Dharm, a film by director Bhavna Talwar, is a very interesting piece of cinema. While it tackles the age old problem of religious conflict just like many other films have done before, Dharm does it in a different manner. And that is why it needs to be seen.

Pt. Chaturvedi is an orthodox Hindu Brahmin living in Benares with his wife and daughter. Even in this day and age, he follows the various principles of Hindu Dharma to the letter. His religion is everything to him. Chaturvedi is also the head priest of the local temple which runs on the patronage of Vishnu Singh, (probably) of the erstwhile ruling family of Benares. Other characters include a foreign journalist, Paul, who is conducting research for a book on Hindu Dharma and who follows Chaturvedi around as he goes about his daily routine; Dayashankar Pandey, another priest, who is envious of the position and respect enjoyed by Chaturvedi; and Surya Pratap Singh, the hot headed son of Vishnu Singh.

One day, Chaturvedi finds that his wife and daughter are coddling a baby boy which his daughter has brought home from some lady. Chaturvedi tries to locate the mother of the child but is unable to do so. After being convinced by his family that the baby is the son of a Brahmin and that he should adopt it, he accedes to their request and names it Kartikeya. As the child grows, so does Chaturvedi’s affection for it. Needless to say, his wife and daughter are completely under its spell. While life goes on, one day, Paul elopes with the daughter of Vishnu Singh and Chaturvedi consoles Vishnu Singh.

Just when things were getting back to normal, Dayashankar Pandey brings two ladies to Chaturvedi’s house and says that one of them is Kartikeya’s mother. The shocking part is that the ladies are burkha-clad and therefore Muslim. And Kartikeya’s original name is Mustafa. Chaturvedi hands over the boy to them and then begins a process of internal and external cleansing to restore purity. He even undergoes severe penance for the same.

As this is happening, riots break out in Benares, and Mustafa and his mother come calling seeking protection. Chaturvedi remains mute spectator as his wife sends them back. But Chaturvedi finds that he is not able to let go of his attachment to Kartikeya. He begins doubting his religion, and therefore goes back to the root of his beliefs. There he finds what he wants. He then regains his earlier zest for his work and religion and goes in search of Mustafa. Just then, a riotous mob led by Surya Pratap, who is now a member of a local Hindu fanatic group, moves towards that area killing people and burning whole localities. The mob and Mustafa come face to face and Chaturvedi intervenes. It is here that he explains that equality, brotherhood, non-discrimination and humanity are what dharma is all about; violence in the name of protecting religion is not dharma. And his picks up Mustafa aka Kartikeya and leaves the area.

Pankaj Kapur has done excellent work as Pt. Chaturvedi. K.K.Raina (Rang De Basanti, Byomkesh Bakshi, Ek Ruka Hua Faisla), Supriya Pathak and others provide good support. I liked the movie a lot. And as a bonus, it has good music by Sonu Nigam.

An interesting bit of trivia. In Dharm, Pankaj Kapur has a couple of scenes wherein he advices people on how one should control their tongue. He has a similar line in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool – Paan khao. Zabaan kaboo mein rehti hai – he says. And if one remembers, he has also acted in the Indian remake of Mind Your Language – Zabhan Sambhal Ke. Very interesting.

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