Kadvi Hawa movie review: Sanjay Mishra, Ranvir Shorey excel in this nuanced take on climate change
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
How do you teach a child living in a drought-ridden region the meaning of the word monsoon? An amusing early classroom scene in Kadvi Hawa, in which a teacher asks his students to name the four seasons, encapsulates everything that this film sets out to do: give us reason to think, even while unexpectedly entertaining us in a grim setting.
There are no easy answers in Kadvi Hawa (Bitter Wind, though the filmmaker translates it as Dark Wind). In fact, there are no answers at all. Writer-director Nila Madhab Panda’s latest work, on a poor family in a drought-stricken north Indian village, is filled with questions that strike at the heart of our understanding of humanity.
It is a story of what climate change does – and will do – to our species. It is more than that too: a portrait of desperation, for one. If a victim of extreme poverty, government apathy, the criminal foolishness of generations of human beings and other back-breaking circumstances, were to harm others in his situation to save his own skin, would you condemn him or sympathise? Is there such a thing as a right reaction here?
It has been a few days since I watched this film and I am still grappling with that discussion in my head, as I have for years since I read Viktor E Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a troubling account of the author’s time in concentration camps during World War II – troubling not only for the staggering scale of Nazi cruelty described in its pages, but also because of Frankl’s frank narration of the survival tactics used by some inmates.
In a different time and place, Kadvi Hawa examines the same harsh truths, in a world that feels more comfortable with itself if it can view victims of wrongdoing as repositories of unshakable virtue.
Kadvi Hawa revolves around a blind old man called Hedu (played by Sanjay Mishra) who is worried that his son Mukund (Bhupesh Singh), an impoverished farmer, will commit suicide as he grapples with crop failure and an unrepaid loan. Mukund now sustains the family by doing odd jobs that bring in meager earnings. His wife Parvati (Tillottama Shome) works from morning till night to keep the house running. They have two children: their schoolgoing daughter Kuhu (Ekta Sawant) and their baby Pihu.
Hedu’s fears are heightened by the arrival of the local bank’s loan recovery agent Gunu (Ranvir Shorey), who has a reputation for driving at least a couple of people to suicide at each of his postings.
Already, there are those in the vicinity who have taken their own lives. In this scenario, where nature’s wrath spares no one, unexpected alliances emerge.
When things go wrong, we all want someone – a person or two, an institution perhaps – to blame. Kadvi Hawa offers no easy scapegoats, no black-and-white rationalisations, but a challenging, absorbing realm of grays. This is an unrelenting film where even when humour rears its head, it does so to make a poignant point. Ramanuj Dutta’s cinematography underlines the starkness of the landscape, delivering Hedu’s land to us in all its blandness, as the dust bowl that it is.
The acting – by the primary cast and satellite artistes – is uniformly solid. And the two leads, Mishra and Shorey, deliver towering performances that might make you want to erase from memory some of the more high-profile commercial films they have worked on in Bollywood.
Although climate change is the overriding theme, writer Nitin Dixit (who is credited for the story, screenplay and dialogues, with Panda himself named as a co-writer of the story) finds space here to explore relationships that blossom in misery. There is such sweetness to Hedu’s bond with Pihu, for instance. And in their home, where tension runs high but fights are few and low-key, we sense a numbness camouflaging the despair the adults feel.
Kadvi Hawa could perhaps be seen as a morality tale, but it does not overtly preach. Although its climax walks a fine line on the subject of natural retribution that could be questionable in this superstitious nation, the film’s victory lies in the fact that as the credits roll, we are forced to introspect because the storyteller give us no one in particular to hate.
Nila Madhab Panda’s calling card so far has been his multiple-award-winning 2011 venture I Am Kalam, a sunny tale of a bright kid who is desperate for an education. Kadvi Hawa is a complete break from that film’s tone, but equally compelling.
Reciting a poem he has written on pollution for this one, Gulzar’s voiceover runs over the titles in the end. “…ye zameen darti hai ab insaanon se,” he tells us. This land now fears humans. Not governments, not politicians or industrialists alone, but humans as a whole. Kadvi Hawa is a bitter pill to swallow, and one that is designed to compel us to look within.