In wretchedly casteist India, no filmmaker would dare make a film where the hero is a toilet cleaner
In wretchedly casteist India, no filmmaker would dare make a film where the hero is a toilet cleaner. But, in Pradip Kurbah's beautiful Khasi film Iewduh (Market), not only does the hero Mike clean public toilets for a living, he is the lovable anchor of many desperate lives—a former drug addict, an abandoned father with dementia, and a woman battered by a violent husband. We find ourselves falling in love with the tender Mike. Amazingly, the Khasis have no caste system, so Mike is not a low caste person cleaning toilets: it's just another job that pays his bills.
In fact, Pradip Kurbah, based in tiny, charming Shillong, Meghalaya, has achieved with this Khasi film, what Bombaywallahs can only fantasise about. It won the Kim Ji-Seok Award at the Busan Film Festival, was/is at the Mumbai, IFFI-Goa and Kerala film festivals, and releases nationwide from November 15 to 21, including at PVR Icon Infinity Mall at 5 pm in Mumbai. Wait, there's more. His previous feature films, Ri and Onaatah, both won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Khasi; Onaatah is on Netflix and was even remade as Mann Udhaan Vara in Marathi, for god's sake! Tellingly, Iewduh went to no script lab, no co-production lab; it was locally written in Shillong, and is locally produced and distributed by Shankar Lall Goenka, though it was selected at Film Bazaar Recommends. Kurbah has made this jewel, despite working with Ajay Devgn Films on Raju Chacha and Telugu films. Frankly, the man's a national hero.
For perspective: There are three cinema theatres in Shillong. There were just seven Khasi feature films made last year, as against 495 Hindi films. Few North East indie films find theatrical release outside their home states; these include Rima Das' Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing, and Kenny Basumatary's Local Kung Fu, Local Kung Fu 2 and Suspended Inspector Boro.
Iewduh (Market) is set in Bara Bazaar in Shillong. It observes many interconnected lives—Hep; an abandoned, recovering drug addict, Lamare; an abandoned father with dementia, and Priya, a victim of domestic abuse. All three are interconnected through Mike. Kurbah shows how someone from the depths of despair can have a radiant soul—Mike, who has no family, and is a toilet cleaner, still remains not only unaffected by this, but has the generosity to adopt two other abandoned people, Hep and Lamare, and is an emotional anchor for Priya. It shows how sundered families can still form again among friends, with moving scenes between Mike and Hep.
Kurbah's direction is assured, dealing with issues of family abandonment, domestic abuse, drug addiction and suicide, with restraint. The story/screenplay by Pradip Kurbah, Paulami Duttagupta and Lionel Fernandes is excellent, creating a resonant emotional arc for each key character. Albert Mawrie (Mike) is marvellous, and ably supported by an ensemble cast. Pradip Daimary's cinematography is fluid; Lionel Fernandes' editing is taut, and Amrit Pritam's sound design is evocative. Don't miss this film—to enjoy a beautiful, elevating film, and to toast Kurbah's remarkable achievements.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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