“The Hustings” shows forcefully and concisely how low humanity can descend when penury and desperation chip away the social veneer. It is one of those Indian films that adds blow to blow until the characters are literally dead at the end of the story. Though not easy to love, Biplab Ray Chaudhuri’s movie is likely to make the fest rounds and turn some sporadic TV sales.
Tale takes place in the state of Orissa, where poor villagers have two choices: Work the soil for local rich man Zaminder or dynamite the hills in one of the new stone quarries. In addition to destroying the environment, the dust from the quarries is damaging people’s lungs. Village chief Bhasara (Bhima Singh), his wife, son and daughters hit upon an original way to raise a dowry so one girl can get married. As Zaminder is paying 100 rupees ($ 3) a vote in the upcoming elections, they vow to keep Anath, a poor beggar dying from tuberculosis, alive until election day if he lets them have his vote money.
Bhasara and his son carry the wheezing beggar over hill and dale in a makeshift swing to get him to a hospital and then back home. The family devotes all its attention to nursing him, but it is clearly a race against time. Far from being silent baggage, Anath turns out to be the nicest and most articulate of the lot.
In a few deft strokes, Chaudhuri mocks the fat politician, reveals the villagers’ naivete and cunning, and shows how the family comes to care for the old beggar it is trying to exploit. Ending is a shocker, but completely appropriate to cap a story of this kind.