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High-octane comic satire on Gujarat cops influenced by colonial 'criminal tribes' law

Community leader Chhanalal with Raghlo, the petty thief
By Rajiv Shah 
Released across Gujarat and Mumbai last Friday, not unexpectedly, “Kamthaan”, a Gujarati feature film based Ashwinee Bhatt’s novel, has received wide appreciation from the audience as well as the media for action, direction and production. While the Times of India, in a review, has given it 4 out of 5 stars to the movie, calling it “out-and-out comedy”, replete with “laugh riot”, individuals from Gujarati industry are quoted as appreciating the movie with “applause”.
Social media has appreciative comments ranging from Modi bhakt actors Manoj Joshi and Paresh Rawal, to top Dalit rights leader and Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani. Set in an imaginative small town of Central Gujarat and timed around 2000, when BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel ruled the state, there is nothing to complain about the manner in which the Harfanmaula Films produced the movie -- acting, direction, story telling.
What, however, appears to be missing in the wide appreciation the movie has initially received is the powerful message it seeks to offer: Much like the Harfanmaula Films’ previous release, “Hellaro” (2019), “Kamthaan” too centres around the rebellious nature of a subaltern social group which seeks to find ways, in its own crude style, to rebel against an oppressive social order.
If in “Hellaro”, which means “outburst” in English, it is the women in a remote village who rebel against the patriarchal social order which does not allow them dance to the tune, in “Kamthaan” (roughly “chaos” in English), it is a denotified tribe (DNT), dubbed by a 19th century British law as “criminal”, for seeking to rebel against corrupt and casteist police officialdom. It’s quite another thing that “Hellaro”, set in 1975 in a rural backdrop, is a serious film, while “Kamthaan”, set in 2000 in small town backdrop, is a hilarious comedy, a satirical comment on the corrupt offialdom.
Rathod with his junior cops
While the British law calling about 200 DNT tribes has “criminal” may have been repealed, “Kamthaan” reveals a glaring fact: that the colonial legacy continues among cops in Gujarat, as elsewhere, till today. Such is the legacy that of all persons Kiran Bedi in controversial tweet in 2016 called people from ex-criminal tribes as "hardcore professionals in committing crimes" – which she had to later apologise following protests.
It is in this backdrop that the movie goes out of the way to use the so-called criminal nature of the tribe to point out how the community seeks to project how small time theft is used a rugged way to resist the power-that-be, especially the police administration, which openly discriminates against it. One of the dialogues in the movie says it all: “Nana manas na haathe lakhato hoye, tyare khabar na hoy ke itihas rachahyi rahyo che”, suggesting, people from ordinary background aren’t aware that they are the makers of history.
The movie revolves around a petty thief, Raghlo, in a midnight attempt, creeps into the just-promoted police sub-inspector Rathod’s house via his semi-pucca rooftop. Sensing that he has entered the wrong house, aghast, he first lights a lamp before a picture of Lord Hanuman, hanging on the wall, expresses regret with folded hand, but finally gathers courage and runs away from the rooftop hole he had created with the cop’s uniform, pistol, medals, and some cash.
If the theft in the town’s top cop’s house, where he temporarily lives even as he awaits getting a police quarter, puts the entire policedom in a quandary, the act is seen as a valiant move by community leader Chhanalal. While Raghlo is terrified about the consequences he might suffer from for burgling into the house of a top policeman, Chhanalal calls it a “valiant act”, which he believes greatly adds to the glory of the community, which is targeted by the town’s casteist cops.
The theft, in fact, is seen as symbolising revenge against the custodial death of a community youth in the past. Replete with instances of how the police sub-inspector’s juniors in the town police station scheme in order to identify and catch the thief without filing an FIR, or revealing that the theft had taken place in the house of the sub-inspector, the movie shows how the junior cops seek to scheme, use pressure if needed, to keep it a secret, even as seeking regular “hafta” (bribe).
The movie’s flashpoint comes in the form of a “Parsang” (Prasang or occasion), in which  community people and cops gather. It is organised by Chhanalal, ostensibly to celebrate Raghlo’s valiant act of thieving in the house of the town’s topcop. The event coincides with the worried poor petty thief getting is daughter married. Ghanshyam Zula, a Kutchi folk singer, is seen singing a song, which continuously repeats the words “daru ni dhaar...” (flow of liquor) in a state where prohibition rules the roost.


Maya Valecha said…
I enjoyed the movie and agree on all points, but on second thought I found that there was no mention, hint of lower police staff sends part from their hafta to higher officials, reaches politicians. High level corruption is missing.
Tulsi Patel said…
Very invitingly appreciative review. Talent!!


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