Fiddler on the Roof

A fiddler on the roof – a person who has to play a pleasant tune while trying not to break his neck, balancing precariously on his perch. This figure forms a metaphorical symbol in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, which is an enchanting film based on a Broadway musical.


Set as it is against the backdrop of the Russian revolution and anti-Semitism, it is centered around the life and family of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman who frequently talks to God as well as to the viewers while maintaining cheerful optimism and faith in the midst of hardship.


He and his wife have five daughters, who are an additional burden to their poverty as they cannot afford dowries for them. In the beginning itself, he makes it clear that traditions are the most important thing for them as they are what keep their lives balanced. But times are changing, and one by one, his three oldest daughters start breaking traditions by marrying out of their own choice instead of going by the customary practice of being married by the match maker. Each time, Tevye goes through intense introspection as he tries to reconcile his love and respect for his daughters with the ideas that have been passed to them for centuries.


The film is an emotional and heart warming rendition of the story of this poor family as they try to weave their way through the ups and downs of a difficult life. The fiddler on the roof appears from time to time as a reminder of the balance to be maintained, while the Jews experience fear and danger. Yet the film is humorous, with many witty lines that will keep you in chuckling throughout.


As Tevye says to God, “I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?”


The dilemmas faced by Tevye, the father, are those that continue to be relevant – how important are traditions? To what extent can they be broken while keeping family together? How much can you stretch until you are unable to accept the breaking of time honoured beliefs?


Meanwhile, there is also the Russian revolution which is taking place. Tevye encounters a young and idealistic student, who rebelliously tries to introduce ideas such as Marxism to the family, and wishes to fight for the greater good. Firm as the villagers are in their belief that everything will always work out, they are persecuted and there is an unexpected ending which is sorrowful yet optimistic and leaves you with a full heart along with a wish that their faith will help them through all their difficulties.


A musical it is after all, and a lot of the story is told through song and dance. The music is catchy, the lyrics entertaining and humorous, with classics such as “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “If I were a Rich Man”. Some of the scores such as the tunes played by the fiddler, and “Sunrise, Sunset”, are haunting pieces that will leave you humming the bars long afterward. The visuals of the movie are equally captivating and eye catching.


This is a film which will have you laughing, crying, and thinking. Winner of three Academy Awards and nominated for several more, it is definitely a movie which is worth a watch.


Arya Raje


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