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Kosa review: A brutal reality of India that disappears in a media black hole

Release Date: 11 Feb 2021 / 01hr 25min

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Shoma A Chatterji

Mohit Priyadarshi’s debut film tells a tale of unimaginable cruelty that continues to torment remote areas of the country peopled by aboriginal tribes.

Kosa is a brilliant film that uses the language and technique of cinema to tell a tale of unimaginable cruelty that continues in the remote areas of India peopled by Adivasis (aboriginals). These marginalized people not only live on the edges of poverty but also in the fear that they will be picked up any moment, any day on any trumped-up charge by the local police, central paramilitary forces or anyone in power, never to return home.

The film uses a cinematic language that has not the remotest link to glamour, romance, loud music, dance or other modes of entertainment that cinema is commonly filled with and expected to deliver.

Kosa Muchaki (Kunal Bhange) is a 17-year-old boy, a topper at the local school. He sets out to sell a goat as his father, burdened with loans, must repay them bit by bit. They live in a village on the borders of Chhattisgarh in central India, earmarked by the powers-that-be for 'development' by contractors who compromise the local police to allow the land to be appropriated from its lawful owners — the Adivasis.

The family, comprising Kosa’s helpless father Sangram and his two daughters, gets scared when Kosa does not return. Where has he gone? The father and Kosa's little sister Sona set out to find out, but the local police turn him back, asking him to return with proof of Kosa’s age. Keshav, a local journalist, learns of the missing boy and sets out to solve the mystery. But the editor-owner of the local newspaper he works for is not happy with the way he is engaged with stories that go against the administration. Keshav (Vithal Nagnath Kale) is not to be deterred, but the inspector of the local police station shoos him away, taking pot-shots at him. Keshav then turns to a dedicated lawyer, Saira, who arrives to file for bail for Kosa who has been picked up by the police and detained as an adult though he is just 17.

Mohit Priyadarshi, who has written the story and screenplay and also directed the film, states that the film is inspired by real-life incidents he has experienced in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh where boys were picked up by the police and never seen again. Kosa is a character collated from his experiences.

Keshav says that within the past 40 days, six boys were picked up, never to return. Where did they go? Are they alive or dead? Are their lives expendable? Answers to these questions are given through the film.

Kosa is picked up because he shares his first name with a Maoist charged with taking part in blowing up a CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) vehicle, killing some troopers. As the film progresses, we discover that this 'mistaken identity' is but an excuse to pick up Kosa who was returning after selling his goat. The Maoist he shares his first name with is at least 30 years old.

Kosa is placed in a prison for adults and beaten black and blue. The date of his arrest is changed in the office register. Though he is finally bailed out with Saira's help, the boy is killed the same night and the family's home is set on fire along with its chicken pen and goatshed. The land is now free for 'development'.

Cinematically, Priyadarshi has captured the entire film on location and it appears to have been cinematographed entirely in natural light which changes with the time of day and the setting of a particular frame. After learning that Kosa has been arrested, there is a beautiful silhouette shot of the older sister sitting at the door of their hut, weeping. When Sona comes and tries to console her, the light from outside the door throws up the two figures in the dark. Priyadarshi has dedicated the film to “all the indigenous people of the world”.

The village market sees two men in military mufti trying to get close to the two sisters as they buy vegetables but they pick their wares and almost make a run for it. The level of extreme poverty comes across in the scene where Sangram and Sona catch a bus to attend the court hearing but are summarily pushed out as they do not have money to buy tickets. Towards the end, Sona, walking through the school corridors, tears off a newspaper clipping from the notice board because it carries the false news of her brother’s death as a “Maoist killed in a police encounter”, which underscores the misrepresentation by the media of grievous human right violations.

The inspector general of police is as rude and arrogant as the officer at the police station. This comes across when Keshav approaches him for a few questions and he rushes away. Priyadarshi mercilessly exposes through a few scenes how the police are completely hand-in-glove with the incoming contractor hungry to grab land owned for generations by the tribes. The dialogue by Naseem Shah is full of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and black humour.

The art direction is excellent in the few indoor scenes, be it within the court or the juvenile justice court, and reminds us of another brilliant film, Court (2015, Marathi), with the derogatory, anti-woman comment by the officer of the court.

The chickens tripping out of their pen in the opening scenes establishes how the simple lives of these poor people are destroyed to appropriate their land for so-called 'development', with complete disregard for law and justice.

The police describe the killing of the boy in television interviews as a major achievement and triumph. The local inspector holds a press conference to “announce” the “great success”.

The acting, considering that only the actor playing Keshav has a theatre background and every other actor has faced the camera for the first time, invests the film with a spontaneous and authentic ambience. Bhange touches your heart. He makes you feel his pain and his helplessness. His large eyes wonder what has happened to him and why, and need very little dialogue. The director has taken care not to use any make-up on the artistes. The actress who plays Saira appears to a bit stiff but that does not disturb the tenor of the film.

There is hardly any music in the film except for some disturbing chanting on the soundtrack in the local dialect. In the end, social activists singing a song of the people with the village gathered around to listen does not quite fit into the larger framework of the film. Their singing is cut into by a parallel shot of Sona running through the fields and the muddy roads between the greenery of the forests, where to or why, we will never know. The film closes on that open note.

The film proves — like several others focused on the indigenous, the deprived, the poor and the oppressed such as Court, Kasturi (1980, Hindi), Chauranga (2016, Hindi), Life Of An Outcast (2018, Hindi) and Manhole (2016, Malayalam) — that one need not sacrifice the aesthetics of cinema such as music, dialogue, editing, cinematography and acting to make hard-hitting films. They simply do it differently, using the tools of cinema to present their stories from a unique perspective. Nor will the audience miss the mainstream masala it is used to.

Kosa is not just the protagonist of a film. He is a symbol, a metaphor for the extra-judicial killings that take place routinely in the hinterlands of our country. Priyadarshi states in his prologue: "In India’s central forests, a guerrilla war between the ultra-Left radicals and the Indian State has raged for more than five decades, Adhering to Maoism, locally called the Naxals, the radicals have seen their power wane over the years even as accusations of extra-judicial killings and sexual violence against innocent Adivasi people by Indian security personnel have increasingly come to light. There is a dearth of ground information from the area. It has been called a media black hole, with the only news available from the region coming from government service.”

Kosa was screened at the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival and at the 25th International Film Festival of Kerala.

Related topics

IFFK Kolkata International Film Festival

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