Rubaru Roshni (2019) English Documentary Review – Veeyen


‘Rubaru Roshni’ is a stark reminder of the arbitrary ways traversed by the human mind and its immense potentiality to heal and be healed. Brimming with subtle nuances it narrates three heart wrenching tales that should serve as visceral memoirs of the immense power to forgive, if not to forget, and the indomitable goodness that we all sport within.


Gulping down the short sobs that threaten to escape from her mouth and brushing away the tears that stream down her cheeks when asked if she would return to Mumbai the coming year, Kia Scherr in one of the closing shots of Svati Chakravarty Bhatkal’s ‘Rubaru Roshni’, admits that she can never really be sure, but that this city is Alan and Naomi for her, and it will forever remain so. In a cab swiftly speeding towards the airport, she hastily draws the interviewer’s attention towards the splendour that Mumbai’s sun soaked coastline is, before softly adding that all she can do, is go on.

Kia is one of three individuals in Bhatkal’s ‘Rubaru Roshni’, a terrific documentary that makes for overwhelming viewing and which poignantly dwells on the individual experience of absolution. Being never for a moment judgemental and letting its characters generously move about in their respective personal spaces, ‘Rubaru Roshni’ is evocative documentation at its very best.

Bhatkal’s documentary tracks down three real life stories, where an impulsive act had led to an inhuman crime and the loss of a life, shattering several other lives in the process. Shining the spotlight on the faces of the ones who have been wronged, Bhatkal probes into how it feels to live with an overwhelming sentiment of injury and unfairness that threatens to overpower your very existence and how over the years, it is almost miraculously, unbelievably substituted by a serene sense of forgiveness.

News of her husband and only daughter being shot dead in the terrorist attacks at the Oberoi Trident in 2008, reaches Kia almost a day after the entire world stands shocked at the ghastly act. A couple of years later, Kia finds herself in Mumbai, where she starts interacting with the public and letting them know how important it is to forgive, as unattainable as it may seem.  To be unforgiving, she insists in one of the sessions, is like taking poison, and hoping your enemy dies.

Far away from Mumbai, in a tiny hamlet called Pulluvazhi in Kerala, sits an old woman with the rosary entwined between her frail fingers, who breaks down on being asked if she still remembers her daughter Rani.  Her son Stephen, while introducing her to the film crew, asks her not to shed any more tears and instead smile and reminds her that it had been twenty one years since her daughter Sr. Rani Maria was stabbed to death while on a bus journey to Indore from Udaipur, a village in Madhya Pradesh where she used to work as a nun.

Avantika Maken puts forward the pendant that her mother had worn at the time she was shot dead and affirms that she will not let the dried up blood on it be washed away while she is alive. Growing up hasn’t been easy for her, what with both her parents being shot dead in front of their residence at Kirti Nagar at New Delhi, while she was only six years old. Reason? Her dad Lalit Maken was a Member of the Parliament who had incurred the wrath of the Sikhs following the army attack at the Golden temple in June, 1984.

When Bhatkal moves across to Ludhiana to talk to Ranjit Singh Gill aka Kuki, a gold medallist in his post graduate course in Genetics and Crops Sciences and a prospective PhD fellow at Kansas State, who in his own words, decided to ‘go for the Sikhs’ instead of the PhD, ‘Rubaru Roshni’ assumes a confessional tone, moving in closer onto the man’s visage and lingering awhile on his misty but bright eyes.

The structure blocks that Bhatkal employs are comparable to the ones that have been used in several other films, but her deeply empathetic pitch that takes special care to be never confrontational , strikes a chord as much with the victims as with the perpetrators of the crime. It’s an artistic lens that she props up before her subjects – one that is compassionate to the core – and the dense questions that swirl around in the air do find their answers eventually, as they settle down steadily over words that  are drenched in anger, despair, grief, regret and finally peace.

The undeniable power of Bhatkal’s film also lies within these revelations from across the two ends of the line, that collide against each other as she pitches them against one another. The placid tenor of Kuki’s voice as he relives those years in the prison and the ones that followed outside it, discloses a man who fully acknowledges his culpability. And yet, as the film draws to a close, he firmly admits that if the same situations arise again and if faced with the same dilemma, he will rebel but his reactions will be different. This renders him the most balanced of the three men who is without doubt, remorseful of his mode of action but who still holds a definite validation in his objective.

At Semliya Raimal, a village near Indore, where no one remembers the day they were born, things are different, and Samundar Singh seems a pale, brittle version of the impetuous man he once must have been. Bhatkal’s subtle prompts unravel a man who is shattered by the consequences of his own actions, and his rant is a miserable lament of how it isn’t possible for him to forgive himself and how redemption still seems far away. He stands drooping over a field of onions and wonders aloud how he could go on without enough water, before breaking down and walking away, repentance writ large over his rueful face.

How does one pardon someone who had brutally snatched away your very being, and while it seems unfeasible to most of us, Kia sees it more as an action that helps cleanse yourself than letting the other person go. Sr. Selmi Paul confesses that it isn’t easy, and remembers that she had taken to intense prayer sessions before she decided that she was ready to go meet Samundar, the man who had stabbed her sister to death. The rage and exasperation of being denied a joyful childhood is still evident in Avantika’s eyes, but she also divulges that her spontaneous decision to meet up with Kuki had brought her peace, perhaps more than anyone else.

‘Rubaru Roshni’ is a stark reminder of the arbitrary ways traversed by the human mind and its immense potentiality to heal and be healed. Brimming with subtle nuances it narrates three heart wrenching tales that should serve as visceral memoirs of the immense power to forgive, if not to forget, and the indomitable goodness that we all sport within.


Verdict: Very Good


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