Saturday, May 30, 2020

Maheshinte Prathikaaram - Art and Gender Perspective

India churns out thousands of movies every year, peddling the inflated ultra masculine  image of the "hero".  A majority of those movies  subscribe to a certain formula, a tried and tested template that doesn't demand much of a creative infraction from the film makers.

Like Mahesh the photographer in this movie, they  routinely apply a bit of a  dodge, smudge, sharpening  tools uniformly across all subjects  and deliver packaged movies that trick the viewers into being entertained.

Until some one comes up to say this on their face: "So you have no idea about this, is it?"

Mahesh's father Vincent is someone who sees things differently. When rest of the world sees cow dung in the streets, he visualises a beautiful world out there. And in the glittering lights that adorn the framed images of gods, he picks up the nostalgic cabaret dancer.

And, all through the movie he is addressed as Bhavana Vincent. He takes up this name from the photo studio that he has set up and  currently being run by his son, Mahesh.

The word Bhavana in Malayalam translates to Creative Imagination. That represents ideas.

To trace the thread where the screenplay, with the help of the still camera and phtography as a symbol,  talks about  art - and the art of film making in particular, let us start from " Bhavana " Vincent. The one  who reminds Mahesh that " It is not a shop, but a studio".

In this film, we actually see two other movies also :

 One: In the initial scenes when Mahesh is searching for his father, we catch a glimpse of the television in which a song from the iconic movie Yavanika is being played.  Yavanika is a movie by the legendary film maker K G George who broke templates that were in vogue in the early 80s by treating his women characters with empathy.  And the scene that we get to see clearly displays the word "Bhavana Theatre".

Two: The second movie that we see is in Artist Baby's house. An outright "commercial" blockbuster in which the inflated macho hero image is projected onto the screen with monumental aggressiveness.

And in the  third  instance when Artist Baby's brother in law " Thendi Aliyan" (Beggar Brother-in- law) projects his male ego  mimicking the serial shows the women are watching.

Apart from these, we also visit an actual movie hall along with Crispin and Sonia. But all that we see on screen are  the cancer afflicted  images.  And nothing else.

The rabid masculinity which the movie tries to juxtapose with the characterisation of Mahesh is more pronounced when we look into another thread that weaves through the entire movie.

The song being played in the background during the opening credits apparently is about the beauty and essence of the geography of Idukki and Munnar. But the accompanying images and the suggestive lyrics - with a clever wordplay rhyming Idukki with Midukki (smart girl) -  talk about

Later in the movie, we do hear Jimsy and her mother agreeing on the fact that all men are crazy.

This is the right moment to discuss the  "Butterfly Effect"  sequence and  analyse its  relevance to the overall framework of the movie.  Just like fluctuation in global crude oil price having an effect on Mahesh's life, the chain of events starting with the funeral scene finally  snowballs onto the village square  bringing the entire village as stake holders and equal participants in the fight "and" the revenge. Now, the fight is not just between Mahesh and Jimson alone.

This is accentuated by the character of Vijilesh. He joins the revenge training course as a reaction to another woman being harassed by a group of men.

It gets more interesting when we venture to see where does the "party" stand in this fight?  When Mahesh rushes off to take on Jimson, the party rally is heading in  a  direction opposite to that of Mahesh.

This is to be read with the ominous comment by  party's member Thahir  that "he has stopped interfering in such issues" .

The bigger picture of the crisis  and redemption  is illustrated  in the card picked up by Mahesh (after refusing an offer to buy a lottery ticket) which says: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47

The key to  redemption turns out to be  another woman: Jimsy.

Overlooking  the image of Mother Mary breast feeding her son , the intense debate happening in Mahesh's mind is  enacted as a casual discussion between Crispin and  Baby regarding the relationship betwen art and the artist.

 This debate finds its culmination with the dog being unchained. And the splinter getting removed from Mahesh's palm.

It also coincides with artist Baby having a perception correction with respect to his daughter.

Eventhough Mahesh's father is addressed as Bhavana Vincent, Mahesh is never referred to with the Bhavana appendage. Not until he clicks the candid image of Jimsy. It is Jimsy who addresses Mahesh as Bhavana Mahesh for the first time. And the name printed in the magazine is Mahesh Bhavana. The transformation is complete.

When Mahesh finds his dad with his camera in the middle of the night in the woods, he asks him  if the "birds have flown off". To which Vincent replies: " No, was just checking if the bird has come".

(  Kili poyo literally translates to  " Have the birds gone? ", but it is a figurative way of speech to imply " have you gone nuts ! " )

Mahesh, at that stage had  failed  to comprehend Vincent's response , like his approach towards art.

A video review of Maheshinte Prathikaaram can be viewed here 

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