Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa has been described as a movie about the deleterious effects of climate change, but it works better as an account of the unusual bond that develops between an indebted farmer and a loan recovery agent.
The movie is set in Mahua village, where palms are read not for prospects of fortune but signs of debt. Drought has sapped the farmers of money and a future, and the blind Hedu (Sanjay Mishra) is worried that his son Mukund (Bhupesh Singh) will not be able to escape the clutches of loan recovery agent Gunu Babu (Ranvir Shorey). Gunu is known as Yama’s man on earth, leaving behind a trail of hanging bodies wherever he goes.
But when Gunu realises that his famed tactics will not work in Mahua, Hedu comes up with an audacious plan to save his son from the fate he is sure awaits him. There are echoes of Gabhricha Paus (2009), but the Marathi movie did a far better job of tackling a farming family’s desperate response to debt and the threat of suicide.
The climate change angle is shoehorned into a story that is actually about the agricultural crisis across the Indian farming sector. Panda creates a convincing world of genteel blight, packing in details of rural lives driven to ruin by the weather and an indifferent government. But the story is too sketchy even for its 99-minute running time. Hedu’s blindness is a clumsy attempt to evoke sympathy for his plight and an on-the-nose metaphor for his ability to divine what others cannot – the soil has dried up, forcing humans to lose their morals in the dust.
The better character is Gunu, who works hard to earn his commissions and has his own sad back story. Ranvir Shorey plays the debt collector with the right mix of venality and humanity, and emerges as the earnest and plodding narrative’s most interesting character.