Watching March 22, directed by Kodlu Ramakrishna, you can’t help but feel transported back to the 1980s or the 1990s. From the aesthetic to the overt social messaging it has to offer, the film harks back to an earlier era with all its attendant problems.
March 22 tells the story of a village that is a utopia of communal harmony. But all of that changes when years of drought result in a drastic scarcity of drinking water. A young Muslim man (Arya Vardhan), determined to rescue the village, becomes the local MLA and brings a famous geologist to help them find water. But just when it seems the village is saved, the only available solution erupts into communal confrontation between the village’s Hindus and Muslims.
The good thing about the old-fashioned style of the film is that it remains in ‘nice’ territory for all of the first half, though it lays on the communal harmony rather thickly. It is only after the interval that the film takes on a very different tone, as the conflict erupts. So, while the film takes a fairly conventional track in its build-up in the first half, some pleasant songs shot in the backdrop of picturesque local monuments give a welcome break.
Ananth Nag, as the renowned geologist uncomfortable with all the attention and reverence he receives from the villagers, is a treat to watch for his brief appearance, too.
It is when the film moves into the territory of communal confrontation that it reveals the problem of its conventional secularism. Even as the film tries to push a message that progress requires all people to move beyond religion, it can’t help but betray a majoritarian slant.
So, it’s the Muslims of the village who face the dilemma of choosing between their religious adherence and the common good. And it’s the Hindus of the village who finally show the way, with a benevolent trade-off that lets everyone move past their religion and become ‘humanists’.
Still, the film is not without a few interesting moments. For instance, there’s one point where the women of the village, fed up with walking miles every day to get water for their families, abandon the men to their patriarchal battles and leave the village. Unfortunately, they get mollified and return before the film can take a properly revolutionary turn.
The film holds together for the most part thanks to the efforts of veterans in the cast like Sharath Lohitashwa, Jai Jagadish, Ashish Vidyarthi, Vinaya Prasad, Geetha and Padmaja Rao. Younger actors like Megashri, Aryavardhan, Kiran Raj and Sheetal Shetty are good in parts, but fall short of expectations at other points.
If you’re tired of the usual masala film that lurches between fights, punch dialogues and romantic songs and item numbers, you might find March 22 worth a watch.