Thoughts on ‘Pearl of the Desert’

Excessively staged for a documentary, minimally intriguing for a narrative.

Set in Rajasthan, Pushpendra Singh’s documentary ‘Pearl of the Desert’ follows Moti Khan, an aspiring young singer from the Manganiar community, who have a rich heritage of music. Did Moti, the naturally talented singer, get his due and how? The film tries to answer by taking us on a journey into the village and the people’s lives. No doubt, the film has honest intentions. However, are great intentions enough to make a great film? No. I failed to connect with the film on various levels. For a documentary, the scenes and events look spuriously choreographed. It is almost like people were told to ignore the camera and be themselves. This brings a certain fakeness to the film. In a scene, an old librarian recounts the struggles he faced in setting up the library and collecting the books. “What is in these books is invaluable, but no one wants to read them”, he says to Moti. Sadly, such powerful moments are diluted because of the intended drama the director tries to adds. This makes the film appear to be a stage show in which people are playing an exaggerated version of themselves. Is it a good trait for a documentary? No.

It is the treatment that agitated me the most. It should have been a proper documentary, or a drama, or a docu-drama, which is the closest form of what it is now. However, we see Moti and many others doing things and having conversations for the sake of the camera. The absence of a mighty conflict makes it even more tiring. I get it, Moti is a very young boy, there will not be much of internal conflict. But even the external conflict looks so light that it is almost non-existing. Moti’s father wants him to study like the rest of the children. This should have been the major conflicting point of the film. But it is not.

As we are told, Manganiars have music in their blood, and their journey with music begins right from their birth. We see how important music is to these people. In a great scene, the father Moti asks why he has been bunking school, to which Moti reveals his ambition to become a singer. Their conversation is musical by itself; sadly, like I already told, it should have been either completely real or completely a narrative. The inconsistency in treatment that middles between a GULLY BOY-Esque inspiring story, and documenting it agitated me the most. I’m glad this important story is told. But, the way it is told could have been much more effective and charming.

Maru ro Moti(Pearl of the Desert) is now playing at 21st Mumbai International Film Festival. Watch the trailer here:

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