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'Mitti' is a flawed but heartwarming saga (Film Review)

Comments  Comments [ 0 ]    By IANS | 15 July 2018 | 1:22am

Film: "Mitti" (Bengali); Writer and Director: Leena Gangopadhyay; Starring Adil Hussain, Paoli Dam

Rating: ***(3 stars)

At several points in the fitful storytelling about a Kolkata girl's search for her roots in Bangladesh, the narrative falls abysmally short of expectations.

And yet there is a certain grace dignity and emotional heft about Mitti that saw me living through the film's low-budget-high-values filmmaking, subsuming as it does, the Indian historical process that first broke India into two and then Pakistan which splintered into Bangladesh. It is that hamlet-like tiny country of quaint Bengalis born out of a history of violence and bloodshed that Paoli Dam, playing a spirited history student from Kolkata, travels in search of her roots.

The film is immensely ambitious in scope. But the execution leaves much to be desired. For one, the budget constraints show up in the mob scenes. You can't make a film about a communal holocaust while worrying about costs. The low-cost holocaust proves costly to the film's overall efficacy, as the narrative must depend almost entirely on the performing skills of the two principal actors.

This is where Mitti scores high points. Both Adil Hussain and Paoli Dam are in full control of their characters. Even when they are woefully let down by the direction the two lead actors push on valiantly creating sinewy drama out of their characters' reservoir of shared history. Just in the way Paoli's Meghla, the strong decisive girl searching for her lineage in Bangladesh, looks at Adil's character Jamila "who plays an activist, pacifist and closet-historian" creates an anticipation in the narrative. She looks like Suchitra Sen. He looks like nobody that we've seen before.

The potential in their relationship growing into something substantial is squandered in an uneven unfinished narrative design which leaves many questions unanswered. The characters often behave as though the director forgot to shoot key scenes with them. At one point when Adil and Paoli are seen strolling in the countryside Paoli comments about how the conifer in Bangladesh is greener than in India.

All we see is some tepid shriveling trees.

Right at at the start Meghla and her grandfather in Kolkata (played by an actor with a quivering head and voice who gives theatricality a bad name) is visited by the girl from Bangladesh Jinia. Within no time Meghla is in Bangladesh hugging and embracing Jinia and attending her wedding like an old friend.

The sequences between Paoli and Adil in the latter's ancestral home where her grandmother (Aparjita Adhya) was killed by rioters led by the family's once-faithful servant, convey the baggage of two actors and their two characters trying to balance a sense of historicity. I specially liked the pen-ultimate sequence between Paoli and Adil on the rooftop on a sultry Bangladesh night when after Paoli has a heated argument with her husband on phone, Adil gently suggests she take rest.

"What If I say I want to spend the rest of the night talking to you?" she asks in a fit of haughty rebellion.

And at that very moment the director decides to call it quits.

The story of this film's staccato life.

(Subhash K Jha can be contacted at [email protected])



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