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DEHAM The Body (2001/English/Hindi) - Govind Nihalani’s first dystopian film in English alarmingly visualizing the future. - Exclusive by Bobby Sing
16 Jun, 2019 | Movie Reviews / 2007 & Before / Articles on Cinema / Did You Know! / Just In

George Orwell wrote a dystopian novel titled Nineteen Eighty-Four (aka 1984), published in the late 1940s, which is unanimously considered as one of the most definitive futuristic novels of the 20th century. The novel visualized a future (of four decades ahead) with complete control of authorities over the individuals, privacy as a myth and people more treated as robots under the constant surveillance of an omnipresent government represented by the Big Brother. Translated in almost all important languages of the world, the terms used in the novel as BIG BROTHER and more were later incorporated in famous reality TV shows with another version famous in India as BIG BOSS.

The west worked upon the concept of dystopian films resulting in several projects in the last century including an adaptation of the novel 1984, but it took a long time before a film on the theme got conceived in India in either Hindi or English.
 
Giving a clear explanation, a dystopian film is actually an imaginary representation of the future in the decades ahead, visualizing how we would be living our lives in the coming times. A frightening as well as alarming representation to be specific, where the society or the world around is not any pleasant place to live with extreme divisions treating humans as mere objects without any value as such. Where the authorities or corporates are biased and have complete control over the people with no privacy of their own and the scarce natural resources are more available to the rich and the influential. The basic purpose of such writings, plays or films is to make us aware about what may be coming in future and how we can avoid reaching that state of an unpleasant living on this planet taking some immediate corrective measures.
 
This is related but a quite different concept/theme in comparison to the ‘Science Fiction’ films and movies talking about aliens, space invasions, future inventions, time travel or artificial intelligence, as they are mostly conceived to entertain the viewers instead of alarming them of what might be coming in the future with a thought provoking approach.
 
So where we witnessed quite a few films of the genres mentioned above beginning from the black and white era, we never actually had a dedicated dystopian film till some talented filmmakers thought about it in the new millennium. Interestingly Aditya Bhattacharya’s RAAKH (1989) featuring Aamir Khan and Pankaj Kapoor does begin with a caption saying ‘This happens a few years later’, but it still remains a contemporary film, more or less taking about the same era.
 
Coming to the actual films, other than the recently seen web-series and TV films released on the online movie portals, two must watch gems in this genre that deserve a special mention here include – the brutally shocking MATRUBHOOMI A nation without women (2003) directed by Manish Jha and the innovatively insightful ISLAND CITY (2015) directed by Ruchika Oberoi. To give you an idea about their excellence, both these films have been included in the Movies To See Before You Die list at bobbytalkscinema.com.
 
However a couple of years before MATRUBHOOMI, one of the most respected and finest directors of Indian Cinema, Govind Nihalani came up with an English film (many might not have even heard about) on the subject titled DEHAM The Body in 2001, which was the first Indian dystopian film in English (later dubbed in Hindi) and most probably the first dedicated futuristic Indian film made on the theme too (if I am not missing any film releasing before that).
 
Nihalani’s first film in English having lengthy sequences with digital special effects (not really a norm in those days), DEHAM was adapted from Manjula Padmanabhan's story/play HARVEST (winner of Onassis Award For Theatre 1997) and it talked about the future with MNC’s taking over the control on people’s life, their bodies and their organs for their own vested interests. 
 
Set in the year 2022 revolving around a poor family living in a single room in a Mumbai chawl, it was more a technology based futuristic film (without any political inclination) pointing towards the times when the corporates would be hiring people, using their bodies and various organs, in return of money and all the desired luxurious facilities for their families. It focused on a MNC named Interplanta (with a tag line, Life….We Care) that signs contract with people hiring their bodies, taking full control over the life of their entire family members by installing a device in their home making a note of their every single move. Apart from the innovative theme, the film also had other bold insertions as a sub-plot of a gigolo, subtle reference of incest (towards the end) and more supporting the key subject. 
 
As a courageous attempt, though it reportedly won a prestigious award in an International Film Festival and recognition in other major festivals too, DEHAM was actually a big disappointment coming from the man with a huge reputation of making all classic, thought provoking films. 
 
Putting it bluntly, I personally couldn’t believe the film was really written, shot and directed by Govind Nihalani - the maestro who gave us gems such as AAKROSH, VIJETA, ARDH SATYA, PARTY, SANSHODHAN, DRISHTI, DROHKAAL, TAMAS and more.
 
The two hour film without any typical songs (music by Roy Venkataraman) doesn't make any kind of impact with its writing, cinematography or direction by the master filmmaker himself. In fact one feels extremely sorry while watching the film associated with his name, having such amateurish execution, terrible story progression, poor writing/dialogues, low grade special effects and careless depiction of the future without any creative touches or vision as such. 
 
For instance the movie made in 2001 talks about 2022 (two decades later) but the Bombay/Mumbai Chawls remain the same, home appliances do not change, cassettes players are still in use, toilets are still common and a big issue for the people living in slums, whereas the new age high-rise buildings and futuristic offices are right there (presented with unimpressive graphics) and robotic employees and wireless gadgets are also in existence installed by the MNC.
 
In short, the only positive of DEHAM is that it happens to be the first dystopian, futuristic film in English made by Goving Nihalani featuring Kitu Gidwani being the most impressive among the cast. Though Surekha Sikri and Aly Khan try their best playing their complex roles, the others add nothing much to the uninteresting proceedings including Joy Sengupta and Mohan Kapoor.
 
To end on a critical note, Nihalani expressed in his interview that when he read the play, he felt that it would make a better film than a play. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it possible and we sadly didn’t get another memorable masterpiece from the master filmmaker. 
 
So even if you do decide to watch the film, just consider it as a project, not really a part of the maestro’s great list of unforgettable creations.
 
Cheers!
Bobby Sing (Harpreet)
16th June 2019
(All Rights Reserved – Bobbytalkscinema.com 2019 )

(Note : The film is now available without any charge at Youtube)

Tags : DEHAM The Body (2001) Article by Bobby Sing at bobbytalskcinema.com, First Indian dystopian film in English, Exlcusive Articles by Bobby Sing, Articles on Cinema by Bobby Sing, Unknown Facts of Hindi Cinema by Bobby Sing
16 Jun 2019 / Comments ( 2 )
Ashutosh Singh

Thanks for the report. Was not even aware this film existed. 

Tejpal Singh

Dear Bobby g,

I have watched AAKROSH, VIJETA, ARDH SATYA, DROHKAAL and  TAMAS.

Yet to watch PARTY, SANSHODHAN, DRISHTI.

 Albeit having watched the first line in different ages, with different level of maturity, I must say that I was truely impressed by Govind Nihlani.

I would watch the remaining movies (second line) as well in next go.

Thanks for enriching the audience with such detailed reviews in a passionate way and many times engaging them in learning about cinema and its various facets.

Best Regards,
Tejpal Singh

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