Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa

I came accross this movie review while surfing the internet. It's a well written review about a seemingly good movie.


Have a good reading.


In Solidarity!




Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa

*ing: Jaya Bachchan, Nandita Das, Seema Biswas, Anupam Kher and Joy Sengupta

Director: Govind Nihalani

Six years back when I visited India, I saw a poster of a movie Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa (Mother of 1084) at the Novelty Cinema located in Hazrat Ganj, Lucknow. The cinema was not a third rate one, but I didn't go inside to see the film. However, some two months back, when I was roaming around Rainbow Centre in the metropolis of Karachi, the same poster with the same title passed from my eyes, and I bought the movie, because this is one of those films that look very arty and innocuous, but if you have been initiated into good cinema, they merit a watch.

Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa is directed by Govind Nihalani and is based on a seminal novel by the formidable Mahasweta Devi. It is scripted faithfully and keeps in mind the human truth of the Naxalbari Movement, waged on May 25, 1967, in the Darjeeling area – a completely agricultural land of West Bengal, India – for getting minimum wages for agricultural workers. During the time of CPI–M's coalition government, the movement spread quickly and finally it reached the main cities of West Bengal, especially Calcutta – the capital of the state.

In Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, the Calcutta of the 1970s is captured when the air was alive with revolutionary fervour and Bengali youth reacted with anger against hypocrisies, injustices, betrayals and counter violence of the State. During this period, the city was in grip of a Marxist–Leninist–Maoist movement of liberating the downtrodden farmers from the iron clinch of upper class landlords. Thousands of young men were arrested and many were shot dead. A special force, organised by the government to tackle these young revolutionaries, was given the authority to use brute force to handle the situation.

The movie begins with a phone call asking the mother of a Naxalite, Sujata Chatterjee (Jaya Bachchan) to come to a morgue to recognise her son's corpse. The body has been reduced to a mere numerical, corpse no. 1084. Her 22–year–old son named Bratti Chatterjee (Joy Sengupta) was a scion of an educated, cultured bhadralok family and, by every means, was a firebrand Marxist. He was in close contact with the leading members of the Naxalbari Movement that was led by the Communist Party of India.

Though she is many ways a traditional housewife, Sujata is shown as the most powerful character in the movie. She also works for a commercial bank in Calcutta and belongs to an upper middle class family. Her husband Dibyanath Chatterjee (Anupam Kher) is a typical businessman, who believes in saluting the powerful. The story really starts unravelling when Sujata comes to know that the death of her son was at the hands of certain members of the Calcutta police. She decides to investigate what really happened to her son and his friends and comrades.

On the journey of discovering her son's militant revolutionary commitment and to understand his struggle against the exploitative system, that is feudalism–cum–capitalism, Sujata begins to realise that she herself is alienated as a woman, housewife and mother from the bourgeois social values prevailing in the social circles of Calcutta. It is her story and her realisations as an individual that form the heart of Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa.

It is difficult for a person like me to remember when I was so disturbed by the depths and insights shown in any Indian movie lately. Yes, watching Chandni Bar, The Terrorist, or The Legend of Bhagat Singh (Raj Kumar Santoshi's version) gave me much food for thought, but this Govind Nihalani venture, which circles the revolutionary political consciousness of the region's Leftist youth made me an insomniac for some days. Sometimes, a film transcends your objective critical faculties and touches that rare chord of emotion. That is the point where you get absorbed in the emotional trauma of the story depicted in a particular movie to make you realise that 'People of this kind have also lived their lives for a cause.'

It also makes you think about the real events on which the film is based and when the context of such a movie was produced by a director like Nihalani, the whole story makes such an impact on you, it can cut your heart into two and stun your brain with emotional shock. And then it makes you think and re evaluate your own value system Playing an intense role of Mrs. Sujata Chatterjee, Jaya, in an attempt to regain a sense of self from the intense psychological and emotional trauma, gains some deep insights, through the whole course of the movie, into a complex relationship between personal and apolitical aspects of her social life. Though, the film proceeds on a slow and reflective pace so as to be proper to its conversational approach, which is of such a length that all characters gradually open their minds and hearts to viewers regarding the lamentable family loss in particular, and the state of their society, in general.

The dusky beauty Nandita Das, who was so effective in Deepa Mehta's controversial film Fire, plays a marvellous role of an idealist believer of Marxism. Being a revolutionary figure she goes beyond her personal grief to become an uncompromising fighter against the atrocities of police. Do concentrate on the scene where Jaya visits her son's girlfriend Nandani Mitra (Nandita Das) who is also a member of the movement. Nandani recalls memories of Bratti and helps Sujata connect with her dead son. They 'meet' one another in a real emotional, loving and caring way – for the last time. The scene is handled beautifully. After all, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa is not your standard Bollywood potboiler.

The film goes back and forth in time, with flashbacks of Bratti, when the mother relives those moments and finds the clues for her state of mind, which she had not noticed before. It is easy to quibble and wonder how a working woman of Calcutta of those times could be so blind, so uninformed and so apolitical, but then, the way the film translates the novel makes Sujata's self–wrought isolation, not only understandable but also representative of a certain social segment, which wants to have nothing to do with politics.

Seema Biswas (the mother of Somu, who was a comrade of Bratti) plays the role of a low class Bihari woman whose son has also been killed during the same clash in which Bratti was murdered. The scene when Sujata visits Somu's place first time is enough to disturb anyone who has a soft heart and inflict great pain on someone who knows the real history of the movement. The way the two mothers mourn their loss brings out the class and cultural differences. Seema Biswas is warmly uninhibited – both in grief and expression of affection – and Jaya Bachchan contains her feelings, which gradually reveal themselves in all their complexity, rather than the usual cathartic outburst.

But there are flaws in this gem of a film. A scene in which Bratti beats an outlaw seems so childishly filmed. The way he is beating him gives you a feeling that the director has failed to capture the scene of a real clash. Action is not a forte of Govind Nihalani, not even when it is as raw as this.

Another sequence which seems uselessly prolonged, compared to the smooth dramatic flow and astonishing poetic transitions, comes during the crucial interaction between the two women – Sujata and Nandani, the grieving mother and the resolute sweetheart, whose torture by the police has hardened her resolve into steely strength. It is the younger woman who gives the older woman the courage to do something purposeful with her life, but the scene does drag.

But then there is one scene that more than makes up for all shortcomings. It is when a party is held at the Chatterjee House to celebrate the engagement of Bratti's sister on the eve of his second death anniversary. The dialogue narrated by Sujata in the background shows the intense condition of her state of mind. The scene also shows the naked reality of the capitalist system and becomes extremely critical against the attitudes of the elite class. Incidentally, Nihalani shoots this scene like an extended piece of satire, when a lot of noted stage and screen names play brilliant cameos in a charade of social pretension and hypocrisy.

Govind Nihalani has always tried to fuse his political consciousness with cinema and proves that he is presently one of the sub–continent's most politically daring filmmakers. He is also famous for depicting sensitive issues existing in Indian society. From the intense characterisation in Aakrosh to the dramatic depiction of the psyche of angry anti–establishment lads holding AK–47s in Drohkaal, Nihalani has proved his worth as a director. Though, he over-sensationalised the characters in Dev, but people still have good hopes for new artistic pieces.

Not to over–estimate Nihalani's wonderful personality as a director by regarding him as a sensitive and sober director in Bollywood, I think it was his artistic capabilities and Jaya Bachchan's impressive facial expressions, which helped Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa win the National Award for Best Regional Feature Film in 1998.

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please," Marx famously wrote. I think this statement does imply on Indian directors too. In the process of making such movies, Nihalani is trying to make his own history as an alternative revolutionary director, though he cannot write it just as he pleases.

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indiacorporatewatch said...

Lal Salaam ! :)

M. Samal said...

I am from Bhubaneswar the capital of the state of Orissa. Working in Seoul as a software engineer from last 6 years. Days back I was watching some scenes of this movie. Wanted to know more about the movie and found your website. You have written it so flawlessly and so perfectly. I could not stop my tears..

Great job

Anonymous said...

excellent review, only one comment, the name of the character is Nandini and not Nandani, i can say this because my name is also Nandini and i cant relate to somebody making my name as Nandani with a A!!Doesnt feel nice, this name has a lot fo historical background in bengali literature and mainly denotes strength of character as most characters with revolutionary role is termed Nandini. :)