When I was a kid, we used to play Cricket, sometimes one on one, to heighten the thrill of encounters. We often called it a game between India and Pakistan the only issue was – Who would be India?
Two Girls – feisty and fabulous, greasy hair, cavity-ridden teeth, related by blood, in a bloody relationship, form the core of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Patakha. They are at constant war with each other. Unhinged and unperturbed, intolerant of each other’s existence, they don’t mind mudslinging or getting down and dirty. Both quite literally throw punches at each other on a rainy day with a herculean might on a mat of dung, Cow-dung.
They have a dream, one sees herself as an entrepreneur, the owner of a dairy. The other sees education, English specifically – as the way to upward social mobility. These girls are in more ways than one symbolic of India and Pakistan. Two nations rising born out of the same land, jealous of each other’s rise – the only stairway to success and societal reverence being English and Entrepreneurship.
They meet their men, men that will act as a bridge towards their dream. Do they love them? They think so for sure. There’s a scene where one of the “darlings” promises financial support. His girl, she rests her head on his shoulders, in the background, there’s a picture of our PM resting himself on Trump. They use their man in their game of chess. While one of them gets her girl a haircut, the other gets a nice dress. Moments like these are genuinely funny. They’re both being chased by a lecherous man. They both run away and as fate would have it end up being in the same house again. All this while they’re supported by someone they call “Dipper.” He provokes them to fight, to him they’re born to fight, just like India and Pakistan, and they have to separate just like India and Pakistan to realize their own personal dreams. He’s the one who “bails” them out after igniting the fire in them, each time.
Vishal Bhardwaj is an auteur who uses satire as a weapon. He weaves tales of political indignation. In Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola he took on Capitalism and the Government’s love for SEZ’s, in Haider, he took on the draconian AFSPA and here he subtly hints at political mileage derived from “Surgical strikes”, and the concept of Nationalism in today’s India. The film tries to say a lot of things. At times looks a bit over indulgent. The constant reminders of symbolism is in your face, but the film works like Magic as his India and Pakistan are in top form.
Sanya and Radhika unlike India and Pakistan can’t be separated. They get into the skin of the character, not just physically but mentally. They look every bit rustic and wild. Just look at them as they break into a Sheila ki Jawani – trying to convince dipper that they’re happy with their life. Or the scene where they provoke their husbands to fight. When Radhika’s husband hits Sanya’s husband, his younger brother and an army-man, she incites him by questioning the Indian Army followed by Bharat Mata ki Jai. It’s a hilarious sequence.
Their relationship is complicated, much like life, even when one shows signs of affection its wrapped in anger. They’re so obsessed with fighting that they almost feel embarrased when they need to show care. While Radhika steals Sanya’s clothes, in the same sequence she covers her in a blanket. While Sanya rejoices when Radhika loses the toss, she still pours milk for her (even when Sanya hates milk). While the whole family celebrates their success, the sisters lose themselves to delusion. However, they still drink milk and eat Lady-Fingers for each other’s well being.
Every player in this game of war is terrific. Sunil Grover as the slimy yet sensible Dipper is Top-notch. He delivers some of the best lines and acts as a narrator to this rustic street play. Saanand Verma as the lecherous suitor Patel looks totally creepy and Vijay Raaz delivers a nuanced performance as a father caught in No Man’s Land. Why do my daughters always fight, he says? – It’s a question that troubles everyone.
The camerawork is in sync with the mood of the film. Everything the society considers beautiful has been ignored. The women are fat and uncouth, there’s a shot of shit lying on the floor and while the shooting has been done in Udaipur, the mandatory scenes of Pichola lake are nowhere to be found. Instead the camera captures the narrow lanes around Jagdish Mandir populated by cows and cow-dung.
As I said, when we were kids we used to play Cricket between India and Pakistan, the question always was, who is India? There’s a scene in this film where Dipper tells the warring sisters that the road that leads to their dreams is “Partition.” Partition between India and Pakistan. When he’s with Radhika he asks him, who is India? He tells her she’s older, so she’s India. When he goes to Sanya, he says you represent “Swach Bharat” so you’re India. Hence feeding the ego of both the women while getting his work done. If you look at our media and politics, it strikes a similar chord in both India and Pakistan. It’s time to hug out the difference and stop bursting “Pataakha”s on the border because at the end of the day, we were born out of the same land.