We have just crawled into March and it has already been a great year for the Gujarati Film Industry already! It would be completely unfair to only look at the Box Office numbers as far as Gujarati films are concerned simply because the industry has constantly been given a raw deal as far as some of the theatrical releases are concerned. So the focus should be on the content which the industry does dish out, and in 2023 they have had a few landmark films in the form of Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye 2 and Vash, both high concept films of different genres.
And to complete the trilogy, I happened to watch the Gujarati film Kutch Express, a film that did mark the debut of Ratna Pathak Shah in Gujarati films. The film did seem like a good old family drama, a bit of a comfort zone as far as Gujarati films are concerned. But I did wish to see how progressive it was and what it really did have to offer. So then does Kutch Express manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Kutch Express is a deeply rooted story of entangled relationships in a family with an undercurrent of self discovery for the women of the house. The story is predictable but I did enjoy its treatment here. There was something in the drama which did make me believe that it has its heart in the right place. The screenplay standing at 130 odd minutes does make for a breezy watch for most parts of the drama.
When I did mention that a drama like this is in the comfort zone for the Gujarati film industry then that would indeed be a fair assessment. This is because they know how to contruct a family drama with the relationships being their strength. Here too, you are introduced to the two protagonists who form a secret ‘socity’ without the knowledge of the men of their respective houses. This opening sequence did add a valuable foundation to the drama by giving a glimpse to the viewer on how the ladies may have been treated previously at their places. With patriarchy ruling the roosts, this secret group of theirs is probably their only form of escape from reality.
The drama further underlines the life of these two protagonists – the fiery Ba of the family and her timid and ultra-understanding daughter-in-law but this time in a different setting, their own house. As expected(and unfortunately so), the men of the house rule and there is little to no appreciation for the ladies. To make matters worse, the character of the husband is having an affair with another woman half his age without the knowledge of anyone. This formulates an interesting dynamics in the relationship of all characters.
The proceedings are interesting but the humour is a bit of a hit and miss. The good part though is that the writers do not try very hard to be funny and barely touch upon the humour quotient through some unwarranted situations. However, the core of the drama is the empowerment of the female characters who are pretty much confined in their homes and that does strike a nice little chord with the viewers. Simple things like wanting to ride a bike or to paint or just smaller gestures of appreciation does formulate some of the events of the film which are nicely staged.
I did like how the relationships were explored with a tinge of retrospect and the differentiator between the men and the ladies. I still did feel that they could have explored a little more with respect to the self discovery angle which would have made the drama even more heartwarming. The culture and colours of Kutch form an integral part of the screenplay and it is so well depicted here. The drama does get slightly melodramatic towards the end but somehow it is controlled well to make things work. And I was just so pleasantly surprised with the ending which wasn’t cliched and instead so progressive summing up the screenplay which was well written.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are beautiful with a tinge of humour but more importantly authentic with the representation of the area where the drama is set in. The music by Sachin-Jigar is outstanding and just so melodious. It made me want to book a flight to Kutch and simply imbibe the vibe of the place. It had that earthiness but at the same time added colours through its melodious notes. The BGM compliments the drama well too. The cinematography is wonderful capturing the colours and vibe of the drama so well. Director Viral Shah does a good job in sticking to the basics and in turn providing an engrossing and a warm drama about tangled relationships.
The performances are really good here. Kaushambi Bhatt as Diwali, Denisha Ghumra as Kanchan and Bhumik Barot as Jivi have their moments to shine. Reeva Rachh as Stuti as a sweet presence onscreen in a job well done. Viraf Patel as Madan is sincere and endearing. Darsheel Safary as Avinash is first rate and does a good job. Heena Varde as Mamta has a towering screen presence and does a tremendous job here.
Dharmendra Gohil as Dharmesh essays a character which is a far cry from his other Gujarati release of the year Chal Man Jeetva Jaiye 2. His character is repulsive and a chauvanist and played brilliantly here. Ratna Pathak Shah in her Gujarati debut as Baiji is fiery and unabashed and just so liberating. She does a brilliant job in every sense of the word. Manasi Parekh as Monghi is outstanding and there is a beautiful sense of restraint to her character. Her softness and her expressive eyes tell a tale worth a million lives, as she does internalise her character just so well!
Kutch Express is a deeply rooted tale on entangled relationships that makes for a solid watch. Available in a theatre near you.