Drawing together a keen environmental sensitivity with a nuanced view of village dynamics, The Man Beyond the Bridge is a rare find from rural India. Unfolding in Konkani – a language with no unique script that almost never appears in films – this is a gentle romance set against the lovely forest setting of Goa’s Western Ghats.
Vinayak is a forest ranger. His wife has died, leaving him lonely as he patrols vast areas of protected landscape. One day, he finds a madwoman cowering behind his house. He offers her shelter, and slowly, a tentative relationship begins to form. Each night he leaves out food for her, and each night she returns to eat and sleep in his yard.
Ignoring the gossip of the nearby village, which casts out anyone with a mental illness, Vinayak soon takes the woman into his home, and then into his bed. But when she becomes pregnant, it is he who risks becoming an outcast.
Director Laxmikant Shetgaonkar tells his tale with grace and attentiveness. Immersed in the culture of the region, he takes village traditions and beliefs seriously, while casting a jaundiced eye on those who exploit them. A subplot introduces a village headman who plans to build a temple on forest land in a crass bid for election. It’s Vinayak’s duty to oppose the construction, but the headman has key villagers in his pocket, including thieves who steal forest wood to build the temple, and even the priest who could legitimize the union of Vinayak and his new love.
Far from the sensory overload of India’s big cities, The Man Beyond the Bridge satisfies itself with exploring smaller but enduring dilemmas. What liberties can be taken with a natural environment by those entrusted to protect it? Is a man who marries a madwoman helping her or taking advantage? Shetgaonkar takes up these questions with humility and heart, finding an apt metaphor in a delicate rope bridge that links the wild forest to the so-called civilization of the village. —tiff.net