Panchlait review: Amitosh Nagpal’s poor Raj Kapoor imitation switches your mind off luminous tale

Release Date: 17 Nov 2017 / Rated: U / 02hr 05min

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Mayur Lookhar

Though the film has an enlightening story to tell, the insipid show by the lead artistes sends Panchlait into a dark abyss of boredom

Mobile phones, computers, social media, electricity... it's a virtual world we inhabit today. We can’t live without technological inventions. Adult or child, consuming technology has become as basic as consuming food. However, did you ever wonder how humans reacted when first exposed to these inventions?

Given that a majority of our population still resides in the villages, adapting to technology has never been a cakewalk for us. Show them a new invention and it is often greeted by scepticism and a fear of the unknown.

Bengali filmmaker Prem Prakash Modi has turned the clock back to the mid-1950s to throw light on the plight of the Mahto community which gleefully gathers to welcome the paraffin lamp in its life. However, the humble villagers just don’t know to use it. They are too scared to even touch it, fearing what devil lies inside. That’s the principal story of Panchlait (paraffin lamp) based on a short story of the same name by Phanishwar Nath 'Renu’.

Only one man in the community can light the lamp. Unfortunately, Godhan (Amitosh Nagpal) has been banished by the panchayat for stealing a jhumka (pendant) from Aguna Mahto (Brijendra Kala). The theft, however, was only an excuse to get rid of a man who blatantly rejects the community's demands for money.

Godhan is not a local resident but has come back to the Mahto tola (region) to reclaim ancestral land. The bigger incentive, though, is to meet childhood sweetheart Munri (Anuradha Mukherjee). Godhan, however, is disliked by Munri’s mother Guleri (Malini Sengupta).

On the face of it, director Modi and scriptwriter Rakesh Kumar Tripathi have a luminous tale to tell, but Panchlait lacks the creative fuel that could have lit up the screenplay. The narrative Is not neatly laid out, with some events moving back and forth and leaving you confused. The film is largely set in 1954-55, and Modi might have done better to merely lay out the events in chronological order.

The principal culprits who send the film into an abyss of boredom are its two lead characters Godhan and Munri. Godhan is a film buff and ardent fan of Raj Kapoor, particularly of the classic Awara (1951). Amitosh Nagpal is an actor, screenwriter and lyricist who has played small roles in films like Dabangg (2010) and Besharam (2013). It is hard to recollect his performances there, but playing the lead in Panchlait must have been a dream come true. 

Sadly, Nagpal falls flat in his attempt to pay tribute to Raj Kapoor. What we see, instead, is a poor clone. Nagpal’s painstaking show brings back horrific memories of watching Kamaal Rashid Khan in Deshdrohi (2008). Village folk may be innocent, but when that innocence translates to buffoonery it not only makes for bad viewing but is also scornful of the villagers.

Anuradha Mukherjee looks gorgeous as the village belle Munri but her performance lacks soul. Munri and Godhan’s chivalrous romance makes you cringe, and Nagpal and Mukherjee come across as novices.

It is the supporting cast that infuses some life into this boring film. Yashpal Sharma takes the cake as sarpanch Naginaa Mahto, who moves you with his laidback attitude and dry humour. Seasoned artiste Brijendra Kala, who pays the phoney Aguna, and veteran Ravi Jhankal, who plays Sardar Jagnandan Mahto, chip in with fine performances. It is amusing to see how the wise men of the village refer to each other as 'Mahto'.

Malini Sengupta plays the overbearing mother Guleri to a nicety. Children, especially girls, are not supposed to question their parents, and Guleri imposes herself on poor Munri. 

Though boring, the film does have some endearing sequences, especially the comedy of errors that plays out with the villagers getting scared to even lay a finger on the Panchlait. Their fear reflects the innocence of the Mahtos. Credit to the actors for pulling it off with élan.

But such scenes are too few and too late, and as viewers you are left praying that the light goes out of this farce soon. At nearly two and a half hours, Panchlait sucks the energy out of you, and you are left screaming for someone to pull the plug on it and let you switch on your fancy gadgets again.