Song Of The Broad Highway

June 3, 2011 at 9:15 PMJun (Cinema, Media, Music, Musings)

Road has been a great metaphor in the world of art and literature for progress, for journey, for future and also for development. Using the metaphor of road B. Suresh has critiqued the idea of development through his new film Puttakka’na Highway.

The film begins with the shot of the protagonist Puttakka walking in the middle of the road and later in the film in a scene we see she being asked not to walk on the road, to which she bends after expressing her anger in a few words. The film ends with Puttakka walking on a mud path, with her daughter and her friend cum neighbor, after having a close look of the fly-over. These three scenes in a way sums up one of the main aspects that the film deals with i.e. how the idea of development excludes a certain section of the society. But the film has more than this to say and it says with clarity and with the heart in the right place.

Through the life of Puttakka we see how an entire village is first forced to migrate to an alien soil due to the construction of the modern temples i.e. dam. The villagers settle down in a village called Bisalahalli and start their lives from scratch but soon find their lives being destabilized yet again for the construction of a highway this time which will cut through their village.

At this point, where the highway is about to run over the village and the lives of the villagers we see some villagers like Mada who see the road as a hope for a better livelihood and we also see others giving away their land for huge compensation money they are promised. But some like Puttakka chose to fight only to lose the battle.

But in this battle we see the politics of the village and aspiring politicians coming into play, the connection between the local politicians and the power centre and also as to how the power of money can change the course of the road to save their own land and livelihood. The weak finally make way for the idea of development to cut through their lives and reduce them to lesser humans divorced from their land and life. A villager becomes a worker at the construction site; a ritual artist becomes a security guard, helplessly accepting their inability to fight against the mighty state and capital. The ones who dreamt of constructing lives beside the construction of the road by establishing find themselves at a loss, in the end of the film and those who gave away their lands for compensation migrate to the city in search of a job there once the compensation money flows out of their hands. Thus we see that in the end the mighty road (read development) has crushed all the lives on which it has slept.

We also see that the driver of the bulldozer is from an alien soil and so is the vegetable vendor in the city. This speaks of several other major development projects in some other part of the world which has displaced them who now in search of livelihood have reached here.

The ones who move out of their families in search of livelihood, to fulfill their needs make way for shady business beside the road and underneath the fly-over. The director without making these physical needs appear devilish looks at it within the larger frame work and handles with sensitivity.

What development does is not just displacing people from their soil, their life and their language but also displaces the non-human lives also. This is brilliantly captured in the film by the cinematographer H.M. Ramachandra. The snail slowly crawling on the road, with a truck nearing it gives a clear picture of what awaits. Its not just humans and animals which gets displaced but the very place gets displaced. In one of the most moving scenes in the film we see the protagonist returning to her village, after having made futile attempts to meet the CM, and fails to recognize her own village which, after the construction of the highway, has changed drastically. The idea of development also displaces places.

We also see the power structure at the bottom level of the society where Maada is quite violent to his wife in words and at times in action too. This violence running paralelly with the violence of the state and capital makes a sbtle comment as to how the idea of development is quite masculine.

The insensitivity of media also gets a mention in the film like the insensitivity of the larger middle class whose notion of development is restricted to good roads and tall buildings. The film while giving space for their voice raises a voice against such an idea of development.

In the final scene of the film we see Puttakka who raised her voice against the construction of the road turning complete mute. We see her daughter having turned into a prostitute. As much as her silence (or being silenced) disturbs us what moves us is the most moving act of Puttakka embracing her daughter without any reaction on finding her getting into prostitution. Puttakka now knows what development can push on to. She not just knows but also understands. The director too knows and understands and that is why the film appeals.

It would have surely appealed more if for a restrained and restricted use of music. The music tried to underline the visuals too loudly when the same images could have come out more powerfully without any music, in silence. There is music in the images captured by H.M. Ramachandra and hence the director could have used minimal music making the images more intense. But still the film succeeds in making valid points and raising valid questions, the main being- development at what cost?


  1. B.Suresha said,

    Well analyzed!
    It is inspiring me to do more films.
    Thanks a ton, dost!

  2. sangeetha shantha johnson said,

    Hi samvartha,
    Liked your write-up. you write very well, kannada film industry needed this break . Mr. B. Suresh is a talented director, His selection of a topic too is good. you have analyzed this movie from all perspectives. I could not see the film yet, longing to see after reading your thoughts.

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