At first glance, Bhaurao Karhade’s debut Khwada (Obstacle) appears to be like any other recent Marathi movie about economic distress in rural Maharashtra. Marathi cinema has churned out a respectable number of movies about farmers, including Gabaricha Paus, Tingya, Goshta Choti Dongraevadhi and Jhing Chik Jhing. It would seem that Khwada is yet another addition to the list.

At second glance, though, Khwada turns out to be an absorbing anthropological study of the nomadic community of herders known as the Dhangars. The movie follows one Dhangar family, which has traditionally earned its living raising goats. External pressures manifest themselves in the form of a crooked local politician, whose action of snatching away their goats earns the wrath of the younger son, a wrestler who is on the verge of being married.

Khwada opens across Maharashtra on October 22. The rustic Marathi spoken by the characters has necessitated subtitles, which also opens out the movie to non-Marathi audiences. Khwada has also been previously screened at the Pune International Film Festival and the London Indian Film Festival, and it will also be shown at the Seattle South Asian Film festival (October 15-25).

The best-known name in the cast is veteran stage and film actor Shashank Shende, who plays the pragmatic head of the family. The rest of the cast comprises relatively unknown and first-time performers, including Bhausaheb Shinde, an assistant director on the production who was picked to play the key role of the wrestler who dreams of escaping his traditional occupation.

The 30-year-old writer and director weaves into the domestic drama a larger commentary on the problems faced by the Dhangar community – the shrinking of grazing land, hostility from settled farmers, debt, exploitation, and economic hardship in times of drought and poor rainfall. The movie emerged out of an actual encounter with a Dhangar family in Pune, where the filmmaker lives. “I met a huge family from Aurangabad, who told me that they had come to Pune despite owning 35 acres of land because of poor rainfall that year,” Karhade said.

Karhade is more than familiar with the ways of rural folk. He is from a farming clan in a village in the Ahmednagar district, and he says he is the most educated person in his family. “I am the only one who has studied beyond the fourth standard,” Karhade said. He has wanted to be a filmmaker right from when he was 15 years old, but the only kind of directors his family knew of were “bank directors and factory directors”, he added. “The done thing after completing your education is to go into the military, but I always wanted to be a filmmaker,” Karhade said.

He had to briefly quit college to work, but managed to complete a course in communications studies from the University of Pune. The movie has emerged out of a long struggle for funds and distribution. The filmmaker worked on Khwada’s screenplay between 2010 and 2012, and took many months to find a producer. Chandrashekhar More eventually stepped in to finance the movie, and several friends contributed towards the production. The effort paid off: Khwada won a Special Jury Award at this year’s National Film Awards, while sound recordist Mahaveer Sabbanwal also picked up a gong for Best Audiography on location.

Among the movies that inspired Karhade’s vocation is the romantic drama Maine Pyar Kiya, but his own film is far removed from populist cinema’s fantasies and happy endings. Khwada makes every effort to authentically portray the way the Dhangars live, do business, and marry. The movie has been shot entirely on location. The community’s association with nature is carefully depicted, as also its earthy speech patterns, close-knit and self-reliant nature, hardiness and practical lookout. Khandare was firm that he didn’t want a soppy narrative of victimhood. “These people have a culture that has not changed over time, and they are proud and have an attitude of compromise and going with the flow,” he said.

When pushed to the wall, however, the Dhangars in the movie fight back with tragic consequences. Khandare places their actions within the larger challenges being faced by Maharashtra's nomadic communities, who remain at the mercy of indifferent government policies and the unforgiving ebbs and flows of the rural economy. The director hopes to continue to give voice to that part of Maharashtra that lies beyond its cities. He is working on a new movie about the “dreams of the rural youth”.