Kothanodi: A Film That Will Crawl Into Your Head and Make Itself At Home There
Posted on 9 September, 2016 by Team Wishberry
It’s been quite the year for horror films – and the run seems like it’s going to go on for a while. In this commercially tried, tested and endlessly exploited stream, quietly flows Kothanodi – an Assamese film based on four dark folk tales. The tales are around motherhood, albeit in a completely different light.
The four narratives can be put as follows: a man burying infant after infant in a dark forest, a mysterious elephant apple fruit following an equally mysterious lady, a stepmother and her demon lover’s plot to kill her stepdaughter, and a girl who is married off to a python by her greedy mother.
The film is a dark one. And the tone for it is set right from the opening scene, where we see the earlier mentioned man burying a baby alive in a dark forest. Thus begins a slow but strongly gripping journey into Assam’s magic realism.
The films director - Bhaskar Hazarika, deftly weaves these independent narratives into one solid feature, like a skilled weaver. Not once does the film get too wound up in its own storyline, nor does it allow one track to overpower another. The balance is mesmerising, borderline black magic. What drives the story harder home is the stunning juxtaposition of the dark, grisly stories against a rather idyllic and quaint rural Assam and its seemingly regular characters. It’ll make you reconsider “that trip to North East”.
Speaking of characters, this is a film consisting of an extraordinary cast. Starring indie favourite Adil Hussain, talent powerhouse Seema Biswas, and stunning actors like Zerifa Wahid, Kapil Bora and Urmila Mahanta, it is delightful to see acting that’s executed with such restrain and brilliance. They’re believable to a point where you’re either squirming in your seat or mouthing things off at the screen or just praying to whatever Gods you can think of. But the two actors who absolutely steal the show are Seema Biswas as the greed-crazed mother hell bent on marrying her daughter off to a wild python just to prove a point, and Zerifa Wahid as the young wife jealous of her step daughter. Zerifa’s portrayal of Senehi will be branded in your memory for a long time to come. She’s the stepmother we grew up listening about, but yet aren’t prepared to see come to life. Someone give that woman an award already.
Kothanodi is a unique experience. A perspective on Indian folktales no one thought of showing us, until Bhaskar. And for this we will forever be grateful. But what further elevates this experience is Amarnath Hazarika's background score. It’s rustic, eerie and continues to echo in your mind like bells in a graveyard at 3 a.m.
The way the film flows is as smooth as the river that connects the film’s narratives. You don’t need to bet your money on the fact that perhaps the greatest challenge of the film has been to narrate all four stories equally well. However, Bhaskar strikes a balance that’s not only beautiful, but also a hair-raising rollercoaster ride – one that you can barely tell has begun until you’re at the highest point waiting for that deadly drop. In fact, it comes as a surprise that this is only his first ever film.
The film is two hours long, which does seem rather tedious, especially through the first half when you’re still trying to figure out the direction it is heading in. But hang in there, because it gets so much better, like a spell working its way into your mind, leaving you glued to the screen until the very end.
Before there was Disney to numb our minds with sunshines and rainbows and happy endings, there were Brothers Grimm, there were dark folktales where innocence lost the battles against vile monsters of human nature, where good didn’t always vanquish evil. There were stories we grew up on that truly explored the depths of human depravity, that made you ask uncomfortable questions. Kothanodi is a fitting tribute to of all this. It is also an epic nod to the other face of India – the land of remote forests, witches, demons and magic.
What a time to be alive, for fans of dark tales, magic realism and things that make people uncomfortable. They just don’t make films like this anymore, especially in India. Devour it while it exists. The film is set to have a cinematic release on the 16th of September, in Assam.