Mumbai, 14 Oct 2017 10:24 IST
Updated: 10 Nov 2017 18:27 IST
The men might think they are the kings, but it is actually the queens who have been running the show the whole time.
The first feature film from the Ektara Collective is an intriguing story of a small community bound by their love for the game of chess. Set in the Chakki Chauraha neighbourhood of Bhopal, Turup (Checkmate) tells a relevant tale of local politics and communal tensions.
A world chess championship of Chakki Chauraha is underway, while we get to know some familiar characters in the basti and beyond. There is Monika (Moulina Midde), an elderly domestic help who works for young urban couple Varun (Abhinav Kumar) and Neelima (Nidhi Qazi). Their driver Majid fancies street sweeper Lata (Madhu Bhagat) and is quite the chess player. His rise in the tournament is one of the film’s highlights.
While the neighbourhood is engrossed in chess moves and strategies, communal tension is mounting in the background. There is to be a local election and an unnamed party seeks to establish its brand on Hindutva policies. A young Hindu girl is said to be taken against her will by a Muslim man and there are people who want him to pay.
Tiwari, a politician’s aide and a leading chess player, tries to organize the locals to get the man arrested. Meanwhile, there is growing unease in the community about the so-called love jihad, fuelled by propaganda (by way of SMS and flyers) and rumours.
Neelima, a former journalist, is trying unsuccessful fertility treatments, when she is given a chance to wade back into the journalistic pool with a story idea by Monika. She is constantly surprised by the life Monika has led. Coming from her own position of privilege, it seems gauche and tone-deaf. Nevertheless, Monika doesn’t mind, and in her own way rebukes her employer.
Rumours fly in the basti of a relationship between Lata, a dalit, and Majid, a Muslim. Lata’s brother Deepak (Hariram Darshyamkar) pushes her to get married to another man, thinking she needs 'managing', not realizing that Lata is a capable young woman. Deepak begins to spend more time with Tiwari and his men.
Adding to the realistic feel of the film are short interviews with what are probably actual members of the community by Naresh (Aakash Jamra), a local who is participating in the chess tournament. All these people are asked who will win; most of them aren’t participating in it.
So who will win the tournament? Will Lata marry? Will Neelima get back in the working game? And why does Monika have that mysterious smile? The answers come forward by the end of Turup.
The film’s music is inspired by the 15th century poet Kabir, three of his songs play during key moments.
Most of the artistes in Turup are not professional actors. In certain scenes, this is a hindrance, but for most of the film, they are a delight with their bluntness.
It took me a while to grasp the different plot lines and how they connect with one another, especially, with a large cast of characters. Additionally, it is evident that different voices have influenced the feel of Turup: the film ebbs and flows.
However, despite not understanding all aspects of the language and of the game of chess, Turup is an utter delight. The men might think they are the kings, but it is actually the queens who have been running the show the whole time.
Turup was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 13 October 2017.