Film: ‘Maatr’; Director: Ashtar Sayed; Starring: Raveena Tandon, Madhur Mittal, Anurag Arora; Rating: ****
A raucous raga on the aftermath of rape, much of “Maatr” unfolds in a stern humourless no-nonsense manner of a fact-finding newshound who won’t go into digressions — because the film’s heroine knows what one wrong turn can do — just to keep the audience’s perception lightened. Which is for the best, really. In India we can’t afford to laugh about rape the way the French could in the film Elle.
“Maatr” is not an easy film to watch. It is relentlessly grim, and often graphic in its gruesomeness. The gang rape and the near-murder of the mother and daughter on a lonely stretch of a Delhi-Haryana highway reminded me of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. It is not a sight for squeamish eyes. It makes us uncomfortable.
Good! That’s what “Maatr” aims to do. It strips the act of rape of all its filmy glamour and titillating trappings to portray the agony of a woman who watches her minor daughter gang raped, after she is raped herself. The two are then dumped on the side of the highway by the seven wayward sons of influential dads, nocturnal animals who belong in hell, provided the over-crowded address of Satan’s existence has space for these scummy creatures.
Director Ashtar Sayed doesn’t spare us the sordid details .We wince and shudder when the hospital staff must tell the grievously injured mother that her daughter was gang raped before being killed. You shudder for the mother when the cop tells her to forget about the heinous crime. Such scenes, shot in stark unglamourous colours by cinematographer Hari Vedantam, spare us none of the mother’s pain.
Make no mistake. This film is a showcase for Raveena’s skills. Her character goes from grieving aggrieved suffering mother to an avenging diva with a quiet confidence that comes from her years of training in commercial cinema where anything can happen, and it does. To this sur of commercial escapism ,a la vigilantism, Raveena adds a pained strain of realism. She mines in her own maternal subconscious to express a mother’s pain.
Some of her sparring matches with the cop in-charge (Anurag Arora, efficiently powerful) find the actress expressing a wry disdain at the processes of the law which have let the mother down.
Tragically Raveena’s central performance is unaided by her co-actors. Talented actors like Divya Jagdale (playing Raveena’s best friend and confidante) and Rushad Rana(playing her husband) are annoying in their shadowy snapchat avatars. The climax with the worst computer-generated explosion seen in any film, also leaves us embarrassed and exhausted.
But “Maatr” means well. It tackles the issue of rape headlong and is not afraid to delve into the murkier aspects of the crime. Raveena and the film’s makers jump into the filth and are not afraid of getting their feet muddy.
A feeling of stifling foreboding and inescapable self-loathing runs through the brisk-paced film. Some sequences of violence, like the one where the least violent among the rapists is confronted and cornered by Vidya (why must a schoolteacher be named Vidya?) stay with us after the film. The director averts the danger of sprucing up the proceedings with sexy item songs and other digressions.
He knows what the wrong turn can do.