Matto Ki Saikil (Matto’s Bicycle)
Cast: Prakash Jha, Anita Choudhary, Dimpy Mishra, Aarohi Sharma
Director: M Gani
In 1948 Vittorio De Sica made Bicycle Thieves, a haunting tale about a man trying to track down his stolen bicycle, which is his only hope to secure his livelihood. In 2020, M Gani’s Matto Ki Sakil took us back to the Italian classic, making it clear how things haven’t really changed for the less-privileged over the years. The story of a poor man’s fate being attached to his modest means of transportation is as relevant now as it was seven decades ago.
Matto is a daily-wage labourer who travels to the city on his cycle to earn money for his family of four. His life is simple and he’s a happy man, but things start getting difficult once he realises that his 20 year-old cycle doesn’t have much life left. He keeps putting off buying a new one, because truth be told, he doesn’t have the means to. When he cannot power through his old cycle any longer, he finds himself to be a desperate man.
A few stories running parallelly in the background explain more about Matto’s situation. An Army veteran fights the election to be the new Gram Pradhan, and promises to bring change the village hasn’t seen before. Matto’s family gets a reputation because he is unable to pay off dues. Money-lenders buy expensive vehicles out of the exorbitant rate of interest they charge from these labourers but will still taunt them before lending money. Prospective grooms want a Pulsar bike for dowry. A lawyer cannot get a client because of his caste and the ‘Safai Karamcharis’ don’t let Matto or the villagers defecate in the fields peacefully anymore.
The film is so raw, but still manages to be aesthetically pleasing. It doesn’t try to make a caricature out of an Indian village, neither through the storytelling, nor the cinematography. The only problem with the film is that it takes too long to get to the point. The most poignant part of the film comes a little too late, and by that time you can almost predict what’s going to happen.
Prakash Jha does all the heavy-lifting in the film. He is an extraordinary performer and even though we love his work as a director, we wish he would face the camera more often. The supporting cast doesn’t make much impact, and that almost seems intentional given how little women in these families have agency in real life.
Matto Ki Saikil premiered at Busan International Film Festival, but should be released for the public soon, as it needs to be watched by people in large numbers. We hope it reaches oppressors of the Indian society, who have the chance to introspect, even if that might not be the film’s intention. We also hope that it doesn’t take another seven decades for things to change for the better.