Verdict: Hellaro beautifully puts forth important issues through captivating performances and brilliant choreography.

In his directorial debut, Abhishek Shah won the National Film Award for his social drama Hellaro. This was the first Gujarati movie to bag the honor of Best Feature Film and 13 female actresses from the film also won the Special Jury Award for their performances. The much-hyped movie finally hits theatres this week and it has also been selected as the opening film at the International Film Festival of India later this month. Based in a rural village of Kutch, Hellaro explores the idea of freedom through dance while highlighting other poignant issues.

What’s Hellaro About: 

Small-town girl Manjhri (Shraddha Dangar) is married and sent off to live in the remote desert village of Samarpura. There, women are confined to their homes except for a few hours in the morning when they fetch water from a nearby oasis. Every night, the men in the village perform garba to appease the goddess for a bountiful rainfall while the women stay at home. One day on their way to fetch water, the ladies come across a man passed out in the sand from exhaustion. The women hesitate to help him as they’re not allowed to talk to strange men. But Manjhri takes pity and offers him some water, thus saving his life. The man introduces himself as Mulji (Jayesh More), a low-born dholak. Manjhri urges him to play the dhol and begins to dance. After initial hesitation, the other women join her in garba. Every day, the women meet Mulji and dance away to glory, away from the eyes of the men that constrain them.

What Works: 

Abhishek Shah smartly uses dance as a form of expression and freedom for the women of Samarpura. Through garba, these women find their inner voice and take back control over their bodies. The choreography for their sequences is well-designed, especially for the final dance. The sense of freedom and the feeling of elation is reverberant in their movement. Even the choreography for the men’s garba is fascinating and begins the movie with a high tempo.

Watching Hellaro, it’s not hard to see why this movie could be a festival-favorite. It highlights various issues in society such as patriarchy, casteism, and superstition, and presents them in a way that will connect with the audience. You can sympathize with the women in the film and snort at the ignorance of the men who worship the goddess but disrespect the women in their lives. There’s also that one character who exists merely for comic relief and here, it is Bhaglo (Maulik Nayak), who intermittently provides comfort in this otherwise hard-hitting film. The climax does not necessarily have a conclusive end but there’s much to take away from the final performance.

What Could’ve Been Better: 

Hellaro can be an uncomfortable watch for many who are ignorant of the issues the movie aims to bring to the limelight. Since the movie is set in the mid-70s, some of the customs in the village may seem outdated but still happen to be the reality of many rural women in the 21st century.

Why You Should Watch: 

Hellaro brings a poignant story to Indian cinema and complements it with captivating performances and brilliant choreography. It provides both a good story with decent entertainment while highlighting pertinent issues that need to be addressed.