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Dhulo: Short Film Review

★★★★★

Directed by: #TathagataGhosh

Written by: #TathagataGhosh

Film Review by: Huw Buckley

 


 

Dhulo (The Scapegoat) (2021), written, produced, and directed by Tathagata Ghosh, is an intoxicating short film which very deftly engages with some highly emotive subject matter. In particular, the film tackles endemic racism towards Islamic people in India, an issue that allegedly continues to persist in a country divided along religious lines. Another key theme is the deep-rooted patriarchy engrained within Indian culture, which has been touched upon in recent films such as The Great Indian Kitchen (2021). To deal with such heavy subject matter is bold and the result is a truly rewarding watch. In this respect, the film very much starts as it means to go on, with the brutality ratcheted up to ten from the off; a shocking shot of a decapitated goat’s head - which serves as a symbolic source of tension throughout the film - chosen as a suitable opening for the film.


The film explores the relationship between a rural village with a majority Hindu population and an Islamic couple who are treated as outcasts. The representatives of the Hindu village are Topu (Shimli Basu) and Asif Ali (Ali Akram), whose toxicity borders on unbearable. Their relationship is tension-filled from the start, and it feels antiquated, foregrounding restrictively traditional gender roles. The performances in the film are great, with the female performers Payel Rakshit (Neeta Dutta) and Shimli Basu superb, conveying the fear and claustrophobia of an oppressively patriarchal societal structure. This is representative of the production overall. With an estimated budget of just $2000, the film is surprisingly well-made with rich production values and the excellent performances helping to lift it well above the standards one might expect from such a low-cost production.


The film ends on a bittersweetly hopeful note that feels like a riposte to patriarchal values and xenophobic discourse. In the context of such a complex political climate, taking such a decisive stance is brave filmmaking and, I would say, highly engaging viewing.

 

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