Gypsy movie review: Despite its flaws, there is an inherent honesty in Raju Murugan's storytelling that can't be ignored.
Gypsy movie cast: Jiiva, Natasha Singh, Lal Jose
Gypsy movie director: Raju Murugan
Gypsy movie rating: 3.5 stars
The makers of Gypsy couldn't have picked a better time to release their film, considering how communal violence shook the entire nation in the recent past. Award-winning filmmaker Raju Murugan's Gypsy is set against the backdrop of targeted violence against Muslims, led by mobs of Hindu nationalists. Also, the film tells the story of two lovers in the time of riots. The moment you hear the word Gypsy, their nomadic nature strikes you, besides their appearance—bleached hair, colourful clothes and fascinating beads they wear.
Raju Murugan's protagonist Gypsy (Jiiva) is a nomad and born into this lifestyle. He doesn't look or act particularly different but has a different path. He wasn't brought up living in a house but is on the move all the time. Gypsy is more in touch with nature and chooses to settle in the places that suit him. He is also equally fond of music and Che (his white horse). We are shown Gypsy travelling around India along with Che and his adoptive father Senior. Though his life has always been outside - around the fire or in the woods, he speaks in all languages.
Gypsy, indeed, is a film about its characters, and Raju Murugan cares about them, which is evident in his writing. Sample this: Gypsy says he belongs to "Madham pidikkadha manusha jaadhi," when someone asks his caste. Then, he says he worships people when the same guy asks, "Nee yaara kumbadra?" We are also shown him cheering for the Pakistan cricket team. You understand Raju Murugan's intentions, and what he wants to convey.
The Jiiva-starrer benefits enormously from Selvakumar SK's remarkable cinematography. With its expanse of misty hills, forests, waterfalls, we get a glimpse into several scenic locations—Varanasi, Kashmir, Kerala—that are a sheer visual delight. Selvakumar's camera switches between its role as a silent spectator when Gypsy goes about his daily duties and, at the same time, breathtakingly captures the gorgeous locations in all its splendour. On one side, we are shown all of these, but on the other, we are reminded of the unfortunate Hindu-Muslim divide that threatens the social fabric. You can even say the film is a journey of Gypsy's self-discovery from being an orphaned child to a celebrated musician.
Gypsy wants to be "a free bird", but he is smitten by Waheeda (Natasha Singh). It is love at first sight. Whoever said eyes speak a thousand words was right! Waheeda, despite belonging to a traditional Muslim family, elopes with this guy. Love, they say, has a way of finding itself, right? Love knows no boundaries, and this we have seen in many films. Though each frame has been filmed with a great deal of care to enhance the mood of the story, as a viewer, you aren't completely convinced by the proceedings. Waheeda and Gypsy barely have conversations, yet, she decides to take a huge leap of marrying him. Gypsy makes her feel safe, and he gives her immense hope. But, you don't exactly get why Waheeda goes on "one small ride before the epic night." These two run away, overcoming family opposition, and move into some other place. They hunt for a house. You see a board that reads, "For Vegetarians only" (This cracked me up). This (experience) is new to Gypsy—finding a home—but he enjoys every bit of it. All this while, Gypsy was used to having Che around, but now "the new chapter of his life" demands that he is in the family way.
Now, Waheeda is pregnant, and violence breaks out in the city. Fear and trauma are quite visible among many, as they are seen leaving their homes for safety and peace. Homes are burnt, people are skewered on swords, a middle-aged woman gets raped. The incident was driven by hatred, with mostly women and children falling prey. The film, once again, shows the use of religion for political gain—that leads to violent attacks and killings. Many scenes reminded me of Mani Ratnam's Bombay and Kamal Haasan's Hey Ram.
Waheeda sees Gypsy after a year, and she remembers only that fateful night— how the fire blazed across the city. Her brain is filled with horrific memories. Waheeda is disturbed. Her father (played by Malayalam director Lal Jose), instead of taking her to a therapist, forces her into divorce. Dialogues including "Ambala pesina pinnaadi pombala enna pesaradhu" reflects Raju Murugan's understanding of the subject matter (Islam's patriarchy) he is discussing. But Gypsy wants Waheeda and his child. How he wins them, in the end, forms the rest of the story.
Despite its flaws, there is an inherent honesty in Raju Murugan's storytelling that can't be ignored. He makes the audience understand how innocent people often become victims of political agenda. He attempts to say what is playing out right now isn't just a religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims but a political struggle between those who want a secular peaceful nation versus those who wish otherwise. Raju Murugan doesn't turn Gypsy into a message movie, but, we get an ineffective and hurried climax. Gypsy doesn't pander to commercial diktats. However, I feel it could have been a much better film.
I understand the pressure he must have gone through as a filmmaker—courtesy—The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Gypsy ran into trouble with Censor Board as they recommended several cuts, after which the issue was taken up to the Tribunal. It was perceived that the film took a dig at Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's governance.
Post-interval, Gypsy pees in the police station and asks for water. It is a killer scene and shows the police brutality against the common man. Having said that, the film doesn't glorify police torture, mind you.
Raju Murugan is an abled-storyteller and pulls the audience into his universe of filmmaking. In one of the scenes, you see "no war" written on the walls. Again, you get why he named the white horse after the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. You get a painting of Bhagat Singh. You understand the "diversity" can both make and break the nation. In Gypsy, Raju Murugan weaves the narrative with some powerful messages like, "Endha katchi jeichalum, thokkaporadhu makkal dhan", "All Holy books (the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita) teaches peace to humanity and carry the same message, though, with different names) and "Kadavula kettavana aakara manushana nambadhinga!".
Santhosh Narayanan's music contributes to some of the film's finest moments. Jiiva brings such fine depth to his character. After Neethane En Ponvasantham (2012), I think this is a solid role in which he doesn't overdo anything—in terms of acting. Natasha Singh comes off as an earnest Muslim woman. She is the portrait of quiet dignity and grace. She does well even with minimal dialogues, relying on her eyes. Her expressions do the talking half the time, especially in crucial scenes. If Gypsy were a complete Malayalam film, it would have been celebrated. You will understand why when you watch it.