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Mantra review: Ramifications of globalization told through a family's story

Release Date: 17 Mar 2017 / Rated: A / 02hr 10min

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Suparna Thombare

Writer-director Nicholas Kharkongor ventures into relatively fresh territory — the effects on a family of the opening up of the economy — and succeeds to a large extent.

Mantra is a crowd-funded film made by Shillong-based director Nicholas Kharkongor, set in 2004, at the time of the famous ‘India Shining’ campaign. 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 when, on the face of it, India was enjoying the fruits of liberalization (1991) but was also struggling to come to terms with globalization.

The film brings together an interesting ensemble of actors. Kapil Kapoor (Rajat Kapoor) is going through a tough time professionally and personally. A multinational snack company is taking over the market that once belonged to his iconic snack brand Kings Chips — the effect of opening up of the Indian economy. On a personal level, he is struggling to nurture his relationship with members of his family, who are dealing with their own individual crises. Shiv Pandit, Kalki Koechlin and Rohan play his three children, and Lushin Dubey, his wife.

When things come to a head — his older son not showing any interest in the business, his younger son coming to terms with his sexuality through the internet, his daughter wanting to move out of home and his wife feeling like he doesn’t love her anymore and therefore wanting out of the marriage — Kapoor is forced to confront his demons.

A hash-smoking outing with a stranger in the streets of Delhi makes Kapoor realize that he needs to let go of certain things and move on while nurturing what is important to him. He realizes that at the end of the day he needs to do what makes him happy. Mantra, which is the name of his son’s lounge, is also a metaphor for moving with the times and accepting change.

After Kapoor & Sons, Rajat Kapoor once again finds himself playing a Kapoor who is struggling to keep his family together. He does a brilliant job of playing a well-written character who desperately tries to save his business. He is more concerned about what people think of him than living his life the way he wants to. He is especially good in the scene where he rehearses before the bathroom mirror the smile to put on in front of his family and friends.

The rest of the cast, including Koechlin, Pandit, Rohan, Dubey and Adil Hussain also put in sincere performances, despite their characters seeming sketchy and superficial. You fail to connect with them in the same way that you do with Rajat Kapoor's character.

In the current era of ‘Make in India’ campaigns, start-ups and demonetization, it is important to look back and reflect on how society dealt with the ramifications of globalization 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 scenario in the country. And this film offers that chance though it is through the eyes of the elite — a rich business family in Delhi.

The film also touches upon other aspects like how the advent of the internet has affected the youth, how funding from banks has encouraged young entrepreneurs, and how, despite all the India Shining propaganda, women’s status in society saw little change as they continued to deal with sexual harassment.

The subject of socio-economic effects of globalization is complex and the director does not attempt to teach or get into the complexities. What is interesting is that even though the film projects the social and economic ramifications of the post-liberalization period, it is also a very humane story about a family.

First-time feature film director Kharkongor's Mantra is an interesting watch as it is a tight and well-told story that takes you into the relatively unexplored territory of the early 2000s, and also makes you explore how as human beings we struggle to cope with change in society and find it difficult to move on and adapt to the times.