Director Nicholas Kharkongor’s debut feature, Mantra, which will be screened at the Habitat Film Festival 2017 in Delhi this evening, has been doing the rounds of several film festivals since 2016 and it also released theatrically on 17 March this year. But the film hasn't made many waves. The reason why it hasn't found many takers is perhaps due to lack of layers and complexities that a story and setting like this one demanded. It’s more a clinical narrative instead.
Set in the post-liberalisation era, the story revolves around snack company owner (Rajat Kapoor) who is fighting a battle at work and at home. Kapil Kapoor’s King chips is being crushed by multinational rival Kipper. Piya (Kalki Koechlin), Kapil's daughter, wants to move out and be independent. His son Viraj (Shiv Pandit) is too involved with his own business to worry about his father's financial troubles. His younger son Vir (Rohan Joshi) is trying to find himself in the world of chat rooms that were popular at the time. Amidst all this, Kapil's wife Meenakshi (Lushin Dubey) feel's neglected and clings on to her smoking.Advertisement
Here are a few things that make the story of this family's struggle worth a watch.
Mantra is a crowd-funded film made by Shillong-based director Kharkongor. The film is set in 2004 when the famous ‘India Shining’ campaign was at its peak. It is an interesting period to place a film in, as no stories have been told about the social, political or economic conditions of the time. And while on the face of it, India was enjoying the fruits of liberalization (1991), underneath it all, the country was still struggling to come to terms with the effects of globalization.
Rajat Kapoor plays the role of Kapil Kapoor, a businessman struggling to keep his family together. He does a brilliant job of playing a well-written character who desperately tries to save his business, even as his wife and three children are drifting away from him. He is especially good in the scene where he stands in front the mirror and rehearses how he's going to hide his pain and put on a smile for his family and friends.
An ensemble of good actors
While the other characters are under-written, the actors — Koechlin, Pandit, Dubey and Adil Hussain — playing them are very talented and do a great job of bringing to life whatever has been given to them on paper. They give you sincere performances, despite their characters being sketchy and superficial.
This film is extremely relevant in the context of today's ‘Make In India’ campaigns, start-ups and demonetisation. It gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on how society dealt with the ramifications of globalisation and opening up of the Indian economy. It may give us some clues as to how we, on a personal level, could come to terms with the current economic scenario in the country.
The film also touches upon other relevant aspects like how the youth reacted to the advent of the internet, how funding from banks encouraged young entrepreneurs, and how, despite all the India Shining propaganda, nothing much had changed for women, as a character in the film is seen dealing with sexual harassment.
Mantra will be screened at the Habitat Film Festival 2017 in Delhi on 25 May at 9pm.