Dal Bhat (2021): A pure portrait of trapped innocence
In this analysis, Dipankar Sarkar provides insight into the National Award winning short film Dal Bhat.
Nemil Shah's short film Dal Bhat is set in a small village in Kutch, where a ten-year-old boy, Mukti, wants to go swimming in the recently filled lake after years of drought. As Mukti prepares to take his first dip in the lake, he notices the hesitant glances of his fellow village mates. Their disapproving stares hint at the deeply ingrained disgrace surrounding his identity, which adds to his growing self-doubt and the stigma associated with it. Conflicted between his longing for a refreshing swim and the fear of societal judgment, Mukti questions himself whether he should challenge these norms or conform to them.
The story of the film underscores the need for acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ individuals, who face numerous challenges in a society that often fails to acknowledge their true identities. Through Mukti's journey, we are reminded of the importance of embracing diversity and breaking free from societal expectations to create a more inclusive world. As Mukti's father has to face the wrath of the angry villagers for hiding the gender of his child, it highlights the deep-rooted prejudices and discrimination that exist in society. By following the young boy’s ordeal, we witness the transformative power of self-acceptance and the courage it takes to challenge our fate and refuse to be victims of circumstance.
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The nearly empty alleys and vast landscape of the village serve as the perfect backdrop for solitude and reflection. The lake not only stands as a silent witness to the peaceful serenity that envelops the entire place but also as a medium through which the protagonist can wash away the blemish attached to his identity. As he takes a dip, bare bodied, there is a sense of liberation. We expect that as he emerges from the water, he will achieve a renewed sense of purpose and clarity, ready to face the challenges ahead.
The performances by the child actors Jinay Haria and Valand Khyal have genuineness and innocence that are charming. The chemistry between both of them is palpable, creating a friendly dynamic on screen that is nothing less than touching. Sanjay Mishra has a brief presence in the film and plays an important role as a wanderer. He helps the protagonist come out of the clutch of self-doubt. The cinematography by Dhaval Samant captures the isolated surroundings of the village as well as the beauty of its natural landscapes, with visual compositions that reflect the shunned attitude of the villagers that the protagonist goes through. When Mukti is within the safety of his house, the claustrophobic atmosphere also becomes palpable. However, once he steps outside, the vastness of the world engulfs him, exacerbating his feelings of isolation. The editing by Rishiraj Bhattacharyya keeps the pace of the narrative constant and gives it a sense of urgency. The sound design by Keyur Marolia carefully maintains a balance between the silence, dialogues, and ambient sound to bring out the loneliness enmeshed within the theme of the film. The production design by Ishita Joshi further enhances the realistic approach of the film, creating a believable world for the audience.
Image: film still
Dal Bhat succeeds in expressing its concern with the search for identity and the burdens of the present and the elusive hope of a better future. At the 69th National Film Awards, it won the award for best short film.