Cast: Divyenndu Sharma, Anant Vidhaat, Anupriya Goenka
Director: Faraz Haider
Evaluation: Two Stars (Out of 5)
Two engineering graduates struggling to establish themselves in the unforgiving city of Mumbai contemplate suicide in the first moments of Mere Desh Ki Dharti, written and directed by Faraz Haider. They are the main characters, so there is no real danger that their plan will succeed. The film then goes back in time a bit to reveal why the duo are in dire straits.
With those details ironed out, Ajay (Divyenndu) and Sameer (Anant Vidhaat) reunite in rural India. There, they come up against the harsh reality of farmer suicides. Their plight is nothing compared to what the cultivators of the land experience. They decide to ignore their own problems and do something about the agrarian crisis in a village off the town of Salamatpur, Madhya Pradesh.
Mere Desh Ki Dhartireleased theatrically, is a satirical drama that takes the focus off the phenomenon of village-to-city migration and shines the spotlight on two young men who, after losing the rat race in a big city and running out of options , go their way to a rural area devoid of young able-bodied men.
The elderly and infirm left behind in the farming village are at the mercy of greedy businessmen, heartless bankers and exploitative middlemen. Since agriculture brings in very little income, the villagers risk not repaying their loans and losing their land.
Ajay and Sameer know what loss means. The former lost his job on charges of stealing his employer’s clients for his start-up project. The latter is summarily dismissed when he agrees with his boss after being refused a promotion.
That’s not all either. Ajay’s father disowned him and Sameer’s girlfriend, the daughter of a successful agricultural exporter, abandoned him. The two “losers” decide to get away from Mumbai and find a peaceful place where they can end their lives.
A ticketless train ride drops them off at Salamatpur, where the cheery conductor Pappan Khan (Inaamulhaq) waits, in case of mistaken identity, to receive them. Ajay and Sameer play along and accompany their new friend to a wedding in the village.
Hamlet presents its own problems, and the two strangers are quickly drawn into the maelstrom. The sight of a farmer driven to suicide by the burden of debt – his lifeless body from a tree – hits them hard. They understand that they can no longer run away.
Mere Desh Ki Dharti deals with a declining GDP, rising unemployment, the rising cost of cultivation, and systems of exploitation that rob villagers of their dignity. These are not issues that can be swept under the rug. Ajay and Sameer dive into the search for a solution. Much of the film’s post-intermission drama stems from the difficulties they must reckon with as they try to convince former farmers to adopt new farming methods.
The solemn questions which Mere Desh Ki Dharti the speeches are undoubtedly relevant, but the scenario that the director puts at the service of highlighting the serious crisis facing agriculture in this country fired towards broad melodramatic strokes of the conventional type. The weight of the film’s main message not only gets lost a bit in the process, it’s also undermined in weight and impact.
The two male protagonists advocate collective farming, which at first glance doesn’t seem like a bad idea. But when, in the same breath, corporatization is presented as a magic wand to ward off all problems, the film seems to deliberately play neoliberal spiel. It amounts to asking the poor peasants who are cornered to cede even more control over their destiny than they have already done.
When a furious bank manager gives the village a six-month ultimatum – wipe out all your dues or lose your land, the farmers are rudely warned – Ajay comes up with a plan to pool the land in a bid to maximize profits. It’s a bit like telling a group of artists to let go of their own individual creative impulses and, under duress, pool their resources to create a large collective work of art for easy market access.
Young men have deserted Salamatpur in droves in search of employment, but an attractive young woman, Jhumki (Anupriya Goenka), has chosen to stay. The daughter of a local trader (Brijendra Kala) who overcharges farmers for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, she is the reason why Ajay
postpones his suicide plan and gives life another chance. Fortunately, Mere Desh Ki Dharti don’t throw a romantic number.
However, the whole village gathers at a farmhouse and joins the two agents of change in singing a celebratory version of Upkar’s 1967 song from which the film borrowed its title. The unbridled jai kisan the spirit of Mere Desh Ki Dharti takes a beating from the displaced gung-ho timbre of revolutionary zeal that is sought to stir up among discouraged farmers.
Divyenndu (Mirzapur’s Munna Tripathi) and Anant Vidhaat (Mai’s Prashant) have shed their sleazy characters and put their best foot forward in the roles of engineers looking for a second chance. Anupriya Goenka, playing the daughter of a trader who devotes herself to farmers, takes advantage of a limited number of opportunities.
Inaamulhaq, a natural born scene stealer, animates the film when it stops. He feeds on the wisecracks his character uses when he has his back to the wall. Played by Pappan Khan’s talkative grandmother, Farukh Jaffer (in one of her last big-screen roles) is delightfully carefree.
For all his efforts to highlight the plight of Indian farmers, Mere Desh Ki Dharti is a largely mediocre velvet glove affair. It is quite earthy at times but is mostly formulated in ineffective cliches. Mere Desh Ki Dharti could have done with a sharper, more caustic edge.