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An In-Depth Look at ‘Pushtaini’: Unveiling the Struggles of an Actor’s Dual Life

Our society continues to grapple with the uncomfortable truth that sexual exploitation knows no gender boundaries. This glaring issue is often sidelined by mainstream cinema, where the plight of boys facing sexual manipulation is either ignored or treated insensitively as comedic relief. However, the independent film “Pushtaini,” armed with a profound purpose, diverts from these norms by addressing this pertinent issue head-on. The film opens on a rather symbolic note: a film set where the protagonist, a struggling actor named Aryan Shaw (Vinod Rawat), is painstakingly trying to memorize his lines while languishing on a couch.

Aryan, who internally harbors the identity of a simple mountain boy named Bhupinder (Bhuppi), tries hard to mask his vulnerability. His struggle is akin to an emaciated cat attempting to roar like a tiger. Early on, the film hints that Aryan’s set is deliberately crafted to reflect his internal turmoil and serves as a launchpad for him to reveal his hidden truths. It soon becomes evident that Aryan’s journey is marred by the dark reality of the ‘casting couch’—a veiled term used to describe the exchange of sexual favors for career growth.

A sleazy line producer holds a damaging video that could potentially end Bhuppi’s budding career. Surprisingly, this emotional and psychological blackmail injects into Aryan an authentic flair that was previously missing in his performances. It’s a talent that Rajkumar Rao, playing the hero in the film within the film, advises Aryan to harness. Until this moment of realization, Aryan and Bhuppi were disjointed fragments of the same person.

Desperate to escape the pervasive trap of exploitation, Bhuppi makes a retreat to his ancestral homeland in Uttarakhand. Entrancing mountaintop vistas serve not only as scenic relief but also as portals that reopen crevices of Bhuppi’s traumatic past. The film’s title, “Pushtaini,” gradually begins to resonate with the audience as we learn of Bhuppi’s unresolved “daddy issues” that run far deeper than those depicted in mainstream cinemas like “Animal.” A sister haunted by his perceived betrayal and an aunt who blames him for his father’s tragic demise add to his emotional burden. To complicate matters, the will of his father lies in the hands of Yashpal (Mithilesh Pandey), his father’s employer, whom Bhuppi is unwilling to confront because of unresolved childhood trauma that wears at the fabric of his personality. This complex emotional landscape turns both the soundscape and the landscape into crucial storytelling elements.

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In his quest for self-actualization, Bhuppi encounters a fellow traveler named Dimple (Rita Heer), a life coach who is also seeking answers to longstanding questions from her own past. Unlike Bhuppi, who avoids intoxicants to keep his protective layers intact, Dimple relies on weed and vodka to soldier through her oppressive reality and treacherous surroundings.

Humor and levity find their places in the narrative through Hemant (Hemant Pandey), a taxi driver and Bhuppi’s old friend. Hemant, a staple figure of small-town life, often judges women by their culinary and lifestyle choices, injecting both tension and comic relief into the otherwise intense storyline.

Vinod Rawat, who portrays Bhuppi/Aryan with heartfelt depth, has also directed, produced, and co-written the film. Throughout Bhuppi’s journey, Rawat subtly addresses issues of unemployment, migration, and economic struggle prevalent in the hilly regions. These hardships expose the people to various forms of exploitation, all the while maintaining an understated dignity.

The central theme of “Pushtaini” extends beyond Bhuppi’s personal trials. Just like the inherited property referred to in the film, the protagonist’s struggles are also ‘ancestral.’ Over time, marginalized people continue to face and conceal sexual exploitation, living in unspoken agony. Rawat captures this cycle of suffering adeptly, weaving it seamlessly into a gripping narrative that does not beg for sympathy despite its indie status.

From a technical standpoint, “Pushtaini” exudes the intimacy and authenticity of a well-crafted student film. Its emotional core beats strongly, although some loose ends in writing and performance could benefit from finer tuning. The raw, unfiltered expression of emotions can be an advantage but may occasionally slip into clichéd metaphors that slightly detract from its impact.

Despite these minor shortcomings, “Pushtaini” stands well above many of the glossier productions currently dominating theaters. One can only hope that it navigates the often ruthless distribution channels favoring blockbuster films, where connections and legacies still wield considerable influence.

“Pushtaini” is now playing in theaters, offering a reflective and gripping indie experience that dares to explore untouched narratives in Hindi cinema.