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Film review: Kothanodi

A film that begins with a baby being buried alive is never going to be an easy watch. What surprises about Kothanodi after this shocking opening scene however, is that this isn’t a film about the unjust murder of female babies, as one may assume. It is in fact an imaginative, creative and original narrative that is steeped in the myth of local fables. Based on folklores from Assam, the story focuses on the parallel tales of four very different women: a single girl who lives alone, the stormy relationship between a mother and her step-daughter, a woman who is grieving after the murder of her children and a young bride who is anticipating her wedding day. While these scenarios sound like everyday occurences, each tale has its own unique journey.

Assam, the backdrop to the eerie world the protagonists inhabit is introduced as a land of magic. Writer/Director Bhaskar Hazarika, grew up in the region, hearing popular folklore and for his major movie directorial debut, he has taken these classic accounts and reinterpreted them for a new, unsuspecting audience.

The film shifts between scenes that are easy on the eye (the setting is stunning) to solemn, and often scary visions. Some of the scenes of violence and torture make for very uneasy viewing, there’s no shying away from the horror of domestic abuse when it comes to the stepmother punishing her step daughter, but this is juxtaposed against her character's evident disconnection with the real world, as her bizarre friendship with a creature of the night, shows.

One of the lighter stories, is that of a young woman, who gets followed around by an outenga, an Assamese vegetable. Affectionate and peculiar, the round green object constantly reacts to her presence and despite having no features, it manages to acquire an emotional connection with the viewer, for simply being so curious.

About as unusual as weddings on celluloid get, another tale is that of a girl who marries a python. Villagers gather from afar to witness the spectacle, but it's by no means the typical Indian wedding scene. It gets uneasier by the minute, especially when the viewer learns of the reasoning of this alliance, and later, its consequences.

Daring and dramatic, Kothanodi is a film that entertains and intrigues. The acting is at times overly theatrical, but then due to the content, this doesn't seem misplaced. The use of puppetry enhances the fantasy elements while the mysterious background score sets the scene perfectly for the superstitions and stories that engulf the viewer from start to finish.

With its strong cultural roots, relevant themes, female centric content and originality, Kothanodi is an Indian film that satisfies and stuns, and should be recognised for its honest and passionate approach to rekindling the kinds of magical, mystical stories that mainstream movies rarely touch upon.

Kothanodi had its European premiere at The BFI London Film Festival will run from October 7-18, 2015

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