sonchiriya movie review

The only other film which matched up, and sometimes surpassed Shekhar Kapur’s classic, which foreground the remarkable tale of Phoolan Devi in a searing cauldron of caste and class, was Tigmanshu Dhulia’s 2010 Paan Singh Tomar. It was as real as movies can be. In 2019, to ask us to watch a film on the dacoits of Chambal, is to hold out the promise of something new, while paying full attention to realism. Abhishek Chaubey’s very scenic Sonchiriya, tramping along those nooks and crevices of the Chambal, expending hundreds of bullets and quarts of spraying blood, made familiar by countless ‘daaku’ films of the 70s and 80s, almost always feels like a retread.

Sonchiriya takes its looks very seriously. Its band of dacoits are clad in torn and worn khakee, the holsters in which they keep their guns look used, their socks and shoes look as if they have been on those feet for miles and miles. But the film never feels as real as it should: these are actors, some of them the most brilliant we have, play-acting, and doing a great job but play-acting all the same, at being ‘daakus’. Bajpayee always catches the eye, and there are a bunch of authentic faces playing bit parts, but the one recognisable man who feels as if he belongs to the terrain here is Ashutosh Rana, playing a Gujjar cop out for vengeance.

The mid-70s, during the Emergency (we know this because we hear Mrs Gandhi’s famous proclamation on radio in the background), was a time when dacoits were being enticed by the government to lay down arms and surrender, because the time for ‘dacaiti’ was over. We hear this conversation repeated in the movie: for a film which is meant to be full of action, these ‘daakus’ speak a lot. More dialoguing than speaking.