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Fable for our times

Updated on: 18 February,2024 04:58 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Meenakshi Shedde |

At its core, the film has a heart-warming Ken Loach-like concern about class differences and feudal exploitation, but these are intertwined with magical realism

Fable for our times

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeRaam Reddy’s The Fable had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival last week. It is his second feature after Thithi, in 2015, which won two Golden Leopards at Locarno, for Best Film and Best First Film. The Fable, an Indo-US co-production starring Manoj Bajpayee, Priyanka Bose, Deepak Dobriyal and Tillotama Shome, played in the prestigious Encounters section at Berlin. Significantly, the film was shot on 16mm celluloid film—a rare feat in India.

At its core, the film has a heart-warming Ken Loach-like concern about class differences and feudal exploitation, but these are intertwined with magical realism. In effect, the film plays out as a part-mystery, part-thriller, part-philosophical exploration. Manoj Bajpayee plays Dev, owner of the vast Theen Pahad orchard estate set in the Uttarakhand Himalayas in 1989, near the Indo-Nepal border. He lives with his family in a sprawling colonial-style bungalow—wife Nandini (Priyanka Bose), and two kids, the horse-riding teenage girl Vanya, and younger kid Juju, who speak in English at home. But there are elements of magic realism too—Dev very matter-of-factly puts on a pair of enormous wings and leaps off the cliff—then  glides the thermals.  A pair of young lovers communicate telepathically.

One day, Dev finds an apple tree in his orchard burnt to a cinder; soon after, more and more trees are surreptitiously burnt, and finally much of a hillside, as well as trees circling their house, are up in flames. Are some people trying to tell him something? Dev now suspects everybody—the workers and even the estate manager, Mohan (Deepak Dobriyal), who has loyally served their family for years

“Outsiders,”—wandering meditative nomads on horseback—are immediately held suspect. There’s also a corrupt patwari (Sheriff) and shadier police, who smell opportunity. The layered screenplay, by Reddy, shows that a high price will be paid; but the crisis reveals who Dev’s family really are, to themselves and to the world. Despite being a fable that is dark at times, Reddy shapes a climax that also gives hope. 

Manoj Bajpayee is superb as Dev. He gets the body language, dialogue and all else down pat. Priyanka Bose is a good counterpoint. The gifted Dobriyal is wonderful to watch, in a meaty role after ages. The film is tonally different at times. But Reddy also smartly subverts many clichés: a youngish director shooting a feature film on 16mm celluloid; redefining who “outsiders” can be; and again, when Vanya leads the good looking, mysterious ‘outsider’ to the stables for a roll in the hay, their ‘union’ goes beyond sexual desire, seeking a higher connection. Sunil Borkar’s cinematography is remarkable, and it is inspiring that the younger generation is considering shooting on a challenging medium as 16mm celluloid film. Varun Grover’s dialogues are effective, as is Nithin Lukose’s sound design. Women talent includes producer Sunmin Park, Associate Producer and Production Designer Juhi Agarwal and Casting Director Tess Joseph.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. 
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