In the Belly of A Tiger  2024 still

Vassilis Kroustallis reviews the Indian film 'In the Belly of A Tiger' by Siddartha Jatla.

 Indian filmmaker Siddartha Jatla knows how to make a convincing case for modern-day, late capitalism, and the working class (without the need for intricate plots -the basic facts matter). In his sophomore feature, 'In the Belly of A Tiger' (he started with the 2017 film 'Love and Shukia), the eponymous but invisible tiger looms large over the lives of a small Indian village. Even from the first shot, in which an old man paints himself with rooster's blood in the forest (followed by a village religious play on  Lord Vishnu), we can tell that metaphors and symbols translate into a very harsh reality, impeccably described in crucial and relevant details.
 The intro of a close-up gives its place to a wide shot of a bus leaving its passenger to a local village. The old couple of Bhagole (Lawrence Francis) and Prabhata (Prabhata) need to return to their village after their farm debts left them financially helpless. While Bhagole is deemed too old to work at the local brick factory (the only source of income in the village), his son Saharsh (Sorabh Jaiswar) can get a job, and hopefully support his daughter -in the aftermath of the death of his wife Nandini. Saharsh needs to fight his demons and mourn at the same time, while the whole family (and the village) is constantly humiliated by the brick factory manager ("This is a factory, not a hospital" is the stock response to requests for sick leave). In a factory that makes pregnant women do harsh physical jobs and little girls follow in their parents' footsteps, Jatla's film makes it obvious that family relations are slowly alienating. And this is the major mishap of all that work -not the suffering itself. Yet a tiger (the symbol of Indian purity that cannot be touched or hunted down) can offer compensation to the relatives of the victim. Is this a way out (in 'The Ballad of Narayama' style) for the elderly couple as well?

 Jatla cleverly proceeds his script (co-written with Amanda Mooney) step-by-step, by stripping the family of all its resistances and showing both the old and the younger members of the family (the tender scene of the small Chalkita having to get away with her buffalo). In a profound humanistic setting, in which all family members care for their others, and there is not a single feud or disagreement, a bittersweet sense of earthly disappointment follows (accompanied by Shigeru Umebayashi's eerily calm music, the one element that brings a note of hope).
 Probably sensing that a too-realistic feeling would make the situation unbearable, Jatla returns (in the third act) to the mysterious element. In stark visual compositions, he prepares his characters for their final act of sacrifice and renewal. Moving into Apichatpong Weerashetakul's trajectory, he beguiles cinematically with the final scene of Bhagole and Prabhata -even though his images somehow feel disconnected and not organically entrenched into the film's subject matter (exploitation seems too stubborn to be drenched away by flower petals). The last act drags too long for its purpose, but the force of the film stays with you. 'In the Belly of A Tiger' is less mystical than it introduces itself, and its characters sometimes (like the older family member) seem to give themselves in rather than face any moral dilemmas. It still offers a big caleidoscope of the contemporary human condition, archetypically described but also carefully laid out; the all-or-nothing character of the film will not deter its characters but will weaken them to the point of alluding to the invisible tiger. This is a film that tests your human reflexes and admirably teaches you the wrong and right ways to let go.

Vassilis Kroustallis


In the Belly of A Tiger screened at the Forum Section of the 74th Berlin Film Festival