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Film Review: When Reason Challenges Faith

Film Review: When Reason Challenges Faith

Shiladitya Bora’s feature debut ‘Ab Toh Sab Bhagwan Bharose’ explores how exposure to new ideas can rattle closely-held beliefs

By Rashmi Bora Das

Faith gets a wakeup call in Bhagwan Bharose

Faith keeps most of humankind alive and shapes our behavior and actions. So when any of these deep rooted beliefs – social or religious – is challenged by the power of science and reason, there is turmoil. Based on this premise, Shiladitya Bora’s Ab Toh Sab Bhagwan Bharose, also explores how the spread of misinformation and false knowledge sows the seeds of discord and hatred in innocent minds.

In the village, it’s all up to God

Set in 1989 against the backdrop of an unnamed village in North India, Bhagwan Bharose opens with a Gandhian quote that sets the tone for what is to follow:  “If we are to create peace in our world, we must begin with our children.”

We are introduced to two little boys, Bhola and Shambhu, peeking at the village well and having a serious yet innocent chat about a mythological belief. Bhola’s life essentially revolves around his mother, grandfather Nanababu, and his constant companion Shambhu who never leaves his side. His father works in the city to support the family and visits intermittently.

In a village where progress happens at a snail’s pace, reason does not shed its light. Every incident that happens is attributed to divine intervention. Nanababu smilingly summarizes the situation: “Sheher mein har kaam sarkar bharose hota hai; gaon mein sab kaam bhagwan bharose hota hai!” (In the city, everything is up to the government; in the village everything is up to God!)

The local priest serves as a teacher and imparts lessons to kids in his courtyard, drawing everything from Hindu mythology; Bhola and Shambhu imbibe his teachings as though they are embedded in stone.

Carefree and happy, the boys revel in their passion for flying kites and indulge in all childhood activities with unalloyed delight.

BhagwanBharose-PosterWhen old beliefs are upended

All goes well until Bhola’s father enrolls him in a traditional school. The knowledge imparted in the new classroom is totally contradictory to what the boys have learned from the pundit, and Bhola finds himself irked and in complete disbelief.

Nagging questions persist in his mind, and he gets confused and sad when his religious beliefs are at odds with scientific explanations. As the film progresses, many occurrences torment his mind, from otherwise mundane power outages to the unexpectedly wise words of a local atheist, to a tragic loss in the family. Eventually, his exposure to another religion’s way of life and the sociopolitical tensions of the era lead to a series of tumultuous events that change his life forever.

Spectacular cast makes the story come alive

Child actors Satendra Soni and Sparsh Soman play the pivotal characters in the film, and they truly hit the mark. Satendra as Bhola, who carries the bulk of the film’s weight on his young shoulders, does an outstanding job, emoting flawlessly and delivering his dialogues with unencumbered ease. Sparsh as Shambhu has lesser scope but makes his presence felt. Shiladitya Bora deserves due credit for bringing out such stellar performances from these young talents.

Veteran actor Vinay Pathak, as the endearing Nanababu, is great as always, and Masumeh Makhija, as Bhola’s mother Radha, stands out as an emblem of maternal warmth.

Shrikant Verma’s performance as the priest is convincing, wonderfully etched with streaks of buffoonery and fanaticism. Essaying the part of the much-reviled atheist in town, Manu Rishi Chaddha leaves a mark, doling out truly memorable pearls of wisdom.

Enjoy a laugh or two!

The humor is refreshing and uplifting. It is subtle and flows naturally, in no way denigrating the seriousness of the subject matter. For example, the naiveté of the villagers is portrayed through a comic scene. When a monkey sits on a TV antenna and interferes with its transmission, one of the village locals is in complete awe that Lord Hanuman has come to bless them.

Brilliant feature debut for Bora

Bhagwan Bharose is Shiladitya Bora’s debut feature film, and it has indeed gotten off to a glorious start with a Best Film Award win at the 25th UK Asian Film Festival.

The film is based on a story by Sudhakar Nilmani Eklavya, with screenplay and dialogues co-written by Mohit Chauhan. Seamlessly crafted, the narrative endorses a theme that has a universal appeal. The pace could have been better to get to the climax a little earlier; nevertheless, the story manages to keep you engaged.

The background score by Indian Ocean is soothing, and the photography by Surjodeep Ghosh brings to life the natural beauty of a village.

Simple and honest storytelling

Glitz and glamor are totally absent from Bhagwan Bharose. With utmost honesty, it portrays the sad realities that afflict today’s society. It is a parable of how blind faith can destroy the fabric of society. The film’s tagline raises the question: in a world blinded by faith, can innocence win over hate?  Bhagwan Bharose compels us to ponder upon this reality that engulfs humanity in present times.

There is no moralizing here, but the message emerging from the story is that love, respect, compassion, and tolerance are the ideals that we need to foster in our children in order to build a world of peace and harmony.


Courtesy: India Currents (Posted on Dec 3, 2023)


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