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Onaatah: A film with a heart

By Neil Nongkynrih

A Review

SHILLONG: One Sunday afternoon a few of us went to Galleria Anjalee Cinema to watch the latest film of Pradip Kurbah- Onaatah.
On hearing the synopsis of the subject matter, I was initially expecting a depressing, heavy going movie. To our great delight, it turned out to be funny, loveable and we were left with a feeling of innocent joy, despite its backdrop of realistic trauma. Kurbah has treated a painful subject with thoughtful dignity and lightened it with rustic humour. He has dared to make a film, which could have easily been considered ‘out of fashion’ in today’s world.
Huge commercially successful films for far too long have been more and more about gimmicks, violence and flesh. Here is a film with a heart.
Presuming Kurbah’s limitations are budget, lack of a thriving theatre culture to source talent and so many other barriers to make a film in this region, he has instead turned these challenges into the positive.
Lack of resources can either dampen a person or make one more creative. For Pradip and his team the latter is confirmed. From his early days as an icebreaker in this arena, he has yet again overcome his own internal and external obstacles and come out with this gem. It is the best Khasi film I have seen thus far and has lifted the bar of film making in Meghalaya by leaps and bounds.
My best guess is that it has and will inspire other local filmmakers. I left the cinema hall feeling so proud. (Although I’ve never met the director).
The two lead roles, Sweety Pala and Merlvin Mukhim were a par above excellent and during a television interview I was asked ‘whom I preferred?’ The answer was simple-Both.
Sweety in the leading role of a woman having gone through the darkest period in her life did not ‘overdo’ her part. The demands of her role could have easily made her slip into a melodramatic victim (more suitable for soap opera) but she contained herself, much to our relief. Instead, she spoke so much through subtle eye and facial expression.
Merlvin has made the ‘villager’ into a delicious romantic hero with character.  He did not need to go to the gym and wear Armani to attract the women but instead made the audience laugh so much. Most importantly, Merlvin was not ‘trying’ to be comedic-just pure talent and sheer sincere hard work. The chemistry of both the leads made one feel it was reality that we were watching.
Obviously, the film has its imperfections but I’m not here with a magnifying glass, which should be reserved more for the aged and well equipped Hollywood and her other rich offshoots.
It’s a fair review I believe when we judge a product, which shines despite discouraging and many a times- hopeless fencing. Iranian films are another example of this.
If I were a person who has never been to this region, watching this film would immediately make we want to book a flight ticket to see rural Meghalaya.
The cinematography was so beautiful (and what wonderful enhancing musical score).
I believe we will see more revival in tourism if this film is seen in as many parts of the world as possible.
The other characters in the movie were also of a wonderful standard adding so much colour and soul, like the grandmother, the blind man, the aunt and the uncle etc. I could go on and on, but in doing so I might add more spoilers rather than enhance people’s appetite to go and see the film.
We live in a world of free downloads and pirated copies but if we are to see movie making blossom in our small but creative pond, let’s buy a ticket and thus contribute to their well deserved efforts, hence encouraging the future of regional film making.
Our state has an abundance of untapped talent but we need one another to boost and hearten those who are daring enough to pursue their dreams.
The film has deserved every award it has received. I am no professional film critic but as a very fussy movie buff I would say it’s worth the drive to the cinema and the ticket price. Go for it.
Take the whole family and you won’t regret it. I didn’t!

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