Sonchiriya (2019) has everything you would expect from a film about dacoits. It has gunfights and bloodshed; weather-beaten faces; and the interplay of caste, patriarchy and tradition. But what Sonchiriya does differently is that it digs deeper. It probes the morality of its characters, following them as they question their dharma as bandits. It lets the landscape of Chambal, Madhya Pradesh, take centre stage, appearing in nearly every scene.
The Chambal River and the stark ravines stretching outwards from its banks are, however, not mere backdrops. They are integral characters in the film and drive the narrative forward. Even when the ravines lurk in the frames, they exude personality, revealing glimpses of the environment that has shaped the characters, right from the gang of dacoits led by Man Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) to the policemen wanting to hunt them down.
Director Abhishek Chaubey wanted the aesthetic of a western, and Chambal was the perfect setting to achieve that, says cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan. “Had the story not been set in that landscape, it might not have been as interesting. The heat there; the colour, structure, and grittiness of the sand; the sharpness of the sun; it all adds to the feeling.”
Indeed, Chambal’s texture is unique. And it most