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Khanaur review: Reality bites in this dreamy tale of a boy's ambition

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Shriram Iyengar

Gurvinder Singh explores the changing dynamics within a sylvan hillside town as its youngsters are drawn to the changing, modern world.

There are many moments in Gurvinder Singh's Khanaur when style overtakes content, but through it all the purpose of the story remains constant. The film is a slow-moving visual document of the changing dynamics of society in the hillsides across India which are being overtaken by the modern ambitions of their young.

The story is set around the sleepy town of Bir, where Kishan works in a cafe. From baking up the pizza to serving customers talking of spirituality and life, Kishan wanders around watching them with distant eyes. His dreams are rooted in reality. Going to a big city, working in a bigger hotel, earning money to get his family out of the small town. Yet, his dreams are too big for him right now. He is but 17. 

Gurvinder Singh's film does not do anything, or deliver any larger moral message, or depict the cold harsh truths of life. It simply is. Like many people are. And in being so, it attempts to make the best use of the story available at hand. The little joys of the people living in these mountains, their tiffs, their stories, hardships and way of life, all rolled up into a visual montage that captures reality well. 

Sandeep GN Yadav's camera is beautifully placed to record each expression that Kishan exihibits. The actor, or non-actor, is a good embodiment of the director's constructed reality. His naivete, vulnerability and determination bring heft to the story. Yet, the treatment of the story offers it as a lighthearted fable of people living in a land, dreaming things that are strange to people on the mainland.

At times, it is difficult to measure the film up against the usual criteria. The script is slow and lyrical in quality but has no dramatics or sense of purpose. Like Kishan, it is difficult to continue to walk with the story which goes nowhere. But it is in its decision to not reach grand conclusions that the film feels all the more real and effective. Yet, it is an acquired taste like the bitter chestnuts Gurvinder Singh's tale is named after. It might need some thorough washing of biases before the audience approaches this one.

Khanaur was screened at the 21st MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 24 October 2019 and at the Dharamshala International Film Festival on 9 November 2019.

Related topics

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival Dharamshala International Film Festival

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