Indian Film Festival Melbourne
Muslim-raised Imran Aziz (Gaurav Sharma) and his Hindu-raised wife Parvati (Vauka Sunkavalli) are self-professed “religious agnostics” returning to India after studying film production in Australia. Eleven-year-old Hari (Dhruva Padmakumar) describes his parents as “Indophiles,” glorifying the culture in their memories of home. Full of optimism, they commence their next film project. When they lose funding, their subsequent decision to finance the project by selling their home thrusts them into the midst of cultural and religious intolerance as they struggle to find somewhere that will approve renting to a mixed marriage couple. The prominent Muslim versus Hindu conflicts in their new life challenge their rose-coloured view.
Opening by panning over landscapes in black and white, Hari comments on India’s colour symbolism and the poetic beauty of India. A Billion Colour Story is a plea for Muslim-Hindu unity as well as a story of innocence, humanity and struggle, and Hari as the narrator delivers this with youthful innocence and earnestness. With Google at his fingertips ready to answer his endless questions as his family faces new challenges, Hari is wiser than his years, yet still innocent in his motives and his worldview. Still, doubt creeps in with the beginnings of adolescence; he narrates dubiously, “My dad believes that everyone is good and that love can change the world.”
Director Narasimhamurthy Padmakumar explores cultural taboos by thrusting progressive liberals Imran and Parvati directly into conflicts surrounding Muslim versus Hindu and old world values versus Western-influenced new world values. Domestic violence and sexism are prominent topics, leading to confronting scenes including Imran and Parvati’s attempt to save a neighbour from being beaten by her husband, only to be laughed out of the local police station. Padmakumar doesn’t shy away from confronting imagery; lingering on the woman cowering in fear, her heavily bruised face is an uncomfortably poignant focal point.
Written for the digital native generation, the film is touches on the impact of social media on social values. Padmakumar questions whether social media is a reflection of societal values or whether it constructs them. The depiction of increasing intolerance, then, may only be an illusion created by dramatic focus; alternatively, it may play a greater role in perpetuating the cycle of intolerance and hate crime by highlighting acts of intolerance.
Dhruva Padmakumar and Sharma’s father-son portrayal is credible, warm and accessible. This relationship serves to highlight Hari’s innocence and Imran’s progressive liberal values while providing social commentary on further areas that the film premise does not have the opportunity to visit on a broader scale, including LGBTQ themes and the value of innocence in childhood.
Shot predominantly in black and white, the switch to colour is made after a sudden tragic twist. Although visually effective as a transitionary moment, this decision to switch to vibrant colour to mark tragedy feels oddly counter-intuitive, particularly after building connotations between colour and life through the opening discussion of India’s poetic beauty in all its colour.