DANAV (Makrand Deshpande, 2003)

The title of writer-director Makrand Deshpande’s Hindi film Danav—which, incidentally, variously translates into English as Demon or Beast—pegs the film’s fabulous, mythological style as human nature and the supernatural cross paths, mostly in the mango grove of Thakur Rajah Sahab, where Lakshmi, the teen whom the rajah, obsessed, bought as a 7-year-old child, roams as a princess in her domain, but always under the rajah’s jealous eye. The orchard, then, doubles as love’s prison, which bounds us to what we are and what we may become under its duress. When a worker in the grove eyes Lakshmi a little too healthily, the rajah, in a rage, blinds him—in closeup, before an unblinking camera.
     Blindness is a motif throughout. Telling the story, in voiceover, is the rajah’s blind guardian of the grove (played by Deshpande), and a major character also ends up blind. Too often we are blind to the consequences of our unbridled feelings.
     Lonely, Lakshmi pleads for the rajah to give her a partner in the grove: Danav, the strongman from the circus that the rajah also has brought into the village. (There is a Felliniesque air to all this.) Danav is indeed a demon or beast, but his conflict with the rajah over Lakshmi leads to a reversal of their roles—although the rajah has scarcely been poised to become a pleasant chap. The rajah ends up brutalizing poor Danav with the sharp blade of a talwar as Lakshmi watches.
     Deshpande and his cinematographer (whose name I’ve been unable to find) have given their film colorful sparkle; but its undigested blend of fantastical and melodramatic elements makes for a sometimes clumsy entertainment—and its outbursts of violence are beyond the pale.
     Danav is (some say) based on Deshpande’s play Vasant ka Teesra Yauvan.

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