One of the most moving movies I have seen in recent months is Atanu Ghosh's Mayurakshi, a competing Bengali language title at the ongoing second edition of the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival. With an absolutely superb star cast of Soumitra Chatterjee, Prasenjit Chatterjee and Indrani Haldar, Mayurakshi would have been miles ahead even before the camera had begun to roll. Casting is as important as a story and script are for a movie, and Ghosh had done well to get Soumitra, one of the world's best actors that Satyajit Ray discovered decades ago and cast him in several films. Prasenjit and Indrani are not far behind with their subtle and sensitive portrayals. And the plot draws you into a world of fading memory and disappearing bonds. What is more, Ghosh manages to keep his script away from emotional upheavals, and Mayurakshi turns out to be a study in restraint in the face of weakening ties and failing marriages.
Prasenjit's Aryanil, who has had two divorces (leading to huge alimony payouts), lands in Kolkata to meet his 83-year-old historian father, Sushovan (Soumitra), who is fast sinking into dementia. When his caregiver, Mallika, tells Aryanil that his father has been asking about a woman named Mayurakshi, memories begin to disturb the son. But we are never told till the very end who this elusive Mayurakshi is. Is she an old flame of the father or the son?
As a kind of relief to the turbulence that hits Aryanil as he watches his father gradually walk towards a point of no return, the movie introduces Shahana (Indrani Haldar), who could have once been in love with Aryanil, but is now married, though still close to him. There are remarkable scenes between the two, and at one point, she asks him why such a sensitive individual like him ought to have wandered in and out of marriages. “Being sensitive has nothing to do with marriage', he quips in reply.
Though both Prasenjit and Indrani are superb, the man who grabs the honours is Soumitra, and age has not withered his ability to get into a character and infuse it with life. He brings alive Professor Sushovan, and as the historian seeks to grapple with his handicap, desperately trying to recall slices from his life, we are drawn into his scary world where memory plays a cruel game of hide-and-seek.
This is of course not to deny Prasenjit his due. In one of his most muted performances, he is wonderfully convincing as the son, who is awfully guilty at having to live away from his father. As he forces himself to return to America, where he works, we see him burst into uncontrollable tears. A flood of remorse appears to come rushing through his tears.
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In the final analysis, Mayurakshi is one of those cinematic highlights that will remain etched in one's memory, especially as it explores loneliness in a nation where parents have to live away from their children, out to seek greener pastures in far away lands.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is on the jury at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival)