One of the biggest problems that the Indian society continues to face is the caste system. But if there is an even bigger problem it has to be gender inequality. Sonchiriya sums this perfectly in a scene wherein the famed Bandit Queen of Chambal aka Phoolan Devi tells a woman that only the men have different castes and that the caste system doesn’t apply to women for all men regardless of their castes consider women to be beneath them. Just like these pithy remarks, Sonchiriya is heavily laced with commentary. Here is a film so heavily loaded with deep socio-political ideas that nothing that we see can merely be taken for its face value. Also, the film’s violent quotient is quite high.
Sonchiriya revolves around a bunch of dacoits inhabiting the Chambal valley in the mid-’70s. This was the time when the ravines of Chambal were no longer a safe haven for these rebels owing to the regular countercharges from the local police as well as the state-appointed special task forces. Once invincible, these dacoits were now mostly on the run. Also there was a lot of infighting which slowly crippled them from within. In order words, Abhishek Chaubey’s film is about dacoits who have outlived their days in the Chambal valley. Watching Sonchiriya one is convinced that Chaubey has seen truckloads of Hollywood’s Western genre films as well as India dacoit dramas. Alas, there is one film he probably hasn’t watched: Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Had he watched it he would have certainly captured the emotions as well as motivations of his characters better.
Also somewhere Chaubey would have been a bit conscious about not making a film that closely resembles Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons why he ended up making something like Sonchiriya—a film that’s been stripped of all the usual entertainment tropes which make Hindi films their identity. Also, in striving hard to achieve realism à la Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen, Chaubey ends up making a film that’s so convoluted that one really can’t figure what he is trying to achieve with it. The film fails to live up to the promise of Chaubey’s earlier films such as Ishqiya and Udta Punjab. While Sonchiriya’s cinematography is its strongest point, its music is rather weak. Also, there is nothing exceptional about the performances. It really must take a special effort to make actors of the pedigree of Manoj Bajpayee and Ranveer Shorey look bland and one-dimensional in front of a motion picture camera. One really wonders how Abhishek Chaubey achieves the unimaginable. Sadly, that’s how dull, boring, and purposeless Sonchiriya really is.