Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid (2012) Poster

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Unflinching Tale of Adventure that Goes Deep into a Massive Darkness that is Devouring India
chiranjit-ojha15 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'm reeling after watching "Jalpari: the Desert Mermaid"... easily one of the best films made this year in India. In the surface an adventure film with children characters in the centre, this movie goes deeper into exploring some of the most mature and relevant social issues in India more than most "mature" films can be credited for. Not a horror film in the traditional sense, this is one of the most frightening films I have seen in a while.

The story is about a Delhi girl, 11-12 years old, who goes to visit her father's native village in Haryana during vacation. Her father is a doctor and building a new hospital near his village. An alien to these parts, she goes around exploring the area with her little brother and encounters situations that she does not fully understand. But her misadventures allow the mature audience to connect the dots... and come face to face with some of India's most deep-rooted epidemics like superstition, extreme gender bias and female foeticide. The audience is never preached about this, nor made to face these head-on; only glimpses are shown, somewhere in the background, as the central character goes around trying to blend with the local gang of boys, observing the village's strange lack of water sources and comprehending the legend of the witch that lives in the ruins outside the village. As she immerses herself in a childlike spirit of adventure, only hints are thrown in random exchanges of dialogues, and you start to notice that talking about certain things is a taboo with the villagers, the strange looks the girl child wearing jeans draws from people in the background, and there does not seem to be any other girl child of her age out in the streets.

It's this invisibility of things that builds up the horror. It's those words of reproach never spoken, but communicated through unblinking eyes. Nobody dares to be rude to the daughter of the big city doctor, but the hints are thrown in endless references. "Girls should be like girls" is repeated at least twenty times; mostly disguised as a light- hearted jape. The wife of the neighbour is a Bengali girl, who someone refers to as "imported wife" in a hushed tone. First you learn the witch eats children, then it is revealed she eats only girl children. For one day the central character wears a salwar (after a lot of protests), and next day the local boys start behaving differently with her.

At one point the theme grows so intense that you realise that the scariest scenes are not the ones where the ignorant city girl walks into the witch's house to look around. It's when she wanders the streets of the village. United in its biases, the village becomes a hostile entity, forever a threat to the girl for whom freedom of expression comes naturally. The extent of this threat is conveyed in a chilling way through a one-line realisation of the girl, "If my father had not left this place, maybe I wouldn't even be here."

The climactic moments, too, stand out in a major way. Not action packed or filled with game-changing revelations, they just make your worst fears come true. And these fears are not expressed through the witch, or any person, but the things you come across. The makeshift hospital with a computer and rusted ultrasound equipment. And the large pond filled with disposed corpses of baby girls. The ugliest face of the biases held dear by the patriarchal Indian society beating the drums of culture and tradition. That this horror does not fade away even after this film ends is made clear with an elderly person's emphatic assertion, "This is way things work here, and it's going to stay this way."

Hats off to the director, Nila Madhab Panda. And Lehar Khan, for bringing to life the endearing central character who would never stop asking questions and breaching boundaries.

Shot in Mahendragarh, a district with one of the lowest sex ratios in India, this film allows you no escape from the plague that haunts our country. Worth watching again and again. Recommended for everybody.

I mean, seriously, watch this film. Do it.
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Good Message, Good Direction and Very Well acting.
Micky Narula26 March 2013
This movie deserves at least 7 because of the message director wants to convey. Female Foeticide is a big issue in Indian subcontinent. Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have been rising and a awareness is needed to stop it.

The tag line says it all "Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?"

Very good acting by all the actors, Parvin Abbas, Rahul Singh in his Haryanvi accent, the child artists Lehar Khan and the local Haryana boys. the first half of the movie was little stretched, however the ending covers it all. Its more like a message documentary turned into a movie concept. Happy Watching ~!
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They Could Have Said It In 15 Minutes.
Tejas Nair13 January 2013
I respect the director for taking up a topic of great importance to human beings: FEMALE FOETICIDE! A very adverse subject in India for which there has not been any answer since the 80s.

Talking about the film, the message is great and will appeal to every audience. But I personally feel this could've been wrapped up in 15 minutes or so or could even have been made into a documentary promoted by the union ministry. But who cares about girls and its topics, right?

I praise the whole crew for their efforts to bring up a movie on a topic - so classified that many of us do not realize how bad it is, not only in India but elsewhere. It is high time, we receive such concept-driven movies which actually pleases the viewer. And if it has got a message, bingo!

Cast is good, direction, screenplay, cinematography and the photography is just good. Soundtrack gels with the adventurous theme of this movie. I am glad I watched it, but for people looking for entertainment, this is not recommended. It is an independent film!

WATCH OUT FOR: the message and stop supporting female foeticide!

Can be watched with a typical Indian family? YES

Language: No | Sex: No | Violence: Strong
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The desert mermaid had right intention to portray the message
Ketan Gupta8 June 2013
Female foeticide is a plague to Indian society and this practice has been followed for quite sometime. Jalpari- The desert mermaid focuses on the scum and brings out a very relevant subject.

A doctor goes back to his village to open a hospital to treat poor and needy people. During the visit , his elder daughter discovers a fatal secret of the village which is going to change the future.

Directed by Nila Madhab Panda ( I am Kalam), Jalpari is based on the harsh reality prevalent in North India where female child is still considered as liability to her family. Hats off to Nila for handling the bold subject with aplomb. Writing is skillful . However , it is screenplay which acts as a bottleneck in the movement of the film. The pace becomes slow and loose editing makes it worse. Performances by Parvin Dabbas and other star cast is just about OK. Music is off the track. Cinematography and dialogs are just fine.

Jalpari- The desert mermaid had right intention to portray the message. Above average 2.5/5
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