irrespective of their age.
The police refuse to help the Dalits and go on to sell out the complainants to Balli. His reign of terror continues till he meets his nemesis in a young and educated Dalit girl – Asha Surve (Rinku Rajguru).
Usha files an FIR against Balli and consequently, gets cornered by him and his gang. They even threaten to burn them down.
This inspires the villagers to revolt against Balli and files 40 FIRs, however when all their hopes of getting justice vanish, the women of the basti decide to take matters into their own hands and make a fitting example out of Balli.
I have never heard about this case and whilst watching the film, I felt extremely shaken up from within. The fact that a marginalised group of people had to take the law into their hands because of police brutality, is something which I felt deeply unsettled by.
In fact, focusing on the world we live in, there are various campaigns against racism and rampant trials by media (to deliver justice quickly) that make this movie quite timely.
Quite often, I read stories about Dalit suppression and caste disparity within India by the West, who often use this as a way to undermine the country, I felt a sense of anger. As such, whenever I see stories on this subject, my instant reaction is scepticism.
Even reading stories about some of the most grotesque crimes against women, like the recent Hardoi case, makes me feel that such films are very much the need of the hour.
This movie comes from a very sincere place. It does not candy-coat the brutal truth, but at the same time, makes us think about our society and which direction we are headed. Powerful dialogues like “It (disparity) is implied, never spelt out” shows how prominent casteism is in India.
There is a perfect balance of raising a voice for the Dalits, as well as making that voice a soul-stirring piece of cinema. It is a raw attempt at Not once did I feel that the film is preachy or repetitive.
On the contrary, I felt my heartbreak that such despicable atrocities by a group of humans to another still happens… In broad daylight. Quite frankly, it also makes me feel ashamed to be a man too. It makes me the habitual abuse of gender and cultural identity.
Undoubtedly, the subject matter at hand is compelling enough for us to view the film and it is something that requires to be addressed. In most parts, the cinematic appeal is effective.
From the opening shots of a pressure cooker reaching a boiling point to a bird’s eye view shot of a city divided between elite and lower classes, there is a subtle communication of societal subjects.
At certain points, what does a slight disservice to the overall visual storytelling, is the over dramatisation and unnecessary love angle. I feel that having a song as an overlay to set the scene just forces the emotions and does not allow the audience to feel those sentiments in an organic way.
Moreover, I also feel that the editing and screenplay could’ve been tighter. The film begins in a pugnacious way but then somehow loses steam in the middle. But at no point, does the viewer lose interest or feel discouraged to watch the film. It is the honesty and importance of the story that makes us determined to complete it.
The casting is perfect as there is an onus of pure performances rather than a star driving it to ceremonial success. Each of the actors is a rawness and authenticity to their characters which makes the roles so real, especially Rinku Rajguru, given that her character seems to be inspired by Usha Narayane – from the actual case.
Sahil Khattar is detestable as a serial killer/rapist and the main protagonist in the film. He manages to create this pantomime-like yet menacing presence on screen whenever we see his monstrosities. It is refreshing and satisfying to see a talent like Khattar get utilised well in the film… About time too.
A subtle yet solid performance by Bollywood’s celebrated actor, Amol Palekar. He says very few words but when he does, the word seer through the soul and the message rides home.
But a special mention goes to the veteran Sushama Deshpande, who awestruck me in Ajji, where she played a vigilante in avenging the rape of her 10-year-old granddaughter.
In the film, Deshpande plays another such character but she essays it with much dignity, formidability and yet vulnerability. An absolute joy to watch and a true treasure to our industry. It’s great to see legends like Mr Palekar and Sushma ji in one film.
Quite frequently in Hindi cinema, we have seen some solid pieces based on gender and caste disparity like Mrityudand, Lajja and Article 15, to name a few.
Recently, we have also seen works like Criminal Justice 2, which address the plight of women in the judicial system and the empowerment of the Dalit community in movies like Ajeeb Dastaans.
But nothing has rattled my conscious this hard-hitting, as much as 200: Halla Bol. It might not be the best cinematic piece ever, but the topic and case covered are very strong and those contents command our attention for the film.
Hours after watching the film, I was left thinking that this happened, in my country. It made me more determined and encouraged me to unite the people of my motherland to stop segregating amongst ourselves. We are better than that.
Such movies go beyond just a piece of cinema on a streaming platform. It’s an outcry, to no longer hush suppressed voices of our society.
.5 (3.5/5 stars)
200: Halla Bol streams on ZEE5.