Atanu Ghosh’s Mayurakshi weaves a sensitive portrayal of an aged and ailing father and his son who comes to meet him from the USA. The father ceases to communicate with the world around him and the son is torn between memories and the present situation which is a reality in present day urban India. A Silhouette review.
In an oft-quoted scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic The Godfather, Don Corleone told his godson singer-actor Johny Fontane – “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” The line rings watching Aryanil (Prasenjit Chatterjee) in Atanu Ghosh’s latest film Mayurakshi. Aryanil is indeed a disturbed soul, by his own confession his earnings are spent in running four establishments –hostel, study and other expenses of his son from first marriage, the alimony to his second wife, the medical expenses of his aged father in Kolkata and finally his own settlement in Chicago, USA. Aryanil indeed doesn’t get time to spend with his family, he probably tried creating one after the other without clinging to any or knowing how to make a ‘home’ out of a ‘house’. His octogenarian father Susobhan (Soumitra Chatterjee) stays in Kolkata in the care of a house-keeper from an agency and an old servant. Susobhan has neurological problems, forgetting the immediate past and leading an extremely sedate lonely life like many whose ‘successful’ children have left for greener pastures in some ‘foreign’ land. Susobhan remains wordless for a majority of time, we find him helpless, irritated and fretful – with life and more with his own present incapacitated self. He used to be a professor of History and a brilliantly engaging mind – we come to know from the points-of-view of the different characters in the film including Aryanil’s.
Yet, in his languor Susobhan insists Aryanil to meet Mayurakshi. Who is Mayurakshi, then? She is a hazy reference which connects the father and the son, a secret that is carefully shielded from the external members of the household. As the film progresses through the tributary moments of life we get a collage of the characters – they are private and hence staid. Only Aryanil gets to interact with a childhood friend Sohini, a cousin who asks for career help in the USA and the family of a colleague to whom he visits to hand over a parcel. Yet, for Aryanil as well the journey is internal – to his own self, his lost ambitions of cricketing glory which his father had collected for long, with care. It is a crisis – the father forgets the past inadvertently and the son wishes to wipe it off purposefully. The doctor tells Aryanil that it is the loneliness of the father propounded by the fact that the he stays away. Susobhan insists finally that Aryanil must patch up with Mayurakshi since only she will be able to protect him and stay with him through thick and thin. Aryanil sets off to find her, meets her family, learns that she has settled elsewhere and cuts that last straw of hope for the old man saying that she has been killed in an accident that very afternoon. He leaves for Dehradun to his son and from there to USA. Where does he leave Susobhan? Nowhere. In Susobhan’s present memory his obsession for the well-being of Aryanil due to Mayurakshi may be replaced by a new anxiety, a new fear and a new hope. Else, he may forget what Aryanil told him and continue to look for the girl who was his student and whom he chose for his son.
There is no linear narration of the images though they come in sequence. It’s like a collage of shots and scenes that are connected and yet they are loose like the hanging wool of an old cardigan. Probably that worn out look is what the director wanted us to experience to make us realize the brevity of our existences. For all of us who have aged parents the film connects in its haplessly brutal honesty – at times soaked in sentimentality but seldom melodramatic. We find how Sushobhan and Aryanil are intimate among themselves and yet how at times they get into a sublime duel even without realizing as the son doesn’t want the father to slip away. Memory has an important role in the film – Susobhan recollects one of Aryanil which is two decades old while Aryanil tries to enliven one that is as new as probably two hours! Is it a play they embark on unknowingly where they reverse their personalities and try to outwit the other not by remembering but by forgetting? The psychological pressure makes them organically closer to each other; in one scene we find two subsequent frames each having one of them only in front of a door half open. Is there a juxtaposition of personalities like the eerie close-ups of Alma and Elisabet in Ingmar Bergman’s haunting Persona which merge and leave us wandering?
Many of the film’s moments are saturated. Yet a few others leave us wanting for more. Even accepting that it is necessary a collage of emotions and not a wish fulfillment, these troughs limit the possibilities of it. The necessary slowness of the subject coupled with intense depressive tenor is there even in Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece Mother and Son (1997). Where Sokurov puts his film at a different level is the painterly landscaping of layers not only visually but also metaphorically. This is where Mayurakshi falters and hence suffers. The artistic, narrative and visual tone of the film has a typical décor, that of a current genre of Bengali cinema that evolved post-Rituparno Ghosh – less cinematic and more claustrophobic. Mayurakshi had the wings to fly out of that trench and it tried as well, only in parts unfortunately.
The film’s biggest strength is its acting. Sudipta Chakraborty as the house-keeper is satisfactorily necessary but Prasenjit’s Aryanil is one of the star’s finest acting of many years. He talks less and conveys more with his expressions – facial and through his eyes which are poignant. There is hope that he will get more roles in the future where he will get a chance to use these techniques. Soumitra Chatterjee as Susobhan is exemplary in the little nuanced details which probably only he can deliver at this time in Indian cinema. This role and his rendition are doubly unique since unlike the central characters he necessarily gets to play recently Susobhan is devoid of any sophisticated alertness. Susobhan’s current state is raw, exposed and vulnerable. It had to be an unscathed, uninhibited childlike genuineness where the artistic aloofness of characterization is to be discarded. Soumitra Chatterjee normally ‘plays’ himself in most of the roles he gets these days, ‘behaves’ in many of them as well but as Susobhan he had to ‘act’ with a sensitive restraint and with moments of brilliant freshness. This will be one of his all time best acting as well in a career of six decades. Creating these two sensitive characters and having the two actors chew them to the bone is indeed director Atanu Ghosh’s caliber. His Ek Phaali Rodh (2014) had a very interesting urban soundscape of the city, something which Mayurakshi demanded as well but was missed.
In a city which is constantly in the dilemma of embracing the new in cohabitation of the traditional, the flagrant pulls of leaving and living, the continuous struggle to make oneself wanted and resourceful Mayurakshi does etch in the minds of middle-aged citizens like this critic. It helps us to lean back at our lives, to reflect at the growing up days and to re-think how we raise our own children. It also reminds us that it is high time we should put an arm round our aged parents and thank them for being there, just for us.
(All movie stills used in this review are courtesy Atanu Ghosh)
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