Tired but railroaded steps that have created another history of pain, humiliation and farce towards life, tears that have exposed the bitter side of an ironically intellectualized civilization, open sittings, that have destroyed the posh slogans of luxurious, absurd ethic of vague feminism under secured roofs, and the plight of the pseudo gods in genetic poverty– are the taglines of BHOR.

Philip Manthra, the person who has been working for the last 38 years for the headway of a community, which is at the bottom of India’s hundreds of Dalit sub-castes, who still hunt and eat rats, and so named as “musahars”, scattered in many parts of Bihar,  has told that in 1979, when he had visited a Musahar dominated village and asked for a glass of water, knowing that 65 households of Musahars were living without a drop of water during summer, “… it took 45 minutes for them to arrange it for me from the house of a landowner in a nearby village,” he recalls. “One can imagine how they were living even without water then.”1

The musahars are living in a next level of poverty and too marginalized to be in limelight. But, the situation is changing; the community is trying to educate their children, especially girls, but allowed to live only in the hamlets marked for them, being the victims of tremendous social and caste discrimination, their journey of life is much harder than any generic layer of the society. The persistent indignity suffered by the musahars has even broken their constitutional right to live with dignity and forced them to become unskilled laborers, destroying all their possibilities of transforming themselves to promising human resources. Through the lens of this destitute, marginalized community, Bhor is projected to mirror what goes on there “through them”, and not through history.

But every suffering has a span; pain penetrates someone when he or she allows it to be that vulnerable. Human life with all its latent potency emerges from time to time to bring new assets to the narrative of its indefinite course of mobility. A rural lass, Budhni(Saveere Gaur) locates this intimate suffering, love for life, respect for her existence and esteem of being a human being rather than a stumped “dalit.” Her silent but firm face is the charm of “Bhor”. The rolling wheels of her cycle are the wheels of that dawn that was approaching. Change is the only constant and Bhor- the dawn, celebrates this indomitable spirit of human strength, when ages of oppression, suffering and humiliation provoke the fire, buried in a decent soul. 

Generically, most of the films have a crisis, and the characters in the situation revolve round that. But Bhor is a crisis free film. Untouchability was not a major problem for the community, since they happily coexisted with that, but the spark worked out through Budhni’s sense of self esteem. The success of the director  lies in the fact  that in his ‘no crisis’ film, no propaganda or no hard and fast moral has been set or developed, instead, the time and characters projected in the located situation are exploited  with extreme clarity  and pragmatism. Exploration of the plight of the exodus of migrant workers that is an ever trending tragedy, specifically of this inevitable orbit of time too is another layer of the film.

The real exertion had started when her tender dreams were compelled to merge with the accountable strokes of vermillion. Chapatis got beautifully round and dreams were in hazard. Education taught her to veil self dignity, being it corporeal, social or mental. Open defecation system was a slap to this and Sugan’s (Devesh Ranjan) love and loyalty, in spite of not being up to her mark from the academic angle, bloomed to nurture his wife’s esteem, that he once promised,  and accepted his physical and intellectual topography as “inferior” to her, but with pride.

It might sound funny or rather a common strategy to capture a girls’ attention by his suitor, when in a scene, Sugna rehearses his words to propose Budhni. The background score just seconds his feelings:

“You are such a beautiful princess. I am not a match for you”

 They appear to be ordinary, but as the visuals proceed, go on establishing and exploring their worth through the quiet but bold steps taken by Sugan to keep his words, that he once promised to his wife. He said that their wedding would not ring the death bell to her studies, and amidst dire poverty, against all odds and surrounding hostilities, words were reared and life rewarded them for this high notch of honesty.

Unfolded multilayered social issues, though not exploded very out of the blue, are but treated pragmatically with signature clarity. She had an early marriage, but she was not a “victim” of it. Instead, she was gifted with a compassionate companion- her husband. The protest here is not loud, does not comprise of any dramatic epiphany, but occurs at the smooth hiatuses of consecutive cinematic narrative. Her story was not customised, it was the story of the generic nonchalance and to a considerable extent, of the volunteered slavery of their community. The silver lining here is her struggle and protest to come out of the age long cocoon of slavery and discrimination. In that patriarchal circle, after her marriage, when she wanted to continue with her studies, that too was to be decided by their master– the Thakur( Ravindra Sahu)Thakur and her father in law ,Chamku(Nalneesh Neel) stand in two completely different poles. One was her own, the other was their employer. One was a chain drunkard; the other was a rational, dear mind. His character is not portrayed here as a stereotyped symbol of treachery, mastery, perversion and corruption, but as a father figure with a loving and compassionate heart. 

The central theme of the visual is “toilet”, and the question of human dignity and equality related to it. Not only the musahars, but almost all the villagers, irrespective of caste and creed, went for open defecation. But ironically, a board was hung in the community stage – “No musahar goes for open defecation in this village.” For Budhni, it was first a matter of self esteem towards her womanhood, secondly, of hygiene. She was gifted 25000 rupees when she topped in the board exams as the first ever in their community. But Chamku spent everything in drinks and dances, in “honor” to that grand success of his daughter in law. This is the peripatetic, from when her wish for a toilet slowly turned out to be a Renaissance, a movement of living with dignity. She was the axis and the positive planets in her aura were Sugan, her teacher (Pavleen Gujral) and the Thakur. 

Delhi sheltered them with an extended, but shrunk note of life. In village, her problem of open defecation was much less humiliating than that in Delhi, because it was so trivial and common there. In the metropolis, by a stroke of luck, but not miraculously, her solo struggle had transformed to a collective national movement.  It was no more confined only to the musahars, but to all the discriminated and underprivileged, unanimously. Budhni told to a journalist when asked about the difference between her village and Delhi, especially in toilet facility, she replied,“In village we went for open defecation when we did not have toilets. There, four people noticed us, but here we have to go to the railway tracks as the only government toilet is far, crowded and dirty, and 400 people see us. It is said, if we are unclothed, our honor is also stripped. But here, everyday, we are compelled to be stripped publicly.” This is the one liner of Bhor, hearting which the whole narrative revolves round. 

For a marginalized group like the musahars, living a life with two times of bread is more than sufficient. In that hostile arrangement, her visionary steps, her guts to emerge out of that oppressed circle in search of a better life is something quite paradoxical in that canvas. It is noticed throughout the film that every action goes through a silent spontaneity. No shedding of tears or loud dialogues is projected to integrate any situation. 

Litterateur Mulk Raj Anand’s celebrated novel “Untouchable” has much catching up to do here. Anand was from Bihar, from the same socio- economic background and might be therefore, a parallel line of mental exercise worked out in both of them. Though Kamakhya Narayan Singh and Anand ji belong to two completely different times, the plight of the untouchables, the tragedy of caste discrimination and its consecutive saga of exploitation have not gone through any radical change throughout the ages. “Karukku” a 1992 novel by Tamil author Bama, narrates  the sharp struggle of the dalit female protagonist’s soul and spirit to emerge out of the consistent, all pervasive mockery and humiliation faced due to her being a low caste. In “Bhor”, the issue of open defecation is a byproduct of their accepted way of life of being an untouchable.

Bhor, but alarms a dawn when the newfangled figure, the Thakur takes a foot massage by Chamku, totally ignoring the tantrums aired from his brother and defying Chamku’s generic tradition of “not able to touch a high caste.”The pseudo gods, who provide life to lives, are destined to go through intermittent fasting, sometimes even to end their own lives.  In India, this social issue is extensively discussed through the signature celluloid adaptations. Bhor reflected this issue, but not so dominantly, as its focus is on hygiene and sanitation. It also shares somewhat a parallel zing with “Toilet- Ek Prem Katha”, a 2017 Shri Narayan Singh film. One of the remarkable successes of the director is his commitment towards the place. Most realistic dialogues, no larger than life vaganza and rooted in the performance of the roll players leave not a single trace, where it appears to the audience as a scripted and projected visual instead, and real lives in motion.

Long, wide shots, used to capture the monochromatic rusticity, scenic scope of the village, its intrinsic topographical units like the extended, dry sandy areas, the green  gravel lanes, the water bodies, the habitats, the community halls are another gospels of portraying fidelity. The film is not cosmetic; the characters are just who, what and how they are. Medium and some amount of close up shots are well projected to capture some serious and some equally light moments like Budhni’s reaction to different grave situations, their wedding rituals, Chamku’s drunk moves, their cheering motions with the dancer etc. The long shots of camera through wide frames capture the colorful, but dirty and shrunk areas of the metro with a sharp contrast to the open and fresh landscape of the village.

“Bhaiya O bhaiya majdur bhaiya hum to bane hain  Kisan, ki hamar beta bhukha le sote ho ram” ( O my workmen, my brothers, we are peasants, but my son steel starves to sleep). The musical denotation of the cinematic text created by Bapi Tutul is not just a song; it’s the very line up of the film. Though the workers, the majdoors are addressed as “Bhaiyaas”, the metropolis has rarely showered any significant humane ethics on them. The present pandemic has exposed the heartless attitude of the city dwellers towards them, on whose arms the city was continuing with its dazzling course of chores and entertainment and on whom, its life was built. If all the ideas that are coming to the hearts of these laborers during their village journey of hundreds of, thousands of kilometers from the city are recorded, then all the affection of the creator will be lost. It is good that they only know how to think, and not how to pen them down. Budhni and Sugan’s shelter was evicted and they had to return to their own land, but with a dawn of resurrection. Though the metro was just their sojourn, though it could not provide them four walls for defecation, its unbiased attitude but made them feel secured of their being just musahars, and not untouchables.

Though the coda of the film could be a little explanatory, it is not tugging the spontaneous and essential flow of the players. A journey of the terminal groundlings, their innocent struggle to inquilab human dignity through a village girl– Bhor is a croon of love, life and survival, the best a human can gift to her own existence.


1. https://www.villagesquare.in/ https://www.villagesquare.in/2018/01/05/musahars-bihar-struggle-educate-children-2/


By profession, Dr. Dipsikha Bhagawati is a post graduate teacher in Dawson Higher Secondary and Multi Purpose School, Nagaon, Assam under Govt of Assam and associated with the British Council as a master trainer in English language. She has obtained her PhD on the poetry of T.S.Eliot, writes regularly on film, literature and poetry in newpapers, magazines and journals and also works as a translator. Many of her articles have been published in national journals . She writes both in Assamese and English.