By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara"; Starring: Anupam P. Kher, Urmila Matondkar; Written and directed by Jahnu Barua; Rating: ****
Some very rare and precious works of art forge their own reality from the fragile raw material of distant dreams and untold passions.
"Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara" (MGKNM) is that tender dewdrop perched on a wind-swept leaf that clings by sheer willpower. Its strength comes from within rather than from extraneous cinematic powers, stoking it into visible vibrancy.
Jahnu Barua builds a symphonic crescendo out of vignettes from the dining table.
An ideologically enthused patriarch rapidly degenerating into irretrievable memory loss - Prof Uttam Chaudhary (Anupam Kher) - and his weighed down but unvanquished daughter Trisha (Urmila Matondkar) - form the core of Barua's brilliantly designed chamber piece.
To the end the ailing father and the indomitable daughter keep the windows of the narrative open, so that we get a view right into the soul of humanity.
Barua is a master of nuances. He builds miniature domestic scenes like a carefully carved out doll's house where every room and its details are visible to the eye that cares to look.
Even as the distraught daughter suffers the consequences of her father's mental illness (job is lost, engagement is broken, but she is not) we get to see other characters (for example, the old man's two sons, the supportive shrink played by Pravin Dabas and the concerned maid deftly enacted by Divya Jagdale) move in and of the narrative's vision creating a stirring montage of images glimpsed through the window of a speeding train.
For a film that makes memory loss its theme, the images and visuals are edited and put together with dexterity. There's none of that deathly stillness at the nerve-centre which often emasculates cinema about mortality and pain.
Note how Barua explains the time lapses in Professor Chaudhary's memory. In one sequence he stumbles into a chemistry class in college thinking it to be a Hindi class, in the next sequence he's at the dining table having breakfast with his daughter thinking it's the day after the classroom fiasco, when three years have elapsed!
But Barua isn't trying to be clever. Unlike his avant-garde contemporaries and seniors who spend a lot of time creating passages of techno-savvy brilliance, this sensitive director just wants to tell a moving story in the most intelligible language.
Sanjay Chauhan's writing skills peel off the inherent artifice of cinema to lay bare the soul of the characters. The two principal actors do the rest.
Anupam Kher, with his awry body language and a growing bewilderment regarding his own inability to comprehend what's happening to his mind, gives his finest performance to date. There's an ingrained hesitancy to the character's demeanour which Anupam brings out with a seasoned actor's confidence.
In all her recent performances, Urmila Matondkar has never ceased to surprise. Here she takes tall looming strides as an accomplished actor, bringing out nuances and feelings in her character without allowing the performance to get shrill or over-pitched. Urmila plays the daughter of an ailing father with rare understanding.
The controlled, finely tuned performance makes room for interludes of high but smothered drama - for instance when Trisha's kid-brother (Addy) suggests they send their Alzheimers' stricken father to an institution, or when distraught and dishevelled by daddy's impulse to disappear she runs into her ex-fiance with his new woman.
Barua suffuses the elegiac narration with touches of pain and nostalgia. The whole Gandhian allusion is sensibly tangential to the plot. And though the mock-courtroom where the traumatized professor is exonerated and exorcised of his guilt for having killed Mahatma Gandhi seems more slapped-on than integral, there is an aura of disarming sincerity to the plot that clings to the ordinary characters even as they undergo extraordinary levels of struggle and pain.
Two elements add substantially to the film's sense of symphonic mobility and nobility. Bappi Lahiri's background score is so delicate and emotionally driven it catches the characters by their collars and transports their emotions into reams and reams of articulate motions.
Raj Chakravarti's cinematography remains largely indoors, panning the dining table and moving upwards to the old protagonist's bedroom searching for areas in the domestic idyll where pain decided to lodge itself so stubbornly.
This film about a man who forgets his bearings cannot be forgotten that easily.
Bollywood.com Rating: 2.5