Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mani Mangalsutra

Movie Review : Mani Mangalsutra
Language : Marathi
Director : Gauri Karekar Sarwate
Genre : Drama
Starring : Hrishita Bhatt, Ravindra Mankani, Umesh Kamat, Anjali Kurse
Released : 2010
My Rating : 8 out of 10

With a title that comes across as a tear-jerker, I was very skeptical of this movie. I watched it only because it was highly recommended by a friend, and I am glad I followed the recommendation. To those unaware of the Indian custom, the title refers to the symbol of marriage, a necklace made out of black beads, worn by married women.

Today, in US, there is a lot of heated debate about the meaning of marriage. Is it a sacred institution or just a legal convention ? But the debate about live-in relationships has been settled a while ago. They are now acceptable. It wasn’t always the case. The social taboos are even stronger in India, and they were a lot more stronger a generation ago. So I was quite taken by surprise when the movie started with a note saying it is based on a true story that happened at a time when it was completely unthinkable for a couple to live together without being formally married.

What makes it even more unusual is that, there was no secret that Savitri (Hrishita Bhatt), and Purushottam (Ravindra Mankani) lived together without being married. When Purushottam dies, the landlord asks the Court to evict Savitri, claiming that she has no legal right to continue living there. On the other hand, Shantanu (Umesh Kamat) who lived next door, and who was attached to Savitri while growing up, idolizes the relationship between her and Purushottam. To him, it’s a proof that marriage is not really needed for a lifetime of companionship. His fiancee Swati (Anjali Kurse) seems to agree with him in the beginning of the movie. They take pride in being rebels, and want to follow the footsteps of Savitri.

Would the court honor the live-in relationship to grant the similar privileges ? Should it ? That’s just the backdrop, and rightly so. Because this is really a moral dilemma, not a legal question. Not just the sacredness of marriage, Shantanu is questioning even the necessity of it. Interestingly, that is not the only focus of the story. Every character gets to express their viewpoints on the situation, but the real puzzle is, why did Savitri and Purushottam chose to have that relationship in that conservative period ? Were they far ahead of their times ? Was it a compromise of some sorts ? Was it something that a twist of fate forced onto them ?

As the story progresses we learn more about Savitri and Purushottam via numerous flashbacks, and each brings us closer to the truth. At the same time, Shantanu and Swati also start understanding what marriage is all about. When the complete truth comes out, we realize that reality is much more complex. There is no big suspense that shocks the viewers. It’s just that human beings and the relationships are multifaceted, a strange mixture of goodness and selfishness.

It’s not the best technical production. Marathi movies have very limited budgets. What works for it is the potency of the issues, and the slow smart manner in which the story reveals its cards. Most actors do a good enough job, but I cannot call any performance great. As the lead, Hrishita Bhatt gets the most screen time, and does justice to the role. Many veterans (Ashalata, Lalan Sarang, Vandana Gupte) also lend their hand in small, but important roles. Ravindra Mankani gives a nice restrained performance as Purushottam.

This a debut for director Gauri Karekar Sarwate, who based this movie on a book written by her late mother-in-law, Advocate Supriya Sarwate. I haven’t read the book, so I do not know if the style of presentation that reveals the truth slowly via flashbacks came from there, or if it was an original idea of the screenplay. Wherever it came from, it is brilliantly done.

I highly recommend this movie, I hope you find a version with subtitles. There is nothing visually explicit, but as you can imagine, these are mature themes, so use your judgement before showing it to the kids.

(I could not find any official trailer, this is the closest that comes to it.)

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