Thursday, November 26, 2009

The full stop of choice

The film "Sukhaant" brings up the controverisal theme of Euthanasia (mercy killing) arguably for the first time in Indian cinema. That it's a Marathi film speaks volumes about the recent new wave in an industry dominated by gawdy sterotypes.

Sukhaant is the story of Seetabai Gunje (Jyoti Chandekar) - a dignified lady who faces the challenge life throws at her with great resolve. Disowned by her promiscious husband, she's left to fend for herself and her little son. Plunging herself in the ocean of hard labour, she eventually builds a small-scale industry helping women like her stand on their feet.

Her son Pratap becomes a successful lawyer, blessed with a happy family of wife and kid. Just when life seems hunky dory, a road accident leaves Seetabai paralysed beyond cure.

Thus begins the heart-wrenching second innings of her life as a helpless patient - dependant on support for everything. She tries hard to defy her fate only to see through the futility of the whole exercise. And the fact that her loved ones offer unconditional support does not condone her misery in any way.

Her family tries in vain to infuse hope into her tattered soul but all that she yearns for is a full stop. This causes a pandemonium spree in the house till the merit of her plea finally dawns on the son.

Now, the mother-son duo fight a legal battle seeking wilful death to end her bedridden agony. The court obviously rejects the plea and the son finally takes the law in his hands to engineer an end of her choice.

The cast and crew collectively contribute to Sukhaant's larger cause but the film clearly belongs to two individuals - Kiran Yagnopavit for the brilliant script, screenplay and dialogues and Jyoti Chandekar for her amazing portrayal as the lead player.

She builds a strong case for the protagonist she plays - the initial semblance of hope, the gradual withdrawal, the loud protest, and the mute ultimatum...her face highlights the agony of a lady fighting for her right to dignified life (and death) with flair. Seetabai's staple tongue-in-cheek temperament turns lethal
as her mental state deteriorates - Chandekar has shown this transition in a performance rarely seen on celluloid.

Having said that, the film's end is far from convincing. The son's fatal act of the last scene is akin to a Abbas-Mastan thriller - a feat next to impossible in any hospital engaged in the endeavour of treating patients. The film could have looked at better ways of conveying its message at large - reinforcing the court's verdict denying the legality of ethunasia is a great idea to stimulate public attention but does it have to come against an exaggerated backdrop?

The hostile wrath that the son invites from the folks of his native place looks far-fetched. The outburst of Pratap's wife over a soured bed session seems only hurried - the director does not bother to project the build-up for her rage. Her perplexment over two contrasting emotions - sensitivity to the husband's love for his ailing mother and awareness of her own life space - deserved a better cinematic treatment.

Atul Kulkarni is impressive as always but falls short of the benchmark he has set for himself. The dejected look after the final act, his wailing confession to the wife and the desolate strides towards the police station in the last frame - all gestures come about loud and unreal - unlike the Kulkarni of Devrai or Vaastupurush fame that we know.

Kavita Medhekar underlines her role with sincerity but clearly struggles to unearth the finer aspects lurking between the lines... Her expression is subdued when it comes to delivering the pain of her penanace - as a wife who's taken for granted in a mother-son relationship.

Few other flaws dilute the film's appeal - the accident that cripples the protagonist for life causes no dent to the car at the point of impact....worse, the same car is overtly projected throughout the film, to the extent, it seems part of the cast.

A frame showing the lawyer son surrounded by media shows a junior artiste (playing a TV journalist) herself staring at the film's camera - and that this scene is repeated only adds to the embarassment.

It's high time filmmakers paid more attention to the marginal players as well - the nurse with the strong and nasueatingly comic South Indian accent, the poker-faced doctor calling for a CT Scan (as if it were a drill) and the synthetic mixed bag of mob reaction following the case winning media attention - these are serious flaws that are invariably ignored in our cinema as glitches.

The film scores very high for the sincere attempt to tackle a subject under wraps despite being the agony of several households. Kudos to the entire team for the effort.

And hope Chandekar and Yagnopavit bag few well-deserved awards this season.