Bhagwan Bharose 2023 Movie Review
In the opening moments that we meet Bhola (Satendra Soni) and Shambhu (Sparsh Suman), their compelling energy draws us in. Just over 90 minutes later, we’ve been rattled and shaken, captivated and crushed as we follow their journeys and begin to understand the world in which they’re growing up and the socio-political climate that impacts their every day.
Set in 1980s India, Bhagwan Bharose may take place within India but it is a story that feels universal and certainly feels relevant to this place and time in the United States. The film wrestles with faith as both question and answer, that which can give us peace and that which also can just as easily strip that peace away. Bhola and Shambhu reside in a small village and religion is central to their daily existence. They spend their days being taught religious lessons with even academic subjects such as history and science taught through a lens of the conservative faith that guides nearly everyone in the village with the noteworthy exception of one scorned atheist who isn’t easily shaken. Bhola’s grandfather (Vinay Pathak) accepts the man, though there’s never any doubt he’s a pariah in this community.
While Bhola is perfectly content with this religious teaching, when his father returns from an extended job away from home Bhola is instead sent to a more traditional school that scoffs at his religious teachings and has little tolerance for them. Ever the loyal friend, Shambhu joins him though the two struggle to assimilate and to reconcile the significantly different teachings. Bhola grows to detest this new school and begins to exhibit signs of a growing radicalization that is impacting his daily life.
Sublimely shot by Surjodeep Ghosh, Bhagwan Bharose is a rich and immersive film magnificently brought to life by director Shiladitya Bora based upon a script by Mohit Chauhan and Sudhakar Nilmani Eklavya. The storytelling here is patient and insight with Bora’s direction matching all the key rhythms of the natural, intuitive dialogue that is brought wondrously to life by the film’s ensemble cast and especially by the two co-leading performances from Satendra Soni and Sparsh Suman. Soni, with only one previous credit and a couple more on the way, gives a remarkable performance that never hits a false note and somehow captures both the innocence of childhood and the seeds of radicalization and communal violence. This would be a difficult performance for an experienced adult. For a young newcomer? It’s simply outstanding.
It’s arguable that Sparsh Suman is given less to do as Shambhu, though that would fail to appreciate the marvelous ways in which he perfectly parallels Soni’s performance and in some ways plays the other side of the spectrum from Soni’s Bhola. Suman’s performance is notably understated yet incredibly impressive from beginning to end.
Masumeh Makhija gives an emotionally honest performance as Bhola’s mother, a woman residing deeply within her faith yet also deeply maternal and remarkably charismatic. When Makhija is on the screen you simply can’t help but watch her. Vinay Pathak impresses as Bhola’s grandfather while Shrikant Verma and Manu Rishi Chadha also impress among a genuinly strong ensemble cast.
Music by Indian Ocean immerses us in this world that is simultaneously immersive yet jarring. Suraj Gunjal’s editing is precise yet beautifully paced. Kudos must also be given for the costume design by Shilpi Agarwal and Rishabh Kushwaha’s atmosphere-defining production design.
Bhagwan Bharose tells a meaningful and dramatic story yet beautifully brings it to life through a childhood lens. There are moments of humor in Bhagwan Bharose that feel naturally manifested rather than existing as a plot device. Yes, there are moments of trauma within the film yet there’s an immense amount of love and hopefulness, commitment and determination to tell this story that matters and to commit to a better, less divisive world for the next generation of children.
Easily one of my favorite films so far in 2023, Bhagwan Bharose is a reminder of how deeply the choices we make in our daily lives impact the children. Yet, it’s also a passionate call to lean into to respect for one another and to build bridges even amidst our differences.