A long-delayed film but one that comes with its own baggage of silent merit, The Hangman hinges on a rather heart-wrenching irony. A noble hangman Shiva (Om Puri) must finally execute the son on whom hinges his whole hope of the future. Tragically the execution of this executioner’s tale suffers from an excruciating linguistic anomaly. For some strange and inexplicable reason the characters located in a Maharashtrian village speak in English. Their clipped self-conscious accent jars and reduces the impact of the powerful drama by alienating the characters from the words that come out of their mouth. Om Puri playing a character apparently inspired by real life is in emotional form as the doting dreaming father of an earnest son who, stereotypically, is spoilt and ruined by the Big Bad City. The opposition of values between rural and city life is done with a simplistic yet sincere flourish. The story could’ve done with a less pedantic treatment. The characters are almost parabolic. The hangman Shiva’s wife is named Parvati, and played with a clipped accent and eyebrows to match, by Smita Jaykar and the son, believe it or not, is named Ganesh! There begins the tormenting tandav on migration from the villages and its ruinous aftermath. There’s a touching core to Shiva’s hopes of getting his son out of the noose into a world of prosperity. This side of the plot needed further nurturing and irrigation.
The father-son sequences as played out by Puri and Talpade, convey a wealth of warmth, sadly melted-down by outdated values and narrative devices. By the time the narration moves clumsily into the city life to show the urban corruption of the poor rustic Ganesh the narration embraces naivete wholesale abandoning any deeper thoughts for a surface-level exploration of the relationship between ambition and guilt. And portraying the city girl (Amrita Bedi) as a toxic influence is the last straw. In case the director hadn’t noticed the villages have moved and merged into the cities. The city-rural divide is only a mind-set now. Tackling a concept that is thoroughly outdated The Hangman never proceeds beyond conveying the mood and modality of a serious high-school morality- play performed with touching earnestness. It’s the sincerity of Om Puri and Shreyas Talpade’s performances that place this film a peg or two above the trite level. If we add Gulshan Grover’s acting as an upright jailor The Hangman is a bearable depiction of a rustic family’s dreams gone to seed. But Do Bigha Zameen, this is not.