By Sirkka Belle Wirtanen Miller, Contributing Writer
“1000 Rupee Note,” the latest film by Shrihari Sathe, is a life-size story firmly nestled within the greater political climate of modern India. The film tells the story of Budhi (Usha Naik), a cheerful and good-natured widow living in a small village in Maharashtra, India. She has lost her only son, a young farmer, to suicide, yet despite her losses, remains a positive presence in the village. She is beloved to all but especially to her younger neighbor, Sudama (Sandeep Pathak). The two maintain a close friendship full of laughter and heartfelt affection, demonstrating just how fulfilling and joyful a simple life can be.
Budhi’s son’s suicide was only one of a wave of farmer suicides happening today in India. The trend is being attributed to widespread corruption, climate change and new economic policies that favor privatization, liberalization and globalization. Small-scale agrarian farmers have very large debts and no way to compete in the market. Budhi had been featured on the news for his death, so when a politician came into town and began handing money out to the villagers (in a very obvious and hilariously normalized show of corruption) he handed her more than anyone else: four 1000 rupee notes. When Budhi goes with her sister to a market to spend their money, however, things begin to go south. They are arrested and held overnight for no purpose but the police officers’ greed and demonstration of power.
The real power of this film lies in the larger-scale implications of the plot. The manner in which Budhi and Sudama handle being mistreated is brave to be sure, but this is no hero story. The women do not overcome the systemic obstacles that they come up against except by waiting them out, and this is a strength of the film. It is a story of individual agency versus structural pressures on a very accessible scale, and Sathe successfully balances making the real issues clear while not addressing them in an overtly opinionated manner.
Still, there were a few production choices that were confusing — an abrupt flashback to explain Budhi’s son’s death that was not transitioned to clearly, for example — but overall the trajectory of the film was well-formed. The acting felt genuine, despite the occasionally overly simple emotional responses (pure cheer and pure sorrow were frequent, rather than more realistic combinations of the wide spectrum of human emotion), but this served a purpose in the long run: Budhi’s spirit is overwhelmingly good, a protagonist with whom one may sympathize fully. Seeing her being mistreated, abused and powerless evokes an emotional response that does not quickly fade. “1000 Rupee Note” shines in its ability to humanize and clarify the real, all-consuming impact of a broken and corrupt political system.
“1000 Rupee Note” will be released in theaters on Sept. 23.