The River of Fables (Kothanodi)
Dir: Bhaskar Hazarika | Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema | India | 2015 | 118 mins
Oct. 9, 4:30 pm | SFU Goldcorp Centre For The Arts
Oct. 11, 9:30 pm | Vancouver Playhouse
The River of Fables journeys through four surreal stories that take place in what seems to be another realm altogether. Deep in the heart of mystic India, where people live simply in a quiet village, their lives seem to be shrouded in mystery and ill-boding. There’s a mysterious woman who is followed everywhere by a bewitched outenga (elephant apple). There is a man who, without any explanation, finds himself burying crying babies into the ground. There’s a girl, left by her merchant father at the mercy of her cruel and sinister step-mother. And a mother, infused with jealousy and greed, who arranges her daughter’s marriage with a python. If you’re not already intrigued, nothing else will pull you over to the dark side.
This film takes inspiration from and re-imagines the folklore of Assam, a state situated in north-east India. The aptly named The River of Fables borrows heavily from Assam’s rich and fertile landscape of river planes. The scenery helps guide the audience into an ancient world where magic, myth, and fantasy take a dark turn. In this world created by Bhaskar Hazarika, anything can happen. The entire film has an ominous tone from the beginning that slowly turns into horror. Death, murder, torture, black magic, demons, curses, and evil all make appearances in the narrative. This film walks the fine line between stereotyping India as the land of mysticism and celebrating its rich culture for its uniqueness. Clearly executed by an experienced hand that understands the culture and people of the area, The River of Fables is an investigation of the power of Indian mythology and folklore. Hazarika takes bedtime stories told to local children by their grandmothers and turns them into fuel for nightmares. This is accompanied by a background score, locations, and performances that will immerse you into a world of magic.
What’s important about this film is that it centers on women and their stories. It examines their strengths, their weaknesses, and their sacrifices. The women play the heroes and the villains, often falling prey to their own misfortunes. It deals with motherhood where fertility becomes a punishment. It addresses daughterhood where being a young girl is a burden. The film underscores the experience of being a woman by emphasizing the constant expectations women face, whether it’s to make the right match in marriage, be a dutiful wife, or to be a sacrificing mother. Their lives are paved with broken hearts and promises as they are cast aside, asked to give up everything, and left for dead. However, the lesson that overpowers the narrative is resilience. Hazarika deftly weaves together tales of the supernatural to emphasize the heroes of the stories: women.