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“Pushtaini: A Riveting Indie Film Shedding Light on Unspoken Gender Realities”

Our society has yet to come to terms with the sad reality that sexual exploitation is not gender-specific. Traditionally, mainstream cinema tends to either ignore the sexual manipulation of boys or use it as a plot device for generating humor. Breaking this norm, “Pushtaini,” an indie film with a profound purpose, embarks on a journey starting at a film set where a struggling actor, Aryan Shaw (played by Vinod Rawat), wrestles with his lines while laying on a couch.

The film opens with Aryan trying, and failing, to hide the simple mountain boy Bhupinder or Bhuppi, within him from the scrutinizing eye of the camera. The duality of Aryan and Bhuppi is immediately evident. Aryan’s struggles on set hint at his deeper, distressing backstory rooted in the dark world of the ‘casting couch,’ a euphemism for trading sexual favors for career opportunities.

As Bhuppi grapples with blackmail threats from a deceitful line producer who possesses incriminating footage, his genuine acting talent begins to surface. It’s a talent that Rajkumar Rao’s character, the hero of the movie within the movie, had advised him to harness. The pressure and frustration Bhuppi faces eventually work as a catalyst to merge Aryan and Bhuppi into a singular, more authentic persona.

Desperate to extricate himself from this entanglement, Bhuppi returns to his native land in Uttarakhand. The stunning landscape of the mountains starts to reveal the scars of his past, the reason he fled to the city—now brought to the forefront. The title “Pushtaini” (meaning ancestral) takes on new meaning as viewers learn that Bhuppi’s suffering stems from deeply rooted family issues, which go beyond what was portrayed in other films exploring similar themes.

Bhuppi’s turmoil is compounded by a sister who accuses him of abandoning their family and an aunt who blames him for his father’s unexplained death. This trauma is linked to a family will controlled by his father’s employer, Yashpal (portrayed by Mithilesh Pandey), whom Bhuppi fears confronting due to lingering childhood traumas. This emotional quagmire is skillfully woven into the story, with the sounds and scenery of the mountains becoming a powerful narrative tool.

During his quest for closure and truth, Bhuppi comes across Dimple (Rita Heer), a life coach also driven by unresolved issues from her past.

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. While Bhuppi steers clear of intoxicants to avoid peeling back the layers he has wrapped around his true self, Dimple uses weed and vodka as a coping mechanism in her struggle against the challenges posed by both their surroundings and situations.

Adding levity and humor to the narrative is Hemant (Hemant Pandey), a taxi driver and Bhuppi’s childhood companion. Hemant’s small-town mentality and judgmental attitudes toward women’s lifestyles and food choices bring an earthy charm to the film, balancing the heavier themes of personal trauma and societal inefficacies.

Vinod Rawat shines not just as an actor but also as the director, producer, and co-writer of “Pushtaini.” While unfolding Bhuppi’s painful journey, Rawat subtly touches upon issues like unemployment, migration, and economic hardships that plague the hilly regions, without a heavy-handed approach.

Just as Bhuppi’s traumatic experiences are ‘Pushtaini’ or ancestral, the societal reluctance to openly discuss male sexual exploitation has deep historical roots. The film portrays these themes with a deft touch, encapsulating the helplessness and resilience typical of marginalized individuals. Rawat’s narrative refrains from seeking pity often associated with independent films, instead gripping the audience’s attention throughout.

Technically, “Pushtaini” may remind viewers of heartfelt student films, marked by its earnest story and minor technical imperfections. While some segments reflect raw, unsophisticated expression of emotions, which sometimes works in its favor, other parts rely on cliché metaphors. Nonetheless, Rawat’s passion and intent shine through, making “Pushtaini” a commendable effort.

“Pushtaini” manages to stand out amidst the array of commercial films currently dominating theaters. Despite the challenges posed by a distribution system favoring big-budget movies with established industry ties, one can only hope that “Pushtaini” finds its niche. This independent gem showcases a gripping and heartfelt story that audiences should not miss.

“Pushtaini” is currently running in theaters, providing a unique and thought-provoking cinematic experience.