Relating a simple, elemental tale and bearing no small debt to Italian neo-realism, 1000 Rupee Note marks an impressive directorial debut for Shrihari Sathe. The moving performance by Usha Naik in the lead role accentuates the deeply humanistic qualities of this film that has received awards at numerous festivals.
The veteran Indian actress plays Budhi, an elderly widow living in a rural village in Maharashtra, India. Since her grown son committed suicide because of his inability to pay his debts, Budhi has been living a solitary life. Her best friend is her young neighbor Sudama (Sandeep Pathak), a goatherd with a wife and children, whom she sometimes invites over for tea and fluffy bread.
This elemental tale is quietly moving, if a little too low-key.
“It tastes better with company,” she tells him when he protests that she can’t afford to share her food.
Budhi earns a meager living cleaning the home of a nearby wealthy family. But despite numerous hardships, she goes about her business with an ever-present smile. When she joins Sudama at a rally for a local politician to take advantage of the free meals being offered, her life changes dramatically, and not for the better. The candidate ends the event by handing out 100 rupee notes to the villagers in exchange for their votes, and when he learns about the death of Budhi’s son, he impulsively hands her several 1,000 rupee notes instead.
Thrilled by her unexpected windfall, Budhi enlists Sudama to join her on a shopping expedition to the city so she can, among other things, get her eyeglasses repaired and purchase a new frame for a photograph of her late son. But the large bill poses an unexpected problem — the first few merchants don’t have change; another, suspecting that it’s counterfeit, notifies the police. In the resulting confusion, Budhi and Sudama wind up spending the night in jail.
Written by Shrikant Bojewar, 1000 Rupee Note is a little too low-key for its own good, with the director’s restraint resulting in a sluggish pace and a lack of emotional high points. Still, the film is quietly moving. Budhi — who despite her impoverishment shares some of her food with a dog, and even ants — emerges as an admirably stoic, sympathetic figure. Her indomitability in the face of life’s travails proves inspirational, and when she finally does admit defeat, with a gesture shown in the film’s closing moments, the effect is subtly devastating.
Production: Infinitum Productions
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Cast: Usha Naik, Sandeep Pathak, Shrikant Yadav, Ganesh, Yadav, Pooja Nayak
Director/producer/editor: Shrihari Sathe
Screenwriter: Shrikant Bojewar
Executive producers: Ranjit Gugle, Shekhar Sathe
Director of photography: Ming-Kai Leung
Production designer: Prashant Bidkar
Costume designer: Kalyani Kulkami
Composer: Shailendra Barve
Casting: Chinmay Kelkar
Not rated, 89 minutes