It is important that the family dog Tommy be killed. He starts barking every time militants enter the area.
The nights of Punjab's '80s are dark. They belong to Sikh extremists. They hold secrets of young Punjabi men killed in fake police encounters and Hindus being dragged out of buses and shot at point-blank range by Khalistani militants. The nights also envelop the insomnia of a Kafkaesque trial the common man undergoes during any conflict.
Filmmaker Gurvinder Singh's second Punjabi film - Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) based on a story by writer Waryam Singh Sandhu that played to a full house audience at the recently concluded Dharamshala International Film Festival held at McLeod Ganj in November carried within each frame an unbearable tension as snatches of seemingly routine daily life in Punjab of those times hit the screen.
Essentially a tale of common folk caught between extremism from both sides - the militants and the state - what makes the film special is the fact that there is almost a complete absence of violence on the screen. The emptiness on faces says it all. The claustrophobic build-up coupled with very few dialogues and intelligently composed music and sound patterns of a speeding train and shuffling of feet succeeds in creating an ambience of an impending apocalypse.
The movie, which was screened at the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and won the Golden Gateway of Indian Trophy at the recently concluded MAMI Film Festival in Bombay is essentially a tale of a farmer's family living in Punjab at a time when militancy was at its peak. The Khalistani separatists want the family to get rid of their dog which barks whenever they cross the area during the night.
Without passing any judgments and refraining from taking any sides in the conflict where people's violence was met with a greater violence from the state, the director who debuted with Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms For the Blind Horse) released in 2011, succeeds in presenting an alternative narrative of Punjab not dotted by men doing bhangra or following women in their jeeps as is the case in majority of films released in Punjabi.
With a cast comprising mostly of non-actors except the protagonist played by Survinder Vicky and a few others, the attention to detail with regard to cinematography (Satya Rai Nagpaul), music (Marc Marder), dialogues (Jasdeep Singh and Waryam Singh Sandhu) and costumes (Navjeet Kaur) definitely makes Chauthi Koot one of the best Punjabi films in an industry starved of intelligent cinema.