Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mr and Mrs Iyer

Religion is probably the most abused phenomenon in India today. What should be a personal and spiritual experience is instead used to cloak personal prejudices, hatred, ‘a might is right’/ ‘mob rule’ kind of approach and an easy way to inflame people to do unspeakable atrocities.

Mr & Mrs Iyer, Aparna Sen's 2002 release, showcases an interesting story of a growing friendship between two diametrically opposite people amidst the all too familiar carnage of communal frenzy and bigoted prejudices. Its another provocative film, and I’m enjoying watching them at home on DVD, enjoying pondering over the questions they raise.

Meenakshi Iyer (Konkona Sen Sharma) is an orthodox, Tamil woman, married, traveling on her own (with her one year old son) by bus to Jalpaiguri to catch a train to Calcutta, where her husband awaits her. Raja (Rahul Bose), a Bengali photographer, who is also on the same bus, turns out to be a friend of a friend of her father's and is asked to take care of her / help her through the travel. Their bus is forced to stop midway (along with several trucks) when communal riots flare up nearby. A hindu mob visits their bus as well, looking for muslims to butcher. To save Raja, who is a muslim, Meenakshi pretends he is Mr Iyer. The rest of the story revolves around how they and the different passengers fend for themselves, how they try and find ways to return home.

The whole bus journey, prior to the mob coming in, lasts about 30 minutes and is a fascinating study of how different people pass their time. It is so real, so normal that its almost boring until you realize you’re smiling as you observe the individual foibles and character traits of the different passengers.

Meenakshi is as pure a Tam Brahm as you get – vegetarian, unwilling to eat something cooked by a stranger as you never know what caste he may be, living a secluded / dull homemaker existence, wrapped up in her cocoon which includes her one year old son, Santhanam. Raja, is the photographer who travels to exotic places, lives life on the fly, a complete cosmopolitan. When he tells Meenakshi he is a muslim, she is taken aback and replies ‘I thought you were a Bengali’. He looks at her quizzically and replies ‘Yes, I am but I also happen to be a muslim’ with body language saying ‘whats the problem here’.

Konkona Sen Sharma is outstanding in the movie – it’s a virtuoso performance in her mom's movie, where she behaves like a true Tam (the body language, the intonations are amazingly real). Proof of her great performance is that we were constantly reminded of our very good friends who are also Tam Brahms. Rahul Bose is his typical understated, expressionless self – it suits only certain types of roles and this is one of them. Good performances from the rest of the cast as well and a special mention of the soundtrack – composed by Ustad Zakhir Hussain. Soothing tunes that seem to enhance the madness of the mobs and their artrocities.

I know the partition was a terrible life changing experience for many of us, but the sooner we can put it behind us, the better. The movie is full of remarks like ‘why don’t these muslims go to Pakistan where they belong’ and the sad reality is that a lot of Indians still continue to feel this way. Learning from other cultures suggests that we will not be cleansed of such thoughts till a generation which has not witnessed or been scarred by the event, become the decision makers in the country’s political and socio-economic landscape. I somehow doubt it, I think the older generation has managed to pass on their prejudices very well and its going to take longer till we realize we’re all human beings with a right to practice different faiths / different traditions, to just be different. And the sooner we find a way to make religion less of a badge, less ostentatious and more personal, more private, the better…

Its not easy watching, some sequences are very disturbing and like RDB, I doubt I’ll watch it again. However, the relationship between Mrs Iyer and Raja is beautifully handled (I was reminded of ‘Bridges of Madison County’ a bit) and I’m delighted to have ‘discovered’ this little gem in my DVD collection…

1 comment:

moksh juneja said...

I loved the movie!! Even loved the way, the whole situation is handled... i personally feel they should stop making movies like this, since this gives bitterness towards the religion.