Although I have never permanently lived in Punjab, as a Punjabi I have always had a keen interest in the state and its volatile politics. I was born after the darkest phase of Khalistani insurgency, but I always wanted to explore it a bit more. That is why I walked into Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) with a lot of expectations. I have not seen the director Gurvinder Singh’s award winning debut, Anhe Ghode Da Daan. But from what I heard about it and from whatever I saw in the trailer of Chauthi Koot, I was highly excited about the film.
So, the film starts on a highly promising note. It is 1984, just a few days after the Operation Blue Star. There is a train going to Amritsar but civilians are not being allowed there due to the explosive situation. But some of them are desperate and they barge into the compartment of the train guard. After the initial scuffle, they settle down and begin uneasy conversations with each other. There isn’t much of a story here but it is all about capturing the mood, that of fear and uncertainty. And the detailing here is pitch perfect. Trains halting with creaking sound, another train passing by with deafening noise, people shaking at every halt due to their inertia, all these are captured to the last possible detail and the mood of 1984 is set perfectly.
The film then cuts to the second story. It is about a family of farmers in a remote Punjabi village. They are apparently living a comfortable life but Khalistani insurgents keep visiting them, making them insecure. The security forces also follow soon, suspecting them to be harboring militants. A constant feature during this ordeal is their extremely loyal dog who keeps barking and attacking every intruder. So much so that one of the insurgents order them to kill off the dog. This leads to a series of tragicomic situations by the family trying to get rid of the dog but he simply refuses to die or leave. This story is intercepted with huge caravans of Sikhs moving towards Amritsar in the aftermath of the Operation Blue Star.
Now, it is a difficult film to describe or analyse. I am not sure what were the intentions of the director here. If he really wanted to showcase the 80s era insurgency in Punjab, I guess he should have been more direct and more ruthless. I understand that it is an adaptation for a couple of short stories but a film is expected to be a more cohesive affair. There are two stories and one character is shown to be common but that common character disappears pretty soon in the second story and never returns. Nor does his presence make any impact on the story. I am sure they were being subtle and hinting at various possible tragedies but for a film dealing in such a topic, it had to be clearer in its insinuations. In short, one story ends abruptly while the other drags on for a long time. There are long build ups but nothing exactly happens. Probably that is exactly Singh’s point, a minimalist jibe on the pointlessness of all the fanaticism. But it left me hoping for more action.
However, I do feel that the film is technically immaculate. As mentioned before, Singh has done an excellent job in creating the mood of paranoia through some excellent use of sound effects and cinematography. Most of the scenes contain very long shots and especially certain tracking shots remain etched in memory. Also the cast of virtually unknown actors has done an admirable job, and each of them seamlessly gets lost in the 80s milieu. So, I think it is worth a watch if you can appreciate the myriad of small details crafted expertly by Singh. But overall, the result remains somewhat unsatisfactory.