The pan India screen, or in a protracted sense, the synchronous global screen is generically adhered to the branded projection of pseudo cataclysmic machismo - the hyper maleficence that treats even the most promising opposite gender as a "giver, adjuster and a non-deliberately dependent protoplasm" inspite of their strength of engaging on screen through their gracious potency. The transition has started in a non-strategic way but the display of "male gaze" has been a solid "take pride" DNA in pan India cinema, where the female actors are glorified 'through' another reflective light.
Rejection of this inclination and the realism, the gender equality and the truth are portrayed through "what, how and where" - and this unprejudiced reality is what is explored in the 'satwik' cinematic text by acclaimed director Ranjan Ghosh in his film - MahishasurMarddini.This he does through an indigenous and celebrated, native theatrical format- Bharat's Natya Shastra. The director's love for play is quite evident in his debut film HridMajharey, that carries the major impressions of some of the timeless plays by William Shakespeare. But while it was devised in a purely filmic text, MahisasurMarddiniis devised in a dramatic style through cinematic frames.
MahishasurMarddiniis a distinction from the contemporary trend of Indian films. A well-researched, experimental film with the theoretical and applied theatrical elements, where the configuration of Bharat's Natya Shastra is devised and designed throughout. The entire film is mononocturnal and set in a claustrophobic single stage. The structure of that vintage mansion and the ambience, where MahishasurMarddiniis shot, consists of the misc-en-scene, reflective of the Greek theatre.
With the personal title 'Mahishasura', Ghosh has configurated his targeted film on the horrific Nirbhaya incident that had aroused the collective conscience of the nation parallelyco-ordinating with other allied tragic stories. The film is a very polite portrayal of the mental, physical and social discrimination faced by a female from the womb to the tomb. The set-up of MahishasuraMarddiniis built with tall pillars, arched staircases, semicircular stage, big wings - all the characteristics of the Greek theatre (Proscenium Theatre). The classic use of mise-en-scène and the frequent beauty of the medium close shots blended with mystic colour, highlighting the gravity of the situation add to a major grace. In justification of his theatrical format, Ghosh has explained, "I have always wanted to try out Aristotle's three unities – unity of action, time and place. The film is an exploration of the rich Indian theatre tradition and the Indian aesthetics of the film. I could visualise the characters, making their entry and exits, after having their say, sauntering about as if on stage."
Established in a single location of a dilapidated building, along with a carefully designed mononocturnal story, his characters carry on his sermon through the chorus, as its insightful characters reflect on their past deeds, vertically dissecting every heartbreak it depicts.
It is worth mentioning that celebrated films like Murderin the Cathedral (1951, George Hoellering) and the famous final scenes of 8 and a Half (1963, by legendary Italian director Federico Fellini) carry clear impressions of Greek theatre. In the global classrooms of film studies, these two films are often cited to illustrate the interconnectedness of film and theatre.
MahishasurMarddinibearsthe interpretative tools of cinematic grammar, theatrical formats of proscenium theatre and socio-political observation to focus the ills brought to the society by collective groups that worship the Mother Goddess, but ironically and sarcastically deny the equality and dignity of women. 'Mahishasur' - about this title, Ghosh has said that not only men but women too are equally involved in the circle of perpetrators of such terrible acts. The film portrays Mahishasur not only as a mythical character, but also as the demon who dwells inside the human psyche and the 'Marddini' who is invoked to destroy him. The term 'Asura' is present, but no melodrama is created to suggest that demonic possession over the biased conscious or subconscious sphere of common human society; the process of fall or rise in any sensitive level of societal discourse is a strong but comparatively sloth undercurrent. As its effective counter, the consciousness of rebel too transpires in a negotiate mode, as far as the pragmatic theory of protest of civilization is concerned. Mahishasura Mardini holds forth this viable mechanism of disapproval.
"The darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God."
The theatrical element of the film comes alive through the voice over or the off- stage commentary of the last scenes, summing up its Dues Ex Machina:
"Birth and death, creation and destruction... there's a puppeteer behind all these"-this clearly echoes the famous dialogue,`All the World is a Stage and All the Men and Women Merely Players', from William Shakespeare's famous pastoral comedy As You Like It.
On the eve of the first day of the festival, the film features the owner of the building (Rituparna Sengupta) who is about to go on a space mission, four urban college youths, the owner's election-strategist brother (Parambrata Chattopadhyay); His past admirer and potential lover, a shrewd politician (Saswata Chatterjee), an army officer (Shaheb Bhattacharjee) and his wife (Poulomi Das), another old man (Pawan Kanodia) - who vainly admires himself for the way he gives unclaimed corpses a decent burial - are all characters Ghosh's ingenious script. They find an abandoned baby (female) in a pile of garbage behind the house. MahishasuraMarddinishows, how this society which pompously worships the silent feminine form of the goddess to rid the earth of evil forces ironically hides behind prejudice in taking decisive action in similar problems when it comes to life.
None of the characters in the film have names. From the philosophical to the practical, from the political to the polemical, their identity derives from their actions and the ideas they put forward. Each male character represents an aspect of masculinity that argues for the acceptability of the respective character. Director Ghosh has repeatedly said in various forums - "My film is conceived as a letter of apology to women for all the wrongs done to her..."
At one stage, the film quotes mythological epics to highlight a long tradition of misogyny, including the humiliation of Draupadi and the cutting off of Surpanakha's nose.
It can be seen that in MahisasuraMarddini, dialogues play a major role; even the unnamed characters are identified by their words and actions. Director Ghosh cites Louis Malle's famous film My Dinner with André as an example of two friends talking over dinner. But the conversation is so meaningful and artistic that the audience is not bothered.
Like a skilled marksman, exposing the pure gravity of the situation, highlighting the right to dignity of women,MahishasurMarddini is a powerful addition to the Indian cinema as a 'classical film'. It's not easy to create the spell of a movie on stage through the juxtaposition of two different genres, especially when it comes to technical adaptation. MahishasurMarddini is a harmonious work of film and stage play or theatre. Beyond stereotyped loudness in the name of protest, the film uses calm metaphorical engineering to pitchfork the need of an eternal parametric device to design a healthy, unbiased social system - the defeat of the demon within - the victory of moral vistara.
Dr Dipsikha Bhagawati