Dhund movie review: Tight screenplay elevates this timely reminder of the horrors from post-Partition riots

Anupam Kant Verma

December 08, 2018 17:05:23 IST

It is difficult to view things clearly in the fog. Those who walk into it run the risk of losing their way, albeit momentarily. One can argue that sometimes we walk into the fog with the intent of momentarily losing our way, hoping we will not have to confront the full gravity of the consequences of our acts on emerging from it. The weight of fog as metaphor hangs like a shroud over Sudeep Kanwal’s Dhund. It presses down on the characters, poking their buttons, threatening to lead them astray. This weight becomes all the more unbearable upon reflection, as the father and son in the film sit across a drink laden table, attempting to cut through the fog of time to confront the ghosts of the past that haunt it.

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A still from Dhund. YouTube

The year is 1958. Santokh (Vipin Sharma) is the patriarch of a household in Ferozepur, Punjab. One evening, he sits his elder son down across from him to drink. Harmeet (Sharib Hashmi) is taken aback for his father has always been a teetotaler. Santokh begins reminiscing about his younger son, slowly getting agitated. The he suddenly pulls out a gun and challenges Harmeet to a round of Russian Roulette, hoping to wrest the truth of the past out of him.

The story shifts to 1947. Santokh is sheltering a Muslim family in his house. He wants to provide safe passage to them towards Pakistan. Outside, the Hindu-Muslim riots rage on. Santokh decides that Ahmad’s family should start moving towards the border at dawn. As they all head out towards the border in the cold, blue dawn, a pistol shot rends the air as a tragedy begins to unfold in the fields wrapped in fog.

Kanwal’s film builds an impressive rhythm towards its denouement. While the editing could have been far more fructifying in its overall contribution to the film, Dhund presses on hitting the right notes within an overall atmosphere of dread. The creators’ unease with using the Punjabi language to tell their story rears its head with annoying frequency in the film. Frankly, it does its fair share in distracting from the earnestness of the narrative, which is all the more disappointing in a film that is mounted with the intent of sparring with the past to shed light on the present. These mis-steps are annoying on account of their dispensability, for a little more self-belief could have gone a long way in avoiding them. The universal resonance of their story’s emotional core should have sufficed to convince them to forgo using a mixture of two languages.

The riots that followed the partition of India by the British are a harrowing reminder of the madness that can spread like contagion through the mob. When Harmeet, his head hung in shame, rues, “I don’t know what happened to us back then”, he is echoing a collective sentiment that runs rampant through history. Ordinary, supposedly pacific folk driven to slaughter and bloodshed in the name of religion or country, with the innocent usually bearing the brunt of our collective stupidity. A fog descends upon all, leaving few untainted or unaffected. Creditably, Kanwal communicates this with efficiency, especially considering the short, 24-minute runtime of his endeavour. We do not know a lot about Ahmad and his family, perhaps owing to the short time frame. But Sharma and Hashmi’s strong central performances and the respectful, non-patronising attitude of the creators ensures an effective, moving viewing experience.    

Dhund is a timely reminder of a warning from history. A warning against complacence that often results in collective irrationality and herd behaviour. It reminds us of the toll that submission to the fog with its many anxieties and pleasures can exact from us. That when things become too clouded to see clearly, it falls upon us to make more efforts lest we miss the wood for the trees. For however much we try to convince ourselves against it, one misstep is all it takes to become one with the mob.

Updated Date: Dec 08, 2018 17:05 PM