All Hail ( Work in progress)
In the outskirts of Manarwa village, Rukhiya, Phekan, and their six-month-old son Karimana belong to the rat-eater community, a group that requires permission to enter the village due to social stigma. Phekan, a labourer, struggles to find work as winter approaches.
The village is engrossed in a lively week-long Kirtan prayer for temple renovation, and during this time, low-caste individuals like Phekan are not allowed in. To provide for his family, Phekan decides to seek work in the city, leaving Rukhiya with enough rats to survive the day.
Rukhiya takes on household chores and tends to her hungry, crying son, unable to breastfeed him. She improvises by feeding him jaggery mixed in water as she waits for Phekan's return.
Phekan's quest for work leads him to a brick factory, but he discovers a scarcity of job opportunities, with people waiting for days for even a day's work. Determined and desperate, he heads to the bustling local market, seeking employment from various potential employers, only to face callous rejection from indifferent market-goers. Despite his weariness, he spots a sweetshop and approaches the owner for a job, where he is tasked with grinding sesame seeds tirelessly. However, when he asks for his payment, he is falsely accused of theft by the manager. Later, Phekan finds refuge under a half-constructed bridge, where he encounters Chaudhry, a political worker who offers him a job posting political advertisements throughout the night. After hours of diligent work, Phekan is deceived by Chaudhry when it comes time to receive his payment.
In the quiet of the night, Rukhiya anxiously waits for Phekan's return, her son finally finding rest in her lap. Her thoughts drift back to cherished memories of her father, who had consoled her when villagers cruelly labelled her the "daughter of the ghost player." In the midst of the darkness, she hears barking dogs and senses an unsettling commotion, heightening her worry for Phekan. Clutching her son, she turns to prayer, beseeching her ancestors and questioning the harsh fate they've imposed upon her. Her voice trembles with anguish and anger as she reflects on her dire circumstances and the cruelty of the villagers. In her desperate plea, she challenges the existence of divine justice, vowing to escape the torment of her current life once Phekan returns.
As the night wore on, Phekan's desperate search for work led him to a newspaper vendor who, in a stroke of fortune, offered him a chance to deliver newspapers. Phekan accepted the opportunity, knowing the strict conditions imposed. He peddled newspapers throughout the city, even amidst a confrontation with another seller named Bablu at the railway station. When night fell, he sought refuge in a stationary train, unaware of the unexpected encounter that awaited him. He unwittingly became a witness to a horrifying incident, a police constable assaulting a defenceless woman. Overwhelmed by fear, Phekan contemplated fleeing, but it was too late—the constable had already noticed him and etched his face into memory.
As Phekan continued his newspaper sales, he crossed paths with Nehura, a man trapped in a dire situation as his cart, burdened with sand, was stuck on the railway tracks with an approaching train. Phekan selflessly rushed to Nehura's aid, attempting to free the cart by removing the sand. However, instead of gratitude, Nehura's reaction was driven by anger and greed, leading to an unforeseen twist in their encounter.
In the morning, Rukhiya, with her son wrapped in a thick black blanket, ventures into the biting cold fog to seek information about her missing husband. She approaches a well-dressed man who callously dismisses her inquiry, stating it's not his concern. Undeterred, she continues her search and encounters a curious boy who, upon hearing her husband's description, takes a step back in fear, leaving behind his plaything. Her next encounter with a businessman is equally unsettling, as he warns her to flee, emphasizing the temple's followers' ominous intentions. Troubled by these harsh responses, Rukhiya returns home, wrestling with her feelings of inadequacy and frustration over her inability to feed her child.
Rukhiya tries to sustain herself and her son by eating rats, singing a lullaby to him while awaiting Phekan's return. As night falls, she struggles to replenish the lamp's fading light, spilling oil in her nervousness. Time passes slowly, and as she fights to stay awake, she hears someone tampering with the hut's latch. A mysterious voice suggests that only a witch cannot produce milk, threatening her son's life unless she sacrifices him to atone for her ancestors' sins. Terrified, Rukhiya protects her son and prays for her husband's safety, tears streaming down her somber face.
The following morning, Rukhiya, her determination unwavering, set out once again to inquire about her husband's whereabouts, carrying her son wrapped in a blanket. Despite fatigue and the temptation to rest beneath the banyan tree, she persisted in questioning the villagers. However, their responses had taken a darker turn compared to the previous day. People treated her as if she were a haunting apparition, offering strange solutions to rid her presence. The entire village now viewed her as a witch, disregarding her crying child. As she continued her relentless quest, she faced scorn and hostility from strangers, including a man on a motorcycle who accused her of seduction and children who pelted her with stones. Back at home, consumed by the bizarre events of the day, Rukhiya questioned and vented her frustration at God, her parents, and even her husband, harbouring resentment towards her son and entertaining the possibility that she truly was a witch, leading her to pray for forgiveness.
Meanwhile, Phekan, having accumulated a substantial sum of money from his relentless toil, decided it was time to return home. However, on the railway bridge, he confronted Bablu, who accused him of trying to steal his share of the earnings. In their scuffle, Phekan lost control of his hard-earned money, which spilled onto the platform. Bablu seized as much as he could before making a swift escape, leaving Phekan in a state of despair.
Phekan, disturbed by the incident, confronted everyone on the platform, demanding to know if they had taken his money. This accusation reached the ears of two policemen, who took offense and physically assaulted him before arresting him. They considered detaining him for a different crime, unrelated to the theft of his money. As Phekan was being led to the police station, he crossed paths with Chaudhry, desperately pleading for him to vouch for their previous encounter and clear his name. However, Chaudhry, fearing the revelation of his own misdeeds – Phekan escaping without payment – took a different course of action.
In a shocking twist, Chaudhry falsely accused Phekan of being a notorious child abductor, infamous for alleged murders of innocent children. This grave accusation incited the police constable and Bablu to join forces, and soon, a frenzied mob of onlookers, driven by suspicion and fear, mercilessly attacked Phekan. The situation escalated, and Phekan found himself facing an unjust and brutal fate. However, in a twist of fate, Nehura, who eked out a meagre existence by cremating unclaimed bodies, identified Phekan amidst the chaos, triggering a deep sense of guilt and remorse. Nehura resolved to seek forgiveness for Phekan, recognizing that he had once saved Nehura's life by clearing sand from his cart.
Exhausted and sleep-deprived, Rukhiya was haunted by unsettling sounds—the squeaking of rats, barking dogs, and the relentless Kirtan music from the loudspeaker. Overwhelmed, she piled stones onto the fire, engaging in an eerie, ritualistic act reminiscent of witchcraft. She cursed her parents for bringing her into a painful life instead of ending her suffering. Amid her agonizing cries, she heard a distant yet furious voice, warning her that she had one last chance to save her husband before daybreak. Her husband's screams echoed in her ears, pushing her into a tumultuous internal conflict. On one hand, she believed sacrificing her child might end her suffering, while on the other, she couldn't muster the courage for such a horrendous act.
The relentless voices and haunting murmurs drove her to the brink of madness, leading her to a desperate act. With trembling hands, she set fire to her humble abode, the flames engulfing everything. It was as though she sought to burn not just her physical surroundings but also the torment rooted in her soul. Amid the inferno's crackling, she fled with her child, overwhelmed by an inexplicable sense of happiness, leading her to dance frenziedly in the midst of the fiery chaos.
Under the influence of alcohol, Nehura descended the stairs of the crematorium, each step laden with growing guilt and despair. Suddenly, a realization struck him like lightning. He understood that his misfortunes were the consequences of his own wrongdoing – the hasty cremation of an unknown body, driven by the pursuit of money. Overwhelmed by a deep need for redemption, he embarked on a journey to seek forgiveness from the divine at the village temple, hoping to absolve the heavy burden of his sins. With every step, Nehura's quest for solace and redemption began as he sought to make amends for his past mistakes.
The radiant sparks soared into the night sky, chaos erupting among the villagers. Rukhiya, fearing for her life, fled towards the road, hearing the haunting voice commanding her to sacrifice her child. She swaddled him in her sari and placed him in the middle of the road, concealing herself behind a banyan tree. A truck approached, and in that decisive moment, Rukhiya chose to sacrifice herself instead of the child.
Meanwhile, Nehura, inebriated and consumed by guilt, fell to his knees, seeking forgiveness from what he believed was the vengeful goddess. As he made his way home, he heard the cries of an infant, which he saw as a divine gift and a chance at redemption. This moment marked a profound turning point in Nehura's life as he found purpose and hope amidst the complexities of existence.
Abhilash Kumar SharmaDirector
Abhilash Kumar SharmaWriter
Sonali MohantiKey Cast"Rukhiya"
Satya RanjanKey Cast"Phekan"
Chandrasekhar DuttaKey Cast"Nehura"
Kunal SinghKey Cast"Bablu"
Project Title (Original Language):Swaha
Runtime:1 hour 38 minutes 13 seconds
Country of Origin:India
Country of Filming:India
Film Color:Black & White
Abhilash, is an independent filmmaker from Bihar, India, has earned recognition for his impactful films that delve deep into Bihar's socio-political tapestry. He kindled his passion for the arts at a young age through literature and theatre, an unconventional path despite graduating with a physics degree.
In 2003, Abhilash took a momentous step by relocating to Delhi, considered the epicentre of India's vibrant theater scene. There, he embarked on a transformative journey, enrolling in a Theater Direction course at the prestigious National School of Drama. This decision marked a pivotal turning point in his life, immersing him in the rich tapestry of artistic expression from various corners of the world. During his time in Delhi, Abhilash also became involved with SARAI, a prominent Delhi-based media organization focused on the film industry. It was here that he delved into the captivating realm of cinema, fuelled by the Friday screenings of world cinema classics.
These experiences planted the seeds of his burgeoning filmmaking passion. Subsequently, Abhilash set his sights on Mumbai, the heart of the Indian film industry, to embark on the next chapter of his artistic journey. There, he started his career as an assistant director, diligently honing his craft while gaining invaluable insights into the intricacies of the industry. It was during this period that Abhilash directed a poignant short film titled "Kash," which poignantly explored the emotional trials faced by individuals striving for success in the dynamic landscape of the Mumbai film industry.
In 2012, Abhilash marked his directorial debut with "Achal Rahe Suhaag" (An Unbreakable Bond), a feature film in the Bhojpuri language. This marked the inception of his directorial career, with the film adapting a mythological tale of Savitri and Satyavaan, where Savitri's intelligence saves her husband's life.
Abhilash's second film, "Swaha," (All Hail) underscores his unwavering commitment to depict Bihar's realities through cinema. Shot in the regional Magahi language, the movie reflects Abhilash's profound connection to his cultural heritage. Despite encountering financing challenges due to the language's limited market, Abhilash's resourcefulness and determination as an independent filmmaker shone through.
His films are renowned for their bold narratives that address prevalent social issues in Bihar. Abhilash endeavours to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, shedding light on their struggles and aspirations. He employs cinema as a powerful instrument to challenge societal norms, inciting dialogues and inspiring transformative change. Abhilash's films act as a reflective mirror to society, unflinchingly presenting uncomfortable truths while also offering glimpses of hope and resilience.
The genesis of "Swaha" (All Hail) was sparked by my viewing of Alan Becker's animation, "Animator vs Animation." This ignited a contemplation about the potential clash between creator and creation, which gradually evolved into the narrative of a struggling mother and child. As a filmmaker, I constantly pondered the socio-political circumstances surrounding Bihar, a region that once thrived as the home of the illustrious Nalanda University but had descended into a state of despair marked by senseless violence and hatred. Seeking answers, I embarked on this cinematic journey.
The decision to present "Swaha" in black and white was a deliberate choice, a response to the vibrant and colourful world we inhabit. I aimed to capture the audience's attention with a minimalistic visual palette, relying on subtlety and nuance to convey the story's depth. The notion of a musical drama genre emerged organically after witnessing the captivating performances of folk singers during the film's location scouting. Given that the film is in the Magahi language, a language lacking a significant commercial platform, securing finances became a formidable challenge. Undeterred, I resolved to complete the project by drawing upon my personal savings and seeking financial support from family and friends.
At its essence, "Swaha" delves into the presence of fundamentalist elements in our society and how the concept of religion often revolves around individual circumstances rather than a universally concrete vision. It underscores the profound notion that the nurturing force of our existence, symbolized by the mother, can, in moments of neglect and ignorance, unintentionally harm her own creation. Nevertheless, she remains bound by the forces of creation and destruction, acknowledging that destruction is sometimes a necessary part of the broader creative process.