With films like Ishqiya and Udta Punjab to his credit, director Abhishek Chaubey has established himself as one of cinema’s most promising filmmakers in the realistic genre. Soon after the 2016 drug trafficking drama that grabbed you from the word go, Abhishek began his research on Sonchiriya. While doing so, he wondered why Bollywood, other than Paan Singh Tomar and Bandit Queen, had hied away from making a film on the dacoits of Chambal despite them being part of our history. “We locked Chambal for our shoot and were very fascinated by it, but what was really surprising was coming to terms with the fact that we have hardly made films on the subject except for Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Gunga Jumna, Sholay…But these films only touched upon how someone became a daku after a tragedy, or how there’s a dreaded daku and one needs to catch him. The last gang was eliminated in 2007. It is such a big part of our history and it is right there in the centre of our country. I think we ran out of stories and the genre died a natural death but it came back in the 1990s,” says Chaubey.
“They are criminals but it’s also a huge tradition. Why the bandits called themselves rebels? what was it that motivated them to be like that? I was completely overwhelmed by the society that existed and their concerns. I wanted to make an action film that explored their soul. While Bandit Queen and Paan Singh Tomar are fine films, they are biopics. They are actual people, whereas Sonchiriya is a fictional tale but it originates from real people and real culture. If such phenomena had existed in any other country, they would have made at least 50 films out of it,” he further adds.
Set in Chambal of 1975, Sonchiriya has been shot in the ravines of Dholpur in Rajasthan. The ensemble cast includes Sushant Singh Rajput, Ranvir Shorey and Manoj Bajpayee as bandits, Ashutosh Rana as the police officer hot on their trail, and Bhumi Pednekar, a survivor and woman with a voice. “The film deals with issues of gender, social discrimination because of caste and when justice becomes revenge. Our fictional bandits are at the crossroads of meaning and purpose. They have a sense of ethics and morals, but they don’t know if they are right or wrong. These existential questions bother them,” says the director.
“In the context of the film, finding one’s Sonchiriya means finding inner truth. These bandits lead a hard life in a harsh, dry landscape. They believe they have a reason to be on this earth, which can be protecting their community or caste or not living by the law of the oppressors. They call themselves baaghi, or rebels, because of their chosen path. The film is about them questioning that path,” he further says.