Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SAIFF ’14: 1,000 Rupee Note

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” Jesse Unruh famously said. Uttamrao Jadhav certainly agrees. He even has a cow for a campaign symbol. When on the campaign trail, he spreads around plenty of “walking around money.” However, when he gives the grieving mother of a widely reported farm-suicide several large bills (for appearance’s sake) it leads to no end of trouble in Shrihari Sathe’s 1,000 Rupee Note (trailer here), which screens tonight at the 2014 South Asian International Film Festival.

Budhi is a notoriously thrifty hard bargainer, but her fellow villagers never object. They are only too aware of the widow’s tragic history. At least she is not alone in the world. Her neighbor Sudama frequently checks up on her. His wife pretends to resent the attention he gives Budhi, but it is really just an act. Naturally, when Jadhav schedules a political rally, which necessarily comes with the promise of a free dinner, they make sure Budhi attends. They also prod her to get into the walking around money line. However, when Jadhav learns of her significance he drops several 1,000 Rupee notes on her.

Finally, Budhi should be able to have her glasses fixed and her son’s portrait reframed, with plenty left over to buy gifts for Sudama and his wife. However, when she and her surrogate son arrive at the big city market, they simply cannot break the bills. Eventually accused of passing counterfeit notes, the will cool their heels in the local police station, perhaps indefinitely.

If you are expecting a somewhat quirky braided story following those bills, in the tradition of Twenty Bucks, you had better think again. Rupee is a dark, caustic indictment of political corruption that opts for naturalism over satire at every juncture. Let’s not mince words, this film is depressing.

While the execution is competent but rather straight forward, there is no denying the effectiveness of Sathe’s leads. As Budhi, Usha Naik gives the film real depth and soul, while her maternal chemistry with Sandeep Pathak’s Sudama is genuinely touching. Pooja Nayak also has some nice moments as his wife. However, the assorted crooked cops and politicians are too clichéd to be fully credible characters, but not flamboyant enough to be engaging villains.

Wearing its class consciousness on its sleeve, the Marathi Rupee shares a thematic kinship with the Hindi Peepli Live, but it lacks the magnetic charm of a Naseeruddin Shah. Still, its skepticism of government and politics is hard to argue with. It just doesn’t really leave us anyplace to go but down. For those looking for something highly respectable and polemical, 1,000 Rupee Note is all that, but it isn’t so much fun when it screens tonight (11/19) as part of this year’s SAIFF.