In Achal Mishra’s second feature from last year, “Dhuin,” we got a fascinatingly poignant story of an aspiring actor’s dream that was told through a deeply aching tussle with reality. The execution of that film made sure its immersive feel was enough for us to look past the fog of uncertainty in rooting for its lead. In doing so, it amplified the portrait of everyday suffering told through a somber lens. While the suffering in that film stemmed from the indifference of the external world, the tragedy came from the very passivity its protagonist was found to be enveloped by the end of the story.

In Vinod Rawat’s debut feature, “Pushtaini,” which made its South Asia Premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2023, we follow the story of a similarly struggling actor named Bhuppi. The film starts as we watch him perform halfway through a scene performance in the role of a villain (alongside a cameo from a famous actor). However, his multiple attempts at cracking the scene get haltered when Bhuppi finds himself caught in an embarrassing scandal. Will he be able to secure his seemingly last chance at stardom?

Shot in his own ancestral village of Uttrakhand, Rawat uses non-professional actors, including his own family members, throughout the movie. Rita Heer, who also shares a co-writer credit on the film, plays a prominent character who becomes key in driving the narrative push of the film. It marks the point where Bhuppi encounters a diverse cast of people and circumstances that ultimately shape his journey as an artist. In that regard, “Pushtaini” attempts to explore how the transformative power of an artist’s life is a function of how their conditioning shapes them.

Vinod Rawat in Pushtaini (2023)
Vinod Rawat in Pushtaini (2023)

But the biggest drawback of the film remains in how underexplored this transformation seems. While the screenplay remains unafraid to show the lead as a flawed person, his moral reckoning never comes across as fleshed out as one would hope from such a story. The final act of the movie particularly feels rushed in this regard, not because Bhuppi’s emotions seem half-baked, but because the motivations of the characters that surround him feel contrived.

An alumnus of FTII, Rawat has had a promising career in coaching talented actors (Hrithik Roshan, Sonam Kapoor, and Sushmita Sen, to name a few). But his lead performance goes overboard in an attempt to lure the audience with his vulnerability instead of letting the writing earn those emotions out of the viewer. Despite that, the filmmaker’s instinctive feel of tapping into that sense of vulnerability and moral threats that artists tend to face effectively remains the key driving force for the film.

While films like “Dhuin” were more interested in looking inward to allow the existential despair of the struggling artist to seep in, “Pushtaini” uses its premise to make the very artist reconcile with his past. In doing so, it makes a case for what merits the dynamics shared between the art and the artist hold in a society, or even if the two ever remain mutually exclusive. Rawait is more interested in providing us snippets of his lead’s daily life, trusting the everyday suffering to exude as a consequence of that. Disputed family inheritance is what brings Bhuppi back to his hometown, but it’s only the company of an unexpected ally that changes him for good. By the end, he not only becomes more in tune with what he wants as an actor but also becomes a changed man.

Pushtaini has Asian Premier at Jio MAMI Film Festival (2023)

Also, Read: Stolen (2023) ‘MAMI’ Review

Pushtaini (2023) Information

Pushtaini External Link: IMDb
Director: Vinod Rawat
Genre: Comedy, Drama, LGBTQIA+
Language(s: English, Hindi, Kumaoni
Year: 2023

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