Critic’s Rating : / 5
Mahishasur Marddini Movie Review : A moody reflection of where we stand
The film is set two days before Shasthi and despite the Durga idol that’s present as a background in some pivotal scenes, the film is deliberately un-festive in tenor. The four college students who are staying as paying guests in the house, stop decorating Durga when they learn that a 10-year-old girl has been gang-raped and burned, a stone’s throw away. Rituparna Sengupta or ‘ma’am’ plays the owner of the home, who’s also an Air Force test pilot, set to become an astronaut.
Throughout the film, several narratives are introduced through a stream of visitors and most of the storylines are mostly connected to gender-based violence or injustices. Shaheb Bhattacharjee, for instance, plays a military man, who, along with his wife, drops in to see ‘ma’am’ before he has to report for duty.
The students discover an abandoned female infant near their home. Rituparna’s character is visited by a former flame (played by Saswata Chatterjee) who had once laid his hands on her in a fit of rage. The rape victim’s death sparks communal tensions since the girl spent her days in a Hindu crematorium as well as a Muslim graveyard. An election strategist (Paramabrata Chatterjee) recalls the night he witnessed the rape of a tribal woman by an upper-class tyrant.
The film unpacks quite a few topical storylines to drive home its message. And though it’s broken into several short acts, the screenwriting could have perhaps benefitted from a more singular focus, at least plot-wise. Brevity is a friend to films that tackle gender-based trauma. A great example? Priyanka Banerjee’s 13-minute short Devi, a film about a room shared by rape victims in the afterlife, that faced disquieting truths without underlying the obvious problem.
However, Mahishasur Marddini moves beyond tackling gender violence and also addresses the idea of privilege, which is so often missing from films about inequality. It ties in with the film’s overall messaging about how society is quick to demonise the ‘other’ but not the systems that we enable.
Rituparna, Saswata and Parambrata do a good job, although better character writing could have added some edge to the film. The ending is well-styled and quite befitting. Ghosh has called the film ‘a letter of apology to women,’ but he may be selling the film short since it proves to be more intersectional than expected. Don’t put this on your OTT pile, a big-screen viewing may be worth your while with this one.