River of Fables (Kothanodi)
Director/Screenplay – Bhaskar Hazarika, Based on the Tales by Lakshiminath Bezbaruah, Producers – Anurupa Hazarika & Utpala Mukherjee, Photography – Vijay Kutty, Music – Amaranth Hazarika, Production Design – Gulok Saha. Production Company – Metanormal Motion Pictures
Seema Biswas (Dhoneshwari), Adil Hussain (Devinath), Zerifa Wahid (Senehi), Kasvi Sharma (Tejimola), Urmila Mahanta (Keteki), Kopil Bora (Poonai), Asha Bordoloi (Malati), Monisha Bhuyan (Bonlotika), Dr Jayanta Das (Jagannath), Pradhan Deori (The Jackal)
Tejimola:– Tejimola is despised by her stepmother Senehi. While her father is away on business, Senehi, who is driven by the spirit of a jackal, does everything she can to inflict cruelties on Tejimola, intending to kill her. Ou Kuwori:– The weaver Keteki is followed everywhere by an outenga fruit that rolls after her of its own accord. Troubled by it, she comes to realise that it might contain the spirit of her dead child. Champawati:– Bontolika is forced into a marriage with a python by her mother Dhoneshwari who is certain that it will result in the forest gods bestowing riches on their house. Tawoir Xadhu:– Malati has given birth but is determined not to let her husband Poonai take this child and bury it in the forest as he has done with their other children under the direction of his grandfather, a sorcerer.
River of Fables is an anthology film based on Burhi Aair Sadhu (English: Grandma’s Tales) (1911) by Lakshiminath Bezbaruah, an author and poet from the Indian province of Assam. The book contained thirty tales that Bezbarubah had derived from local folklore while Bezbarubah also published two other, similar volumes. The film has adapted four of these tales – Tejimola, Champawati, Ou Kuwori and Tawoir Xadhu.
What River of Fables was doing reminded me a good deal of Tale of Tales (2015), which I had reviewed earlier in the year. Both are adaptation of several tales taken from a book of regional folklore and the film takes the approach of telling the stories interwoven with one another. There endeth resemblances as the two films also sit widely apart. Tales of Tales was readily fantastical in its approach whereas for the bulk of its first half, River of Fables is grounded in the realistic. In fact, it takes such a grounded and realistic treatment I thought for the first hour that what I was watching was a mundane drama about life in a rural village rather than anything fantastical. The stories are also told woven together rather than consecutively, as is the case with most anthologies. This causes some confusion as the number of women characters are initially hard to tell apart and you are not sure who belongs in which story strand, not helped by the fact that some characters from each story cross over to appear in the other tales.
That said, River of Fables does considerably pick up after that point, even venturing well into horror territory. Bhaskar Hazarika has wound the film together to have the climaxes of each of the stories happening simultaneously. The most effective of these is Tejimola in which Kasvi Sharma is cruelly tortured by her stepmother, an alarmingly mad and intense performance from Zerifa Wahid. This culminates in a brutal scene where Sharma is forced to sweep the rice under the homemade rice press as Wahid demands she use each hand and then her feet and head after crushing each of them. Also effective is Champawati, which culminates in the wedding night scene where Monisha Bhuyan is forced to await the giant python as it crawls its way up the bed and along her body. Slightly the lesser but by no means without impact are Tawoir Xadhu and Ou Kuwori with respectively their venture into the forest filled with dead children emerging from the ground and Urmila Mahanta waiting in bed as her son’s body emerges from the fruit.