A relentlessly miserabilist but well-scored and acted story set among the mari holeya, a caste of Untouchables in Southern Karnataka who are forbidden from owning or tilling their own land. This rigid law prevents old Choma (Vasudeva Rao) repaying a long-standing debt to the landlord despite owning two buffaloes he found in the forest. The film chronicles the disintegration of Choma’s family: two of his three sons die (one drowns because Brahmins refuse to touch him), the third seeks to escape his social status by converting to Christianity. The daughter is seduced by the landlord’s secretary and then submits to the landlord himself hoping to settle the debt. Choma’s only way of transcending his grim situation is by playing his little drum nightly, sometimes accompanied by his daughter. When Choma discovers his daughter’s relationship with the landlord, he goes to the forest, releases his precious buffaloes, breaks his plough and dies a lonely old man madly playing his drum. Brilliantly carried by the performance of Vasudeva Rao, the film is one of the most successful examples of a ruralist New Indian Cinema, elevating the post-Satyajit Ray invocation of primitivist authenticity into something like a productive principle.
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