Film Review: Kaun Kitney Paani Mein

Nila Madhab Panda's comedic fable touches upon several issues without sermonizing

Nila Madhab Panda’s previous films, I Am Kalam and Jalpari, have touched on issues like education and female infanticide. His latest feature is a fable that explores the issue of water scarcity and the politics surrounding this. A royal principality in Odisha has been divided into two parts—Upri and Bairi—by caste and honour disputes. And while the upper class lives a life of waste and opulence, the lower village smartly irrigates its fields and builds sustainable livelihoods.

Saurabh Shukla is superb as the corpulent and conniving king Braj Singh Deo, who has inherited a situation where he must publicly keep up an appearance of royalty but privately choose whether to use his rationed mug of water to wash his face or rinse his mouth. When his educated English-speaking son, Raj (Kunal Kapoor), returns to Upri to complain about the lack of resources required for his foreign education, Braj Singh—unable to offer him a glass of water—asks his Man Friday to serve him flat soda.

Water is a tradable commodity in Upri, with which services are bought, including a pandit’s blessings. In a quirky moment, the pandit carefully irrigates his marijuana plants with one bag of water. In this environment, a desperate Braj Singh hatches a plot which requires Raj to infiltrate Bairi and entrap local politician Kharu Pehalwan’s (Gulshan Grover’s) daughter Paro (Radhika Apte).

The film, with sharp dialogues by Rahul Singh, cleverly touches on issues of caste, scarcity and environmental conservation. And Panda succeeds in doing this without resorting to tiresome sermonizing, in spite of a flashback with a simplified voice-over bringing the audience up to speed on the current situation. While Grover is passable, Kapoor and Apte are convincing in their parts and rather endearing too. There are some niggles—the songs and dances, the use of the Ram Leela, the romantic montage and satire that isn’t sharp enough. But they are compensated for by Shukla’s incisive performance as the drunk, fumbling king who rues lost grandeur and is caught between tradition and his own principles. As he often says: “I don’t believe in caste, I believe in circumstance."

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