October 21, 2002 
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Raghuvir Yadav
Of death and rejoicing
In Yatharth, life's end is looked at as a beginning

Priya Ganapati

Death is a complex thing. It is also a great unifier.

But what if death becomes the harbinger of riches? What if, when you live in extreme poverty, only a death can bring you food and new clothes? Would you still have the same empathy when someone around you dies? Would you still maintain the facade of sympathy and sorrow appropriate for such an occasion, rather than exult in the food and material riches that the death will bring?

Cruel as it may seem, the answer is no. For those living on the extreme fringes of poverty, when every death brings with it the promise of food and clothes, it becomes a celebration of life. In a way, it completes the circle of life. The death of one sustains life for another.

Yatharth, a film by Rajesh Seth, looks at death from a Chandal's point of view. Budhaii Ram (Raghuvir Yadav) and his motherless young daughter, Bijuria (Shraddha Nigam) live as outcasts of the village in poverty that is so crushing that they have to go without food for days, if there is no death in the village.

Barely four or five years old, Bijuria soon understands that death is the only redemption for their poverty. The twist here being that it is the death of others that brings joy to her. For the young girl, every time a body arrives at the crematorium it means that good food, sweets, flowers and new clothes will follow.

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The chant Ram naam satya hai that accompanies a body to the crematorium is music to her ears. After days of hunger, the chant mean riches, albeit for a few days. The idea takes deeper hold on Bijuria’s mind when she finds her father Budhaii pleading with her to bear with her hunger for a few days as an old woman in the village is on her death bed.

The young girl is so conditioned to believe in death as the solution to their poverty-stricken existence that she starts dancing whenever she hears Ram naam satya hai. It is a Pavlovian response built in to her in response to death.

Bijuria grows up breaking into a dance every time she sees a body approaching the crematorium.

Yatharth explores this irony beautifully. In the latter half of the movie, it digresses and moves on to show the life of Bijuria as she grows up. As a young girl, she is vulnerable to the lecherous men in the village till, in a sudden twist, Budhaii has her married to Jeethe (Milind Gunaji), a truck driver who occasionally drops to smoke pot with Budhaii.

A few days after the marriage, Jeethe goes on his rounds with the truck and does not come back as promised. Soon, a body approaches the crematorium and Bijuria breaks out into a dance again. Only this time, it is Jeethe whom she finds on the pyre.

Milind Gunaji, Raghuvir Yadav in Yatharth Yatharth deals with death in a most unusual manner. The movie is brilliant in the first half where it establishes the life of Budhaii and Bijuria and how death is integral to their existence. More often than not, Bijuria's dance as she sees an approaching funeral procession brings a smile to your lips even as you recoil with the horror of the situation.

Rajesh Seth has based Yatharth on an extraordinary subject and handled it with great sensitivity. Sadly, the film falters all too soon and its flawed second half undoes all the hard work of the first.

A few minutes into developing the relationship between Bijuria and Jeethe, you can sense where the movie will head. When Jeethe's body finally arrives at the crematorium, you have been waiting for it a long time. Even Bijuria's death on seeing Jeethe on the pyre is too smooth, a convenient end to what could have been an intricate tale.

As the Chandal Budhaii Ram, Raghuvir Yadav is brilliant. One of the few truly versatile actors around, Yadav delves beautifully into the character. The hunch of his shoulders, the brisk walk and the way he so casually throws the blanket around his shoulder are little gestures that add to his look.

Shraddha Nigam as Bijuria is sufficiently naďve and playful. Jeethe played by Milind Gunaji is the only character that is sketchy and jars the smooth narrative. Gunaji looks too sophisticated to play the part and his character comes without much of a history or introduction.

Another major flaw with the film is the cinematography and the locales. It is cursory, indifferent and, at places, awfully artificial. Budhaii's hut, the cremation ground or even the village are not evocative enough to add to the experience. They scream out loud the limitations of making a movie on a low budget.

In all, Yatharth is a 'festival film', one created to satisfy the director's creative urge and then flogged on the film festival circuit.

Pity, since it is a film with promise and provides a fair amount of entertainment, though in a morbid way.

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