Saturday, July 8, 2017

MOM Review

A R Rahman, in the 25th year of his career, when he could simply play in his comfort zone and yet excel every time, chooses to compose and produce a largely esoteric, experimental and minimalistic soundtrack for debutant Ravi Udyawar's film - Mom. The songs suggest a definite soundscape that belongs to the film.

And then I saw the film.

The first thing that struck me about the film, more than its soundscape, was its photography. It struck me in my eyes. It is that obtrusive. And that is a cardinal sin. If your frame is noticeable before what's in the frame, you are doing exacty opposite of what is expected from a good photographer. And these visuals don't justify what it wants to tell. It's just there to show-off one's skill. See that shot with just a dim red light in frame that is constantly seeking your attention?

Among many other cliché scenes in the film, one is how one character finds modern-art pedestrian. The film is exactly that: looks arty, but, with its populist politics and message(s), is terribly pedestrian. You have a mom on a mission (to revenge the rape of her step-daughter), and two stock-characters: a seedy, Bengali private detective from Paharganj (Nawazuddin in truly "special appearance" because his make-up and look has no other business than 'look, how real our portrayal of characters are'); and an honest-policeman-who-can't-do-much-because-stuck-in-bureaucracy Akshaye Khanna.

There are scenes written only for the characters to spew one or two taali-seeti seeking lines, and otherwise have very little narrative purpose. Be it "Iss desh me rapists ko thappad bhi nahi maar sakte" or an age-old SMS: "Bhagwan har jagah nahi ho sakte isiliye toh maa banayi hai". The dialogues elsewhere is, again, very pedestrian. (The confrontation scene between a rapist and the detective is solid cringy.)

Then there is problematic representation of transgender characters: we meet two of them as students of Devaki, the Mom (Sridevi), who later uses them in her revenge plan. She makes them disguise as sex-workers. Nothing wrong in being  sex-workers, but using trans characters for it because 'oh, to make it look real' again? And that is the only raison d'ĂȘtre of these characters in the film. It not only then comes across as robbing them of the power given in their introduction scene (that they have started up a business) but also makes the empowerment look as tokenism.

And the most problematic is its climax (which even elicited applause from the audience): the victim step-daughter, who had been treating her stepmom unfairly even when the former was almost in comatose condition in an ICU, finally accepts her after she has killed the rapist right in front of her. The film wants to peddle this desperate, quick-fix ideology, and sadly but not-so-surprisingly it seems to be working for a few audience.

Mom is a populist film. That is not a problem. Problem is: it masquerades as a high art. Could this be a subversion, or a subtext of a high-society, well-guarded woman going off-boundaries, on roads? But there is very little that supports this case, because the filmmaking is so inert that it is oblivious to any class hierarchy and its issues, which in a rape revenge film, surely cannot be overlooked.

ARR in an interview told how he asked the director to tweak a scene so that he could fit in a semi-classical track in the soundtrack - Be Nazara. What is the longest song in the album, appears for fleeting seconds in the film, adding nothing but Style. Now you get some idea what the makers wanted to achieve in this film. The esoteric sight and sound of this film constantly tells where the film wants to belong -- which is definitely not with the masses. So, you have a film which is not true to its content, and its form misleads its content.

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