Critic’s Rating : 3.5 / 5
Mahananda Movie Review
Mahananda is a slow burner. The strength of the film is its non-linear narrative through which the protagonist’s childhood and youth are portrayed. The character of Mahananda Bhattacharya is developed as a stout, uncompromising individual, who stood by marginal communities, including the Shabar. In fact, it was Mahasweta Devi who challenged the colonial convention of labelling the Shabar tribe’s ‘natural criminality’ – a notion that was set by the British rulers.
However, in this endeavour to glorify Mahananda (Mahasweta), the filmmaker has painted her in broad brushstrokes, stripping her character of nuances that could make her more relatable, and closer to what is the documented truth. As a result, Mahandana is stupefyingly flawless and uni-dimensional. In this effort to put her on a pedestal, key characters have been villainised, perhaps unintentionally. What may bother those who know not-so-distant history is that Bijon Bhattacharya, Mahaswata Devi’s estranged husband, was a fire-brand playwright and activist whose credits include popular films such as Sharey Chuattor, Komol Gandhar, Nagin, Jukti, Takko Ar Goppo as well as firecely political plays Lash Ghuirya Jauk, Debi Garjan, penned in the ’60s and ’70s. He remained a doyen of socio-political literature till his last breath and a force to reckon with. The film’s narrative portrays him (Bidhan in the film) as someone who sold his soul for commercial success.
The film is however propped up by some brilliant performances. Gargee is outstanding as Mahananda. Instead of mimicing the real-life character, the actress brings her own flourishes to the role, making her a delight to watch on screen. Unfortunately, the prosthetic makeup lacks finesse on and off, especially in closeup shots. It is interesting to see Gargee take this setback in her stride and bring her A-game to the mix. Debshankar plays Bidhan. With his Bangal accent, playwright-friendly humour, he too deserves a round of applause. Ishaa and Arno are two fictional characters, Mohal and Bihan. Arno’s poise and command over diction and Ishaa’s wide-eyed, emotional response to the legend of Mahananda, make them the prefect narrators in the film. Sahana Bajpaie’s unmistakable rendition merges seamlessly with the story. There are scenes worth remembering with hauntingly beautiful tribal music.
The basic and perhaps most jarring flaw of his semi-fictionalised film is that the protagonist eclipses the real person. Mahananda is larger-than-life. You look up to her in awe, but you cannot smell the blood and sweat or taste the salt of the earth that went into the making of the legendary Mahasweta.
What could have been a rousing creative endeavour becomes, in parts, simply tone-deaf propaganda. Mahasweta Devi will be remembered for her struggle to speak truth to power. The biopic however, brings out only the maker’s version of the truth.