The Fourth Direction
Directed by Gurvinder Singh
Fear and paranoia pervade life in rural Punjab of the ’80s, before and after Operation Blue Star, as separatists clash with security forces.
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★★★★ review by Shikhar Verma on Letterboxd
The imagery in Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) feels quite random at times. There are prolonged shots of farmed-green fields, rural roads, the front & back of a house, flies buzzing and rains falling outside as your look at it from inside the house in consideration. To a normal cinegoer this might seem like an exercise in ambiguous experimentalism. But to someone who wishes to consume cinema in its rawest and most delicately carved form, Chauthi Koot will transform you into the house and fill you with fear of an event that had happened almost 3 decades ago.
★★★★ review by Alan DSouza on Letterboxd
Fourth Direction is a movie set in an interesting period of Indian history, at a point when the country was probably at its most volatile state. India is a country of multitudinous religions which are distributed fairly homogenously with the exception of the state of Punjab (predominantly Sikh) and Kashmir (predominantly Muslim). In the timeline of this movie, a credible secessionist movement took hold in Punjab with the leader holding fort in the holiest shrine for the Sikh people (The Golden Temple in Amritsar - The Equivalent of the place the Kaaba, Mecca holds for Muslims).
This held a huge dilemma for the Indian government, which knew that storming the shrine would create great religious turmoil - which it did when the Indian army eventually did storm in reaching a pinnacle of instability when the Indian Prime Minister (head of state) was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation.
This movie thus has a heavy historical background, but chooses to cleverly leave all those things metaphorically in the background - just like its cinematography keeps the background much diffused for most of the runtime.
Instead, Fourth Direction focuses predominantly on a farmer and his dilemma over allowing his pet dog Tommy to live, whether bwing threatened by militants to murder the canine for causing a brouhaha during their clandestine activities in the wee hours of night or the arrogant policeman who storms in with his lieutenants to search for any hiding terrorists and gets attacked by Tommy and orders a constable to kill it in a fit of rage.
The movie shines in its reserved acting, minimalistic approach to dialogues, emotions and color and uses the animal as a metaphor for the suffering of the ordinary people caught in a catch 22 situation between the militants and the retaliatory government police.
I'm not an animal person, I am usually not as fazed by animal deaths (for example like in Lobster) as I am by human atrocities. My empathies are biased towards humans in general and I think its a mark of how incredible this cinema was that I was more afraid for the life of Tommy, the pet dog than I was for the farmer Joginder or his family.
A style that reminded me of many other similarly paced most vies from 2015, minimalist in dialogue and restrained in emotions like The Assassin or Cemeteries of Splendour, Chauthi Koot or the Fourth Direction is probably the best movie out of India since Ship of Theseus (2013).
★★★★ review by Satish on Letterboxd
Mr. Singh’s backgrounds here are hazy and out-of-focus. He isolates people within spaces, and between the lighting and framing – of medium shots of a group of cops talking at a railway station, or two guys waiting for a train – he seems to provide the same sort of demarcation between light and darkness, between security and insecurity that the old television serials on Doordarshan would do. He doesn’t give us any establishing shot of the railway station itself, of a continuous space so to speak, almost limiting the breathing space available around to a bare minimum. There are several shots through a door towards the outside ala The Searchers, and while Mr. Ford’s shots felt like a view from a telescope with considerable amount of breathing space for they had depth of view that was aided very well with the nature of the geography – the details of terrain – Mr. Singh’s lack depth and the monochrome green of the crops provide for a lack of detail that seems to essentially open up the house like one were to open a cardboard box. The house here feels flat, like two parallel lines pretty close by with seeming danger beyond the foreground and unknown in the background. I admit, I have never been to any rural place in any part of India, and I also feel that Mr. Singh’s Chauthi Koot is, in its form in its concerns and thereby in its very essence, a home invasion film.
There is another enclosed box in the form of the ticket collector’s compartment tagging along with the rest of the train at its rear end, and it has a window through which we see the passing tracks on which the train is running. There are people sitting inside that box, after having sneaked/pushed their way in in spite of the ticket collector’s rejecting their earlier requests to let them travel, and Mr. Singh cuts this group – of two friends, a Sardarji whom the friends meet on the station, of two guys travelling from before – into little pockets. And on the off occasion he does bring them together, the grouping is so tight it lacks air. Earlier, we see those two friends, Jugal (Mr. Kanwaljit Singh) and Raj (Mr. Aulakh), walking and then running towards the station in a series of tight frames, and all of it creates a significant distrust for the space around. One of those friends happens to provide the essential service of framing the primary story of Joginder (Mr. Suvinder Vicky), the patriarch of a home seemingly in the middle of nowhere and with a fierce dog for a pet. It is a home that was built to be near the farms, a motivation I presume driven towards reassurance. But it is Punjab in 1980s and Khalsa members would be moving in the night to escape the cops and the army. They are not to be trifled with, and between the close-ups of Joginder’s fuming eyes and the off-screen barking of the dog, where one wishes it forget its barking duties from time to time and not bother the travelling Khalsa members, the controllable space (if home can be defined thus) seems to be shrinking all the time. There’re the cops too, and when they run through the house tearing it apart looking for god-knows-what you realize Mr. Singh, has inverted the overall dynamic of what constitutes domestic security. Every time the dog barks the walls seem to become that wee bit thinner. There is an off-screen sound of a bullet too, just as there is the off-screen BBC radio report on Operation Blue Star. And amidst all this, Home is no longer what it was, and it stands there naked just like the trailer in The Hills Have Eyes. Which makes you wonder if your home is where it belongs. Or you belong to that home in the first place. Or maybe, just maybe, it is better to have the ideological clarity of a dog and know for sure where your allegiances lie.
★★★★ review by Muhammed Deshmukh on Letterboxd
Minimalist, deliberate folk drama does a fine job of capturing the tensions in 1980s Punjab. Director Gurvinder Singh makes a brilliant move by having a big dog hang about most of the action, one of the focal points of the story even revolves around him.
★★★★ review by Shourabh Shekhar on Letterboxd
Eighties | Punjab
Unlike all the other films ever made on this topic, 'Chauthi Koot' stands out because of the minimalism and unconventional storytelling.
Highly recommended for people who love Iranian Cinema.
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