Film Review: 1000 Rupee Note

A politician's charitable gift disrupts an elderly villager's life. Soft-spoken Indian drama packs an emotional punch.
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Deceptively simple, but building to devastating twists, 1000 Rupee Note marks an impressive debut for director and editor Shrihari Sathe. Winner of several festival awards, this modest, low-key story can win over the most hard-hearted viewer.

Anchored by a marvelous performance from Usha Naik as Budhi, an impoverished, elderly widow, 1000 Rupee Note starts by peering into her small, rural village of Phoolumbari in the state of Maharashtra. Getting a sandal repaired, buying a cup of milk, haggling with a vendor for a loaf of bread, Budhi is unfailingly polite and upbeat.

She also cleans for wealthier families, work Sathe shows in careful detail. (Given stale food the children won't eat in one house, Budhi has to dine on the floor.) A flashback reveals how her son, unable to pay his debts, killed himself, part of a rash of farmer suicides in the area.

Budhi's neighbor Sudama (Sandeep Pathak), a goatherd, watches out for her, despite the disapproval of his wife (Pooja Nayak). He knows that Budhi has to ration even her matches to make ends meet. When politician Uttamrao Jadhav (Ganesh Yadav) campaigns in the village, Sudama brings his family and Budhi along for the free food at the event.

Cinematographer Ming Kai Leung uses a painterly eye to capture Maharashtra's vibrant colors, and Sathe adopts a gentle, unobtrusive editing style that gives the story the feeling of a fairytale. And like the best fairytales, 1000 Rupee Note turns dark unexpectedly.

When Budhi and Sudama journey by bus to a market in town, they lose their identity as village residents. Now they are just part of "the poor," subject to suspicion and brusque treatment. Like last year's Court, 1000 Rupee Note examines a legal and political system stained by corruption and injustice.

Shrikant Bojewar's script occasionally draws its characters too broadly, especially a set of inept cops more concerned about stealing alcohol than keeping the peace. But even they have better instincts, one of several satisfying decisions by Sathe. Another plus is the sensitive musical score by Shailendra Barve.

Respectful of its lead characters and their traditions, 1000 Rupee Note is also infuriated by their oppression. Under a calm surface, a burning sense of injustice helps drive this surprisingly sophisticated folk tale.

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