It’s very rare that a film can evoke a sentiment so clearly, while doing so little to drive a particular feeling home. In Chauthi Koot (the Fourth Direction), that feeling is fear. It’s the paranoia that was felt in every household in 1980s Punjab when a Sikh Separatist movement was in full swing across the state.
Chauthi Koot is based on two short stories by acclaimed author Waryam Singh Sandhu, which paint the impact of the traumatic time that was the 1980s in Punjab.
The first story is one of two Hindu men trying desperately to hitch a ride to Amritsar to avoid spending the night stranded at the station. The story focuses on their negotiations during a palpably tense time with the train guard – a man whose humanity in this desperate situation is battling with his need for self-preservation.
The second story is of Joginder, a farmer in a Punjab village, his family and their dog, Tommy. Tommy fills the evening sky with his loud barks and perturbs the family’s sleep. But more so, Tommy’s innocent barks irks the nearby Khalistan militants who worry Tommy will attract the armed forces’ interests. Joginder and his family are caught between the militants, the army and the need to maintain their humanity in a climate of fear.
The two stories in Chauthi Koot are not intricately weaved together. The director, Gurvinder Singh, instead chooses to present them starkly to the audience and let the fear, suspicion, paranoia and humanity evident in each film be the primary link between the two narratives. Minimal dialogue is interwoven with beautifully shot stills of fields in the rain and dark and characters going about menial tasks such as making chai.
Yet the slowgoing nature of the film works. It works to convey the violence that is implicit and deeply embedded in the events of the time. And it works to portray the impact of this trauma on ordinary lives.
Kamna Muddagouni is a lawyer working in Melbourne. Born in Mumbai and raised in Melbourne, Kamna has an avid interest in Indian cinema, pop culture and soft power. She hopes her training in Bollywood dance will one day come to great use when she is ‘discovered’ as an extra in the next big hit in the subcontinent.