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GHASHIRAM KOTWAL K. Hariharan, Mani Kaul, India 1977, 107 min

Schemes, assassinations and espionage in the old Indian empire on the eve of colonialization

Based on a famous play of the same name, GHASHIRAM KOTWAL combines the stylistics of theater with experimental cinema to portray the last years of the Maratha Empire before the British take over. It is an attempt to give an insight into the intrigue-ridden world of nobles and aristocrats ruling over a decaying empire while ruthlessly exploiting their working class and women. It is also a tribute to the dance drama tradition, which formed the basis of popular/counterculture in Western India.

GHASHIRAM KOTWAL is the first venture of YUKT, a film cooperative established by sixteen students from the Film & Television Institute of India in 1976.

GHASHIRAM KOTWAL is a stylized film version of a play chronicling the Peshwa regime in western India. The Peshwa Empire, based in Pune, was the only one of its extent in India under Brahmin rule. Placing an infant Madhav Rao on the throne as king, Nana Phadnavis takes charge as the Prime Minister. To enforce his powers, Nana appoints Ghashiram as a senior police official cum espionage agent. So it is in the heart of a feudal, decadent, yet romantic atmosphere that we witness intrigues, murders, and alliances while the British advance into Maratha territory. Through his espionage network, Nana discovers the subversive operations of the British; when Nana resists them he faces a total rout at Wadgaon (1779).

Ghashiram develops into a mirror image of Nana, and while Nana gets married for the sixth time to a child bride, Ghashiram unleashes a reign of terror against the intriguing Brahmins. One day a group of Brahmins from Andhra suffocate to death in a dungeon while confined under his orders. Unable to tolerate this tyranny, the Brahmins of Pune demand that Ghashiram be beheaded. Nana placates the imprisoned Ghashiram by offering him metaphysical solutions to life, but later sanctions his death sentence. The Peshwas hang on when all other Indian rulers have gone under. Finally they too are brought to heel and the British get complete control of India.

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