Baran and the tricky art of giving

Updated: Jul 05, 2020, 07:48 IST | Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

There are starving millions around us, who have lost jobs during COVID-19 or not been paid wages in months. So, let's be mindful when giving

Illustation/Uday Mohite
Illustation/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeIn my last column, I had written about Majid Majidi's Baran (Rain, Iran, 2001). The novelty of this quiet masterpiece was watching the film in Farsi, with Marathi subtitles. But, revisiting it after nearly 20 years (it is freely available online), I was reminded why it is still so sharply relevant worldwide, especially in today's India which, through the government's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, has reduced us to a nation of millions of 'refugees'; only, they are from and in our own nation. According to thewire.in, India's internally displaced persons because of COVID-19 is "at least double" that of "Partition, (when) 15 million people were uprooted from their homes."

There are so many layers to Baran. It's a refugee story. It's a wordless romance. It's a political comment on the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 and rise of the Taliban, that caused 1.5 million Afghan refugees to flee to Iran. It's a gender-bender story, about a woman who dresses as a man to get a job in Iran.

But powerfully, the film is also about the tricky art of giving, the tehzeeb of giving money with dignity to the needy. What if they refuse your money, and prefer to die than beg? There are starving millions around us, who have lost jobs during COVID-19 or not been paid wages in months. So, let's be mindful when giving.

Alert: this column has spoilers. Lateef is an Iranian tea boy on a construction site in Tehran. After illegal Afghan refugee Najaf, a widower with five children, breaks his leg and cannot continue work as a labourer on the site, his friend Sultan requests the boss to give Najaf's son Rahmat a job instead. Soon, Lateef realises Rahmat is a girl (Baran), who has dressed as a boy in order to get the job (women are/were not allowed to work outside the house alongside men), and falls in love with her. Even though the performances are a bit rough at the edges, the film is deeply moving.

Majidi's screenplay is brilliant, with an O Henry ending to out-Henry O. Lateef stakes his entire future for Baran's family. He gives his year's wages to Najaf's friend Sultan, to give the money to Najaf. Majidi's dialogues between Lateef and Sultan are a master-study in the art of giving, and also reveal the hierarchy of desperation. Sultan: "Where did you get so much money?" Lateef: "It's my one year's wages. I don't need it at present; Najaf needs it more." "Why don't you give it yourself?" "I'd feel embarrassed." "And if he refuses?" "Why would he?" "Maybe he can't pay you back." "No hurry, he can repay it whenever he can." "If he refuses, I will return it to you."

Later, Najaf himself tells Lateef he refused the money because Sultan is worse off than him, so Sultan has left for Afghanistan with the money. Now, Lateef sells his last treasure, his identity card (which you need to get a job), and gives Najaf the money, lying and saying their boss has sent it for him, so Najaf can accept it. Najaf accepts it, and decides to return to Afghanistan the very next day. After all of Lateef's sacrifices, his lady love vanishes forever. After they leave, Lateef turns to see Baran's footprint in the mud, that slowly fills with rain, and he smiles. Uff!

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshi.shedde@mid-day.com

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