Mumbai, 23 Oct 2019 8:00 IST
Pushpendra Singh's film is a rich visual diary that is artful but not always engrossing.
Pushpendra Singh approaches cinema like a canvas waiting to be painted on. There is beauty and high art in his craft. After Ashwatthama (2017), the director returns to the theme of a boy chasing his destiny with Maru Ro Moti (Pearl Of The Desert). Simple, musically evocative and visually captivating, the film has touches that do not fail to impress the viewer.
Pushpendra Singh returns to the desert to track the story of Moti Khan, a Manganiar boy who is tired of school. His childhood is filled with songs, coming in naturally through every celebration. Yet, he remains unaware of the heritage of music running through his desert tribe. A Muslim tribe in the desert of Jaisalmer, the Manganiars share a mythical tradition that consists of both Hindu and Muslim songs. From worshipping the goddess to learning ragas and singing bhajans, while also singing songs praising pirs, their culture is a product of centuries of integration.
Yet, Moti's father wishes for him to be educated. This is where the problem lies. For a child who has grown up conversing in rhyme, singing while herding his goats and playing with friends, reading and writing is an unhealthy task. So, one beautiful sweltering afternoon, he sings his way into the desert and buries his books.
The journey of Moti, from the desert to the stage, is charted alongside the unravelling history and traditions of the Manganiars. Pushpendra Singh does this with a visual starkness and beauty that is evocative. However, each part is divided into a chapter, 10 in total. On ocassion, the narrative becomes cumbersome owing to its fidelity to reality.
The only issue is the high language of cinema that Pushpendra Singh uses. While beautifully shot (credit to Ravi Kiran Ayyagari), the visuals alone are not enough. The director adds the touch of the magical music that defines the Manganiar tradition. But if you are someone who is drawn to neither art form, this film might take some getting used to.
The beauty of Maru Ro Moti lies in the visuals. The story itself is real, and feels more so with the parts being played by the real people themselves, blurring the lines between a documentary and fiction. Their little joys and plays and musical conversations are so much more effective because of their unaffectedness.
All said and done, Maru Ro Moti is an artful work that traces the roots of a wonderfully musical community and the pearl that emerges from them.
Maru Ro Moti was screened at the 21st MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 19, 20 and 21 October 2019. One more screening is scheduled for 23 October 2019.