Pilibhit review: Heart-wrenching portrayal of the desperate struggle to survive

Release Date: 2021 / 23min

Cinestaan Rating

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

The film questions at what point does one abandon one’s morality.

Written and directed by first-time filmmakers Ashutosh Chaturvedi and Pankaj Mavchi, the short film Pilibhit stars Raj Arjun, Jayshree Arora and Vicky Ahuja.

The story mobilizes the history of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh, where the famous Pilibhit Tiger Reserve is situated. The district was also known as the land of flutes, or Bansuri Nagari, as the majority of flute production in India took place here. Melding these two histories of the land, the film tells the story of Siraj (Raj Arjun), a poor flute maker who lives at the edge of the forest with his family.

Struggling to make ends meet, Siraj looks forward to the village fair which gives him an opportunity to sell his flutes. When the fair is cancelled, his hopes are dashed and he reaches a point of desperation. His friend Bilaal (Vicky Ahuja) suggests a heinous solution. Siraj is disgusted, but the reality of his dire circumstances pushes him to contemplate the unthinkable.

The film throws the plight of local artisans into sharp relief, as we see Siraj’s absolute dedication to the purity of his art and yet, the reality is that he cannot survive on the art alone. His son struggles to find a job and there are just no avenues left to make ends meet. Countless maestros and artistes in our country have died in penury and Pilibhit highlights the apathy of people and the government towards its citizens.

As an artist, there is an idealism and morality that Siraj retains. Bilaal is a foil to Siraj, as he points out the stupidity of following earnest ideals and sticking to the straight and narrow, and the film questions at what point does one abandon one’s moral compass.

Raj Arjun’s performance captures the inner turmoil and distress of his character skilfully. There is a beautiful sequence where Siraj gets lost in his music, remembering happier times from his childhood. His art and his imagination are his only recourse in this exacting world that pushes the limits of what is acceptable.

Pilibhit is being screened as part of the DC South Asian Film Festival.


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