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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Movies of substance

Mammo, a movie directed by the multi-talented Shyam Benegal, was made way back in is more of commercial cinema and not the kind of movie every person would want to watch. I saw it by chance on Doordarshan, when I was a kid, and although I didn't understand much of it, it stayed in my mind. I saw it again around a year back and this time, I understood every bit.

Riyaz, a 13-year old boy, lives with his grandmother Fayyuzi (Surekha Sikri) and her aunt Mehmooda Begum a.k.a Mammo (Fardia Jalal). He lives in a humble house, isn't rich and is quite bitter about his father abandoning him. They are a delightful trio, with tiny harmless squabbles over petty issues occurring between them every now and then. Although the grandmother is quite conservative, which for her age, is not surprising, Mammo on the other hand, is quite free-spirited, modern (for 1994) and an out-of-the-box thinker. And she is about the same age as her elder sister too. Yes.

There is this one scene where she finds Riyaz playing around with some cigarettes in his room, and she sneaks up on him and catches him red-handed. Instead of scolding him severely, she lights up one cigarette, takes a drag, coughs and grimaces over its filthy taste, and then tells Riyaz that this not worth his time and tells him to put it away. It works! Jalal smoking a ciggy is also captured on the DVD cover of the movie. Ultra-cool!

Mammo was born during the British Raj in India, but was one of the thousands who fled to Pakistan during the partition era. Having settled down there, she was automatically termed as a Pakistani citizen. All was well until she realised that she couldn't conceive. To add to her woes, her husband expires a few years later, and property issues and the 'barrenness of her womb' resulted in her relatives throwing her out of the house. With nowhere to go, she comes to India to stay with her sister on a temporary visa, which has to be renewed every month.

To end the constant trips to the visa guy, Mammo somehow scrapes for some money and bribes a police inspector to issue her a permanent visa for staying in India. As luck would have it, the police guy who issued her a permanent visa gets transferred. The police inspector who comes in place of him gets hold of Mammo, labels her an illegal immigrant, and arranges to have her 'transported back' to Pakistan. She is forcibly put onto a train to Pakistan, and no heed is paid to the fact that she has a visa, and the heart rendering pleas of her old sister or young grandson are ignored.

Riyaz and Fayyuzi make many attempts to trace her, but all in vain. Many years later the boy grows up into an adult (played by the versatile Rajit Kapoor, of Byomkesh Bakshi fame), and starts penning down memories of his beloved grand aunt, who in her little ways, made the burden of their lives, a little easier to bear. He hopes to reach out to his lost aunt through these memoirs, and be reunited again.

The movie is a beautiful rendition of how political games can override humanitarian values, and how the Partition has caused many unhealed wounds to this day.

What happens in the end? Watch to find out.

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