Verdict: A thoughtful exploration of hypocrisy – Diksha manages to project the ill-fate of lives staunchly dictated by texts and scriptures.
A film like Diksha is not an easy one to make. It requires a thorough understanding of the roots from where the story originates. Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy’s novella gets adapted on screen as Diksha that narrates a story set in 1930 southern Karnataka. Despite its birth on celluloid for a second time, the screenplay is established in a way that draws your attention not to one solid argument, but emerges to be a dialogue that skips back and forth between contexts.
Filmmaker Arun Kaul’s debut and only directorial feature film, Diksha, brings to screen the story of an upper caste Brahmin Udup Pandit (Manohar Singh), his youngest disciple seeking initiation, a widowed daughter who is accused and pronounced dead by her father – the Hindu priest and the dimly-lit life of a low caste Shudra named Koga.
Practiced widely in early India, the film shows students-cum-disciples coming in search of Diksha meaning initiation, that marks the rebirth and sanctification of a person by mind. 11 year-old Narayan Bhatt (Ashish Mishra) is admitted at a Gurukul run by Udup Pandit and her daughter which is home to a pair of students who are joined by the young entrant.
When the Brahmin leaves his village for a brief duration, the widowed daughter falls weak for the lust of flesh. News of her pregnancy spreads like wildfire in the village which bring to the fore few other characters in the story. When the father of the child refuses to shoulder responsibility, Yamuna – the widow, is left with no other alternative but to abort the unborn.
Arun Kaul’s direction though doesn’t lack command, yet falls short of surety with the flow of his film. The dialogues you hear, the images you see and the emotions that are demonstrated, run parallel but never coincide, leaving a void in the viewing experience at large.
News of his daughter’s pregnancy brings back the priest to his village, and the Brahmin community looks up to him for his decision on the sin committed by his daughter. Politics and power among Godmen forms a parallel narrative with Manjunath (Vijay Kashyap) plotting against Udup Pandit. The only two left to rebuke the father’s decision to perform ‘Ghatashraddha’ – a Hindu ritual where the alive is pronounced dead are Koga and Shreekar Upadhyay, an ex-student of the priest.
Meanwhile, art house delight Nana Patekar as Koga makes his performance an onscreen bonus. With a heavy South Indian accent, the actor makes an impact when he delivers his lines in a climax scene where he refuses to accept the decision of the Brahmin.
By the end, the film challenges the existence of the educated incapable of emerging just, when put to test and it also focuses on ones ability to respond to the inner calling going against all that he has learned about in his life. Alongside, the film is also a true picture of the feeling of attachment humans develop by merely spending time in prevailing circumstances. Diksha also is a testament to the greed for staying in power.
While cinema offering more than one dimension isn’t much of a hassle for us as viewers, Arun Kaul’s Diksha despite being worth the time, never completely invests in either of the multiple tracks which it offers to share.
Why should you watch this film?
The performances by Nana Patekar and Manohar Singh aren’t seen much in the actors playing similar roles today. Watch the film for a director’s sincere attempt at showing a film about some elements of a society you are most likely moving ahead with.
Diksha is a title under the NFDC label ‘Cinemas of India’. The film is out on home video by NFDC.
By Soham Bhattacharyya