Sunday, 25 December 2022

Mandi [1983]

 Mandi, or physical marketplace, manifests market economy, interplay of demand and supply, and flow of capital; it’s a place, therefore, marked by bedlam, greed, jealousy, Machiavellian manoeuvrings, and even exploitation of labour, while also championing coexistence, camaraderie and community. Shyam Benegal’s bold, chaotic, satirical, mesmeric, compassionate, and, I daresay, Feliniesque film – set in a raucous and throbbing bordello in Hyderabad – triumphantly embodied and embraced all the afore-mentioned traits. That it so marvellously avoided male gaze, voyeuristic impulses and sensationalism despite a subject such as this, and didn’t whitewash anyone even while humanizing the intensely ostracized field of prostitution, underscored this maximalist tale with nuance, delicacy and seriousness. Rukmini Bai (played with commanding brilliance by Shabana Azmi in one of the finest performances of her career) is the madam and matriarch of the afore-mentioned brothel, which she runs with intelligence, grit, cunning and flair. She cares for the place and her girls, is fiercely protective of their agency, and is especially fond of Zeenat (Smita Patil) who’s getting trained in classical singing. Their seemingly harmonious co-existence within the neighbourhood’s ecosystem, however, comes under attack on account of wealthy businessman Gupta (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who’d like to have the land cleared, and a shrill moral policing City Councillor (Gita Siddharth). The magnificent ensemble cast comprised of a slew of stalwarts of the then “parallel cinema” movement – Naseeruddin Shah in a terrific turn as Rukmini’s volatile factotum Tungrus, Om Puri as a leery photographer, Soni Razdan as Rukmini’s sharp-tongued colleague, Saeed Jaffrey as Gupta’s reluctant ally, Amrish Puri as a bombastic Sufi cleric, Satish Kaushik as Gupta’s unctuous assistant, Neena Gupta as one of Rukmini’s girls, Pankaj Kapoor as a phony activist, etc.

Director: Shyam Benegal

Genre: Comedy/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Ensemble Film

Language: Hindi

Country: India

No comments: