25 August 2011 | Peter_Young
Mrinal Sen turns olden ruins into golden gems
I can't believe that such great films as Mrinal Sen's Khandhar are so little known among Indian audiences. This wonderful small film proves once again that you need not invest tons of money to make a great picture. I do admit it has little entertainment for the wide audience, but despite being slow in pace, it remains an interesting, deep and profound episode about one young woman who lives with her ill mother in the ruins. Her name is Jamini, and her prospects to settle down are doomed as her fiancée married another girl in the big city. She does not know how to notify her mother about that, but she gets a new hope as she meets Subhash, a young and single photographer who visits the ruins as part of his job. Khandhar is brilliantly scripted, and it's throughly authentic and real. Sen's direction is excellent. The camera work is very simple and the background score, though limited and is there only in crucial moments, is fantastic. This creates a successfully dark dramatic tone and contributes to the film's stark realism. I still think the film is beautifully shot because it captures the rustic rawness of the village. The antique sets look quite exotic, which may explain why Subhash is interested in taking there some shots.
Shabana Azmi is excellent in a superbly understated performance which cannot get more realistic, and even naturalistic, than that. The reason her portrayal is so good is the fact that most of it is internal. In many ways it reminds me of her landmark role in her debut movie, Shyam Benegal's Ankur. I love the way the character of Jamini was written. She is a dedicated daughter, who is frustrated because of her tough everyday reality, her being unmarried, and her mother's illness and nearing end, which she has to deal with practically all alone. This very reality makes her angry at life and consequently we get to see some of her more negative and grayish shades. But then we are also presented with several moments which show her very soft inside. She is at times unlikable, but is always easy to relate to. Azmi delivers this mix with great conviction, and I can see why she herself considers this performance as one of her most accomplished. She is of course supported by a host of talented actors. Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapoor are both equally great, giving two restrained performances, while Gita Sen, as the tormented and ill mother, is very impressive despite lying on a bed throughout the entire film.
The film scores big time in its portrayal of the mother-daughter relationship, which is amazing. This is mainly because Sen makes it as real and genuine as practically everything else in this film. It's not just bright; as opposed to famous typical Hindi films about dedication and sacrifice, here we see its dark side too. Jamini is a loving and caring daughter, there can be no doubt about that and it's pretty evident throughout the show, but there are also many moments in which we see her getting angry with her weary mother and at times even being a bit harsh on her. She is of course quick to apologise, and here we once again see that it's her daily struggle which makes her act unkindly at times. I suggest you to note the scene in which her mother acknowledges her as her best child for being her only support in her old days, and an excited Jamini tearfully hugs her beloved mother and utters the best lines ever: "My good mother! My dear mother!" Every time I watch this scene, I get a catch in my throat. Another powerful scene which shows the most intense argument between Jamini and her mother is of course in the penultimate scene, which is also unforgettable, but for that you will have to see this magnificent piece yourself.