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aka - The Cleansing Rites
India 2005
Directed by
Ramchandra P.N
105 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


First-time director, Ramchandra P.N, (P stands for Perampalli, the village that his family originally came from and N stands for Nekkar, a family name) who also wrote the screenplay, and was responsible for the editing, sound design and sub-titling, shot his no-budget film on mini-digital video.

Via the story of the preparations for the funeral of the mistress of a one-time wealthy landlord house of the Tulu-speaking community in coastal Karnataka, South India (the film is set in a remote village near Mangalore), it portrays the changing face of India as it makes its transition from a feudalized rural economy to modern capitalist society. While the elder son struggles to make a living from the last piece of family land in the village, the educated younger son works in the far-off city of Mumbai and when the two come together to mount an elaborate traditional Hindu funeral for 1,000 guests that would reflect their perceived status, they slowly come to the realization that their former glory has long since past.

Based on 'Bojja', a play by Narayana Nandalike, the film was shot over seventeen days with available lights, costumes and properties, no make up and amateur theatre actors. Battling these constraints the director, who has a background in short films, documentaries and television, does not always manage to keep the emotional pitch coherent, at least for an audience who is not familiar with the historical context (an Indian audience would recognize the effect of the Land Ceiling Act that was implemented in the leftist post-Independence years and which transferred titles of the land to the tiller/tenant from the landlord thus giving them at least notional economic and social independence). Only in hindsight does one realize the point of the close-ups of time-worn surfaces, for instance, and one cannot always tell whether a scene is being played for comedic or serious intentions but overall the film stirs memories of Satyajit Ray’s classic Pather Panchali (1955), not because it attains the same level of poetic pathos but because it is so disarmingly unpretentious and evidently heartfelt (the director himself belonged to a once wealthy landlord family) in telling its story of a family in transition.




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