There are few things as pleasurable as the world created by Saadat Hasan Manto, and 500 Rupees does that with incredible precision. Adapted from the short story, Dus Rupiya, the screenplay and direction of this film is by Shashwat Gandhi.
The story is set in the 90s, and takes us straight to sprawling, grimy chawls of Mumbai, where life’s too difficult to allow a young girl the chance to be a teen. Living in a tiny one room flat with her single mother who pimps her out to earn a livelihood, Sarita’s life isn’t exactly conventional, but nobody seems to have told her that. She plays, eats junk food, and gossips with her friends like most teenagers, but the difference is that she treats her ‘job’ as a fun outing. For you see, Sarita loves cars and car rides and her clients provide a gateway to that.
The story begins with Sarita being picked up by three men who’ve come to pick her up. She’s dragged away from her friend and made to dress up, all of which she doesn’t mind doing because the men have arrived in a car, and she’s looking forward to the ride. What follows is absolutely not what you’d expect in a world as cynical as ours. Despite a near-constant feeling of dread of what might happen next, the end leaves you with a bitter-sweet feeling.
Kashish Bharti as Sarita does a commendable job of portraying an innocent teenager who deals with the trails life throws her way with laughter, music and finding joy even in the smallest of things. This film is a stark contrast to the usual depictions of the lives of sex workers. Despite being taken advantage of by her mother and by the men she’s often pimped out to, Sarita chooses to see the brighter side of things. A wise woman? Or just a teenager being herself in a twisted world? The film lets you draw your own conclusions.
Nominated for Filmfare Awards’ Short Film category in 2018, 500 Rupees is one of those films that you’d have zero qualms in recommending.