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Finding Miss Tanakpur

mohini chaudhuri | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on July 03, 2015

Best actress: The search for the right Miss Tanakpur was an arduous one for director Vinod Kapri

Vinod Kapri

The task of getting a buffalo to emote behind him, director Vinod Kapri says the animal has been wrongly judged

Most proverbs in Hindi seem to suggest that the buffalo is the most dim-witted animal. Sample these--- ‘ akal badi ki bhains’, ‘ bhains ke aage been bajana’, or ‘ gayi bhains paani mein’. None of these phrases have anything complimentary to say about the animal. So when Vinod Kapri, former journalist and prolific documentary filmmaker, dared to make a film with a buffalo in the lead, he braced himself for the worst. Having endured the impossible task of getting a buffalo to emote, Kapri feels that such proverbs are an unfair assessment of the animal. “All these sayings are wrong. Buffalos are the most sensitive and intelligent animals,” he concludes. However, he admits there were days when his actors had to wait around for almost 2 hours because the buffalo refused to squat for the scene.

Kapri’s film Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho released last week. The cast boasts of some great actors like Annu Kapoor, Om Puri and Sanjay Mishra. And yet, the best scenes in this humourless film undoubtedly belonged to the buffalo, who plays Miss Tanakpur, the winner of a local beauty pageant. Her most attractive feature is that she can produce an inordinate amount of milk. “It was really very tough to find the right buffalo. I had three-four criteria. The animal had to be co-operative, should be able to give the expressions we were looking for and couldn’t be aggressive. Also, since she was playing a beauty contest winner, she had to look attractive,” says Kapri.

The filmmaker took pointers from the scientists at the National Dairy Institute in Karnal before zeroing in on his leading lady. By the end of it, he had learnt fair a bit about the psyche of a buffalo. “They told me to find a buffalo who had a good relationship with her owner. They also advised me to find a buffalo that had just given birth because if you keep them near the newly-born, they remain calm,” he says. Kapri did as he was told. Every time the buffalo had to perform, her baby was placed right near the camera so that she could look at it and perform.

The role of Miss Tanakpur must not have been an easy one. For one, she plays a rape victim. Later, the village khap panchayat forces her to marry the man who allegedly had sex with her. And in the film’s final moments, she’s runs out on her wedding rather dramatically. This bizarre premise is not Kapri’s imagination, but one that he’s partly borrowed from a real incident. Back in 2012, when he was heading a Hindi news channel, he read that a man in Rajasthan had been sentenced to 5 years jail for a raping a buffalo. This appeared on the BBC website in a section that featured the many ridiculous happenings of our country.

Intrigued by how such a case could be argued in court, Kapri set off to the village to speak with those involved. “I thought this was fascinating. There was great scope for a dark comedy here. I wanted to make a comment on our legal system and how it is possible to prove anything in court. If you take the Sanjeev Nanda case in New Delhi, they proved that the BMW was a truck,” he says. Unfortunately, he achieves none of this. In his film, Miss Tanakpur is held hostage by corrupt cops who are greedy for her milk, her dung is counted as evidence, and a medical practitioner is forced to invent injuries on her body. None of this is funny, nor does it evoke sympathy for the creature.

His troubles don’t end there. Before the release, Kapri was the recipient of serious death threats by the khap panchayats in Haryana, who funnily enough feel they’ve been cast in a poor light in the movie. Their argument is that they are too sensible to force a man should be married to a buffalo as is shown in the film. True to form, they called for Kapri’s beheading to protest this injustice. The reward offered was 51 buffaloes. “Don’t they stop girls from wearing jeans, don’t they stop them from going to bazaar, or carrying cell phones? Don’t they beat up couples? I think what I’ve shown is mild. They need to be exposed more,” retorts Kapri.

Ironically, Kapri ended up falling victim to same social evils he was planning to expose through his film. On the brighter side, last year the courts in Rajasthan acquitted the man who was falsely accused of this bizarre crime. So while the film may be a drag, at least in real life there was justice for him and real Miss Tanakpur.

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Published on July 03, 2015
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