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A hangman in a southern Indian village who has spent his life carrying out politically motivated executions is now old and so wracked with guilt that he takes to heavy drinking and praying to the goddess Kali to forgive his sins. Veteran director Adoor Gopalakrishnan sets the film in 1941, the violent cusp of Indian independence, pitting Gandhian principles against the harsher traditions of punishment and retribution. The subtly nuanced performances bring the ever-present questions to bear on today's political debate.

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