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Ashwatthama review: This tragic parable is a piece of a visually captivating cinema

Release Date: 15 Oct 2017 / 02hr 00min

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Pushpendra Singh manages to use the tale of Ashwatthama as a metaphor for a little boy's view of the world.

It is said that there are a thousand versions of the epic, Mahabharata, that exist. The magic lies in the unique nature of the narrative style of each version. Pushpendra Singh manages to take the tale of Ashwatthama into a parable about loss, death, and the untold despair of a little child.

The story follows the journey of Ishvaku, a 5-year-old boy who spends a summer with his relatives. Ishvaku is a quiet, reserved but very intelligent child who is a little obsessed with the tale of Ashwatthama from the epic.

Perhaps, because it was the last story his mother told him before she was killed by bandits in the Chambal valley.

The theme remains a constant through the film. Everytime Ishvaku finds a replacement for his mother, they leave him. The parable of Ashwatthama soon becomes a link to the child's past and present.

Shot in monochrome, with flashes of colours for some imaginary sequences, the film acquires a touch of the myth itself. The black and white texture lends itself to the noir-ish Chambal landscape, and gives it a sense of timelessness.

The director has used several non-actors through the film, including Ishvaku, and they deliver a masterful performance in natural expressions. Mathu Didi, Laali, and Kakka are characters that carry an aura of mystery around them. There is no moment of forced expression on screen.

The natural and serene progression of the film is only enhanced by the wonderful camera work. By staying on as the omniscient third eye that can see everything, the camera allows the scenes to build into something more than just an incident in the film. There is an inherent artistic touch that is very hard to put into words, and can only be experienced visually. 

The director also does well to bring to life the mythology and cultural influence on the screen. Everytime a character or Ishvaku mentions Ashwatthama, tragedy soon follows. The final scene brings to conclusion the child's constant hunt for the myth and the legend of Ashwatthama.

With deft camera work and a wonderful eye for detail, Pushpendra Singh creates a world that is at once real, and illusory.