The story line of the film ‘Dharm’ follows the life of Pandit Chaturvedi, a highly respected, learned and religious Brahmin, who lives with his wife Parvathi and daughter Vedika, in Benares. His life takes an unexpected turn after he adopts an abandoned baby boy (who was brought into the house by his daughter) and raises him as his own son. The boy, who is named Karthikey, fills Pandit Chaturvedi’s life with joy and happiness. However, this happiness is short lived for Karthikey’s mother returns. It is at this point that Pandit Chaturvedi realizes that he had been bringing up a Muslim boy as a Brahmin.
The family is forced by religion to turn the boy away and Panditji spends much of his time trying to purify his soul, which he believes was contaminated after coming in contact with a Muslim. However, a Hindu- Muslim riot in Benares brings the child back to Panditji’s life. The chaos and turmoil caused by the riot forces the Panditji to question his belief on ‘Dharm’ and paves way to his understanding of the true meaning of religion. Religion, mainly Hinduism, is given the maximum emphasis in this film. This emphasis is done mainly by setting the story in Benares, which is known as a city that upholds Hinduism.
The scenes showing Pandit Chaturvedi offering prayers to the Sun God along with his disciples, the sages present near the Ganges river, the rituals performed by Panditji’s family as well as Suryaprakash’s family, the Panditji quoting verses from the Vedas as well as the Bhagwat Geeta denote Hinduism. The viewer is introduced to issues like caste system and untouchability, which exist in our country. This is first shown in the scene when the sweeper, who accidently touches Pandit Chaturvedi, is beaten up by people.
In this particular scene, the viewer feels that the Panditji would step in and save the sweeper from getting beaten up. However, the viewer is left disappointed for Panditji turns a blind eye to the sweeper’s pathetic condition. Belief in caste system is further shown in the scenes where Pandit Chaturvedi bathes himself in the Ganges after coming in contact with the sweeper, when his disciple explains to the foreign journalist, Paul, that only a few people are blessed to be born Brahmin and when Panditji ignores the old sage who tries to explain to him that all men are equal.
He brings up the abandoned boy and raises him as his son, because both he and his wife believed the child to be a Brahmin and according to Panditji, a Brahmin boy did not deserve to live in an orphanage. However, he turns this boy away soon after realizing that he is Muslim. His belief in caste system is heightened in the scene where he gives away all the possessions of his son and tries to purify his soul, which he believes would have been contaminated after coming in contact with a Muslim soul.
This film was made in the year 2007 and through these scenes the film tries to show its viewers that caste system and issues like untouchability exists in certain parts of India, even in the 21st century. This film also tries to show the position of women in the Indian society. The concept of Pathivrat and that a woman without a husband has no status in the society is frequently repeated in the movie. Parvathi is depicted as a person who never goes against her husband’s wishes.
She refuses to comfort the child while preparing lunch for her husband, she snatches Karthikeya from Vedika and returns him to his biological mother and it is she who shuts the door against Fatima and Karthikeya. She puts her religion and husband before her own feelings and emotions. The character named Mani, is a character who breaks the traditional rules and goes against her family’s wishes by marrying Paul. She is punished for her deeds towards the end of the story, as she returns to her father’s home as a pregnant widow after her husband is killed by a mob.
All through the film, women are portrayed as submissive characters who have no voice of their own. As a viewer the story makes us feel sorry for women characters. For example: Parvathi is unable to show her love for Karthikeya when he returns home to seek refuge in her house, the character Mani is dressed in white and is taken in by her family out of sympathy rather than out of love. Women in this film according to Laura Mulvey’s theory connote a ‘to- be-looked- atness’. A woman in this film is “a bearer of meaning but not maker of meaning.
” As the story progresses, the viewer gets to see the arising conflict between the virtuous Hindu and the fanatic Hindu. The film portrays Pandit Chaturvedi as the virtuous Hindu, while Dayashankar, Suryaprakash and the other Hindu’s who become a part of the mob are portrayed as the fanatic Hindu’s. The viewer sees the virtuous Hindu as the good and pure Hindu, while the fanatics are seen as evil, unreligious and in a way impure. The film makes the viewers feel this way, by means of the dialogues spoken by these characters as well as by the manner in which the camera focuses at them.
For example, in the starting scene, when the viewer sees Panditji offering his prayers to God the viewer can feel the purity in his voice as he chants his prayers. However, in the following scene, when Dayashankar is seen descending the stairs and chanting the prayer, we cannot sense any sign of purity either in his voice or in the manner in which he chants the prayer. Rather the viewer gets to sense casualness in his voice. Moreover, in the scene where Panditji and Dayashankar are speaking to each other, the camera captures both of them from different angles.
The camera focuses at Panditji from the ground, thus making the viewer see him as an important person, while the camera focuses at Dayashankar from above, thus making the viewer look down upon him. This film tries to show its viewers that religious fanaticism often paves way to violence and destruction. The film conveys this message by showing the fanatical Hindu’s (Suryaprakash, Dayashankar and the Hindu’s who form the mob) to be the sole reason behind the communal violence in Benares.
Communal violence is one of the major themes addressed in this film. The viewer sees this first through the television news bulletin watched by Paul. Later, this same television announces the death of Paul after he is killed by a group of Hindu extremists. The scene showing Fatima asking Parvathi to take Karthikeya back, the burning of Muslim flags, dead bodies, bloodshed, the strewn flowers on the banks of the river as well as the mob chasing a lone man, are some of the elements used in this film to denote communal violence.
The movie focuses on the large group of people who take the name of religion in order to kill people who have different beliefs. By showing several scenes of communal violence, the movie tries to tell the viewers that Hindu- Muslim riots or any other riot in the name of religion is an existing bane in our country. The movie also tries to show the violence that existed in our country at the time in which this film was being shot. (Example- The 2006 bombing in Varanasi). The dialogues spoken by each of the characters as well as their dressing style reveal a lot about their personality.
Throughout the film we see that all characters are dressed in simple cotton clothes and that none of them wear any makeup. All this portrays them as real life characters to the viewers. The dialogues spoken by Panditji portray him as a very calm person. The only time we hear him shout is when he calls out his daughters name asking her to return Karthikeya to his mother. However, we see him as a really strict person all through the movie. This is depicted both through his dialogues as well as through his acting throughout the film.
His wife’s dialogues portray her as a very caring and nurturing woman. The viewers can sense a degree of evilness in the manner in which Dayashankar and Suryaprakash speak. Karthikeya’s dialogues, the most repeated one being “Bhabhuji Pooja kar rahein hain”, reveal the innocent side of his character. Throughout the film, the viewer occupies multiple spectator positions. In the scenes wherein we see Panditji performing the Hawan or when the Panditji is teaching his disciples, the viewer is offered a fly-on the wall position.
The viewer also sees some of the scenes in the beginning of the film from Paul’s camera. The scene wherein Karthikeya comes crawling to the Panditji the viewer is made to occupy Panditji’s position and the scene in which Karthikeya is seen swinging is shot from his perspective for we can fell moving towards as well as away from Parvathi and Vedika. In scenes showing communal violence in Benaras, the viewer gets to see the violence from Panditji’s view as he walks down the road. The camera often captures Pandit Chaturvedi in the centre of the screen.
This makes the viewer focus on him thus making him viewed as an important person. Some of the conversations between husband and wife are taken with a window between the two of them. (Eg. The scene wherein Parvathi asks Panditji about the Hawan, when he enquires about the child) The Ganges focuses at the Ganges river very often in the film and the viewer gets an ariel view of the river. The manner in which the river is captured by the camera resembles some of the paintings of Ganges which was painted during the time of the British rule.
The manner, in which the camera captures the Muslims in this film, makes the viewer feel sorry for them. They are often portrayed as the ones who are victimised by the powerful Hindu’s. Light and sound also play a very important role in this film. The film largely makes use of natural light mainly sunlight, light from the oil lamps and the moon light. The scenes showing Karthikeya growing up in the Panditji’s house makes use of bright light. This is used to connote happiness.
The scenes showing Panditji keeping the Chandrayan Vrat uses the Moonlight and light from oil lamps as the major light source. The scenes showing communal violence make use of fire as the sole light source. The music keeps switching throughout the film. We can constantly hear a song with a line ‘Vaibho’ being sung whenever the camera focuses Panditji’s good and wise deeds. Mild music plays in the scenes which focus on the baby. The scenes showing communal violence make use of heavy percussion sounds, predominantly the Bridhangam sounds.
We can hear a tinkling of temple bells being played intermittently in the film. The music played after Panditji explains the true meaning of religion to the mob makes use of piano sounds. Piano is an instrument played in the western countries, and by using it in the last scene, it is used to connote the merging of people with various beliefs. Some of the images used in the film also play a very important role. The image of the boat being tied shows how we are all tied to our religion and caste. The viewers see the boat free only in the scene following Panditji’s realization.
The image showing the burning of flags are used to denote communal violence in our country. There is a resolution in this film, as the viewers see that the complications in the plot are resolved and simplified. The title of the film, which is ‘Dharm’, plays an important role in the film. All through the movie we see people upholding their belief in religion through various ways. However, towards the end of the film the protagonist realizes the true meaning of religion i. e. “Manavatha hain Dharm” (True religion is humanity)
Courtney from Study Moose
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