Mumbai, 22 Feb 2018 16:00 IST
Updated: 23 Feb 2018 13:25 IST
Dyanesh Zoting's parable of a jungle monster around the story of land-grabbing conglomerates is a good attempt at magical realism but lacks the finishing touch that could have truly made it magical.
Guillermo del Toro Gomez, director of the Academy award-nominated Shape Of Water (2018), once said, "I feel that monsters are here in our world to help us understand it. They are an essential part of a fable."
In Raakshas, Dyanesh Zoting wanders down the path of Gomez's fabulistic metaphor creating a very local Pan's Labyrinth that is captivating but not believable. Where he falters is in the ability to intertwine the elements of fabulism and realism seamlessly.
The film is a wonderfully plotted story of a wide-eyed Aru (Rujuta Deshpande), a child who never loses her sense of wonder for the jungle. Her father Avinash (Sharad Kelkar) is a documentary filmmaker seeking to unravel the political grime of a real-estate company eating into the forest land of tribals in Maharashtra.
On a trip to the jungles, Aru discovers a hidden storybook that seems to have emerged from the forest. The story in the book is a parallel to her own life, where a princess rescues her father, the king, from a monster (literally, Raakshas) in the jungle. When her father goes missing during a trip, Aru believes she is the only one who can save him.
While her mother Iravati (Sai Tamhankar) unravels the politics, corruption, and violence exerted on the tribals, it is Aru who provides the key breakthroughs. Not alone though. The little girl is helped by a mysterious 'magician' living in the forest, who provides her the clues.
While her mother goes deeper and deeper into the net of violence and corruption spread out around the jungle, Aru wanders deeper into the mysterious 'beyond what-meets-the-eye' part of the forest.
The camera does well to portray the dark jungle, its mysteries, and the life outside. It would have been better if the story had provided us some context to the rituals and the myths that inhabit the space.
A fantastic cast of artistes like Sai Tamhankar, Sharad Kelkar, Vijay Maurya adds to the experience. But it is little Rujuta Deshpande who manages to bring an innocence and natural belief in the fable that enlivens the story.
However, these performances are let down by the script which fails to blend the two worlds seamlessly.
Zoting's roots in the forest are strong, and he manages to subtly convey the struggle of the tribals to keep up with the invading urban lifestyles. The metaphor of Raakshas is used well, too. The reasoning the film provides for the growing naxalism, and how, in turn, it helps the land-grabbers is interesting. However, the director seems to have his feet in two separate boats, and the story wobbles.
The fantasy world Aru inhabits unfolds parallelly to the reality of her parents'. Yet, not once does her mother suspect it, even when a clear hint towards magic is revealed to Iravati before the climax. In the end, Aru's entire adventure seems like an afterthought that is conveniently set aside.
Another flaw is the missing factors. For those invested in the fantasy, the question of Aru's power, and if she returns to the jungle, remains.
For audiences invested in the real struggle of the tribals, there is no sense of completion either. There are too many plot points that are resolved by coincidences, and too many coincidences to go unnoticed by the characters in the film.
Despite these flaws, Raakshas is a decent attempt at magical realism. Something that the overburdened children of today could do with.