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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Pipsi, Review: A Fish Called Faith

Pipsi, Review: A Fish Called Faith

Maharashtra state in western India has faced several years of successive droughts in its Vidarbha area. This has led to farmers committing suicides, unable to repay loans and faced with humiliation and recurrent demands from banks and money-lenders, being recurrent defaulters. Pipsi is set in Raakh village of Vidarbha and tells the touching tale of a two kids, a girl and a boy, Chaani and Balu, who go all out to keep a small, dying fish alive, in the belief that that if the fish survives, so will Chaani’s cancer-stricken mother.

Pipsi is a corruption of Pepsi, and like Pepsi, it is a cold beverage. Since it is locally manufactured, the company calls it Pipsi, to cash in on the international name. Even the logo is quite similar. When Balu suggests ‘Tommy’ as the name for their pet, Chaani points out that ‘Tommy’ is a dog’s name, which it really is, so they should not call their fish ‘Tommy’. Instead, she suggests Pipsi, because, she feels, “…it is dark and sweet, just like Pipsi.” It is this drink that lends itself to the title of debutant director Rohan Deshpande’s 98 minute Marathi language film that was premièred at MAMI’s International Film Festival of Mumbai, 2017, in the Half-Ticket category.

Chaani (Maithili Patwardhan) and Balu (Sahil Joshi) are on a mission to keep the fish (which would have been cooked otherwise) alive, because they happened to read a story about King Satyavrat, whose soul resided in a fish. So long as the fish was alive, the king couldn’t be harmed. Chaani identifies this fable with the need to keep her ailing mother alive, who has been given just three months to live by the doctor.

Since her father barely manages to keep their body and soul together, the poverty-stricken nuclear family is devastated by this diagnosis. Chaani confides about her mother’s illness in her classmate Balu, who is an optimistic child. Both friends have been day-dreaming of visiting the pilgrimage spot of Pandharpur, and Balu believes that life is in God’s hands, not the doctor’s. This faith, and the story of King Satyavrat, narrow down their approach to dealing with the impending tragedy, by adopting a fish, and making it a symbol of their hope and faith. Incidentally, there is a fish tank in the local real estate agents’ office, and the kid duo has seen it. This man unscrupulously coaxes the farmers to sell off their land at cheap prices.

Firstly, the adorable pair need to keep the fish alive, and secondly, they need to keep it hidden, so that it is not eaten up. From a utensil to a container to a liquor bottle, the fish is stored in various possible hidden ‘homes’, but somehow, the children manage to keep it alive. Running parallel to the story of these two eight year-olds is the heart-breaking plight of the farmers, many of who are selling their land and some are committing suicide. Government aid is meagre, and often delayed for months, leaving the distressed farmer no option but what he feels is a dignified exit.

Sahil and Maithili, both state award winning actors, were present at the screening, and gave bites after bite to video cameras with the ease of veterans. On screen, both share a chemistry that is palpable and endearing. Their awards are surely meritorious. Very good support comes from Ajay Jadhav, Atul Mahale, Abhilasha Patil (Chaani’s mother) and Pooja Nayak.

Due credit must also go to veteran Saurabh Bhave (Hrudayantar, Hawaizaada, Surajya, and Taryanche Bait) for a tightly knit screenplay. (In a coincidence of sorts, another film written by Bhave was releasing along with Pipsi: Chumbak. The press preview of Chumbak was to be held immediately after Pipsi, but its PRO Vaibhav Patil refused to allow me to see it).

Bhave cannot but have been influenced by Satyajit Ray’s all-time classic, Pather Panchali, given the two kids, an ailing/old woman, abject poverty and the train symbolism. Chaani and Balu often sit in an abandoned bogey of a train and while away their time, while real trains pass by. Another obvious symbolic, comparative sign is the fish tank in the real estate agent’s office, in which fish are well looked after. Bhave does get carried away with the idea of giving scares about the mother’s death, but one can condone that minor indulgence.

Rohan Deshpande was born in the coastal region of Western Maharasthra, Ratnagiri, and came to Mumbai to study. He enrolled to learn editing soon after completing school, and over the past decade has established himself as an editor. No wonder he has managed to convey so much in a little over one-and-a-half hour. Both the milieus, the micro milieu of the friendship and the fish, and the macro one about drought, corruption and death, are well conveyed, though on rare occasions, one is promoted at the cost of the other.

Late Aviram Mishra’s vivid cinematography, Anita Kushwaha’s realistic sound design, and Mayur Hardas’ frugal editing too are assets of the film. In a noble gesture, they dedicate the film to Mishra. According to the producer, Vidhi Kasliwal, of the famous industrial group of S. Kumar’s, this is the most difficult film she has produced so far.

In a move to promote the film and to reward film sense among school children, the film will be shown at select cinema halls near schools and the children will be invited to take part in a film reviewing contest, with very attractive prizes. Judges are actor-director Sachin Pilgaonkar, actress Divya Dutta and former member of the Children Films Society of India (CFSI), Kamlakar Nadkarni. Entries by 66 year-olds…I mean 6 year-olds, I believe, will not be considered. Alas! And then there are those that envy professional film critics, who often write just for the love of it!

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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