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Trust Atanu Ghosh for small things like subtlety, silence and minimalistic human interaction that, as his films show, if used aptly, can often express better than words can. Mayuraskhi goes one better. It is an unusual take on a father-son relationship. The son, Aryaneel (Prosenjit Chatterjee), has to suddenly fly down from Chicago, where he is into cloud computing, to attend to his father, Shushovan Roychoudhury (Soumitra Chatterjee), an 84-year-old retired professor of History who is slowly getting sucked into world otherwise called dementia.
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Mayurakshi is the name of a river that becomes turbulent when the rains come and turns calm and quiet and peaceful at other times. The river is a metaphor for the vacillating turbulence and quiet calm that the lives of the characters are defined by, and also takes shape in the name of an elusive character whose name is Mayurakshi. “Life is just moving back and forth and about quest.” says Aryaneel, spelling out the tone and ideology of the film.
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“We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.” his father writes on a white board with a piece of pebble he picked from somewhere. His son at once recognizes that the sentence is one of the famous quotes from Wuilliam Ewart Gladstone who was Prime Minister of UK spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894,. The universality of this saying that transcends time, space and geography, also sort of sets the pace of the film, which drags in the beginning but later picks up when the very quiet and reserved Aryaneel begins tracking into his past and through his depressing present where he takes serious interest in his father’s condition.
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Tiny nuggets of information about the past of the father and son tread every so softly over the narrative that you might not be able to hear its footsteps unless you are completely focussed on the screen. You learn that Aryaneel once was part of the Bengal’s Ranji Trophy team in cricket but lost out in Lucknow. Shushovan believes Aryaneel has come back from Lucknow after having lost the match and does not recall his Chicago connection. The older man can gauge that his son is unhappy and sad but does not know why. Aryaneel has gone through one divorce and the son from this marriage is at Doon School. He is currently going through his second divorce and confesses to his childhood friend Sahana (Indrani Haldar) that he is practically bent under the burden of mounting expenses on four fronts he has to bear.
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We learn that Shushovan, who once listened only to Western classical music like the Philharmonic Orchestra, is now quite familiar with fusion music though he cannot quite remember the name of AR Rahman. The old man creates a fictional piece of music on an imaginary violent when Aryaneel takes him to a cafeteria where Sushovan says there are some moments in life where you need some background music and the camera cuts back and forth to a very young couple cooped up in a glass-covered booth conversing in what seems like sign language.
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The supporting characters are centered on the touch-and-go interactions between father and son. Mallika (Sudipta Chakraborty), the care-giver-cum-housekeeper, who once worked in geriatric care, has an eleven-year-old son back in her suburban home. The family retinue does not care for the ayah who gossips about her old care but quits because the television is never on in this home. Sahana shields her loneliness despite or, because of a daughter studying in Kanpur IIT and a successful businessman for a husband. She remains confused about her childhood friend but gives him solid moral support.
The crux of the story hangs on a single question – who is Mayurakshi and where is she right now? Shushovan desperately begs of his son to bring her to him just once and the son sets off on his search for this woman, once his father’s favourite student and the girl his father once wanted him to marry. It is a question whose answer is left entirely to the audience to decipher and get at. Mayurakshi could as much be an illusion as she could be a real woman lost to time. It could be the middle-aged woman trapped to a wheelchair (Gargi Roychoudhury) who Aryaneel finally finds in a small house significantly named ‘Asroy’ meaning shelter. Or is she a myth created within the steadily increasing dementia Shushovan is sucked into?
Soumitra Chatterjee as the father and Prosenjit as his middle-aged son with a greying beard his father hates have given award-worthy performances. It must have been extremely stressful for Soumitra to portray a man close to his age and not internalise feelings of forgetfulness and dementia. But that is precisely what makes him Soumitra Chatterjee. It is a pleasure to watch Prosenjit slipping smoothly and steadily into roles that fit his age and his evolving persona. Sudipta as caregiver is soft, understated and convincing. The only slice of relief the film has lies in the characterisation of Sahana and its fleshing out by Indrani Haldar.
Debajyoti Misra’s musical score is enriched with its use of Western classical pieces through the old gramophone records Shushovan listens to when he is all there. Shoumik Haldar’s cinematography and Anirban Sengupta’s capturing of ambient sounds off the streets such as the man who is calling out to buy/sell old things, as Aryaneel watches from the balcony of their home, lend a touch of authenticity and aesthetics to the film. Add to this the razor-sharp editing by Sujay Datta Ray.
By the time the film is over, you realise that this father-son relationship is not that unusual after all. It is a microcosmic reflection of contemporary urban lives where children live and work in distant lands and aged parents are left to deal with their loneliness as they wait for death. So, what gives? The film is targeted at a niche audience because it has too many academic and intellectual references the common man might not warm up to. Secondly, the social ambience speaks of affluence which again, the audience might not want to identify with. Thirdly, the film is so deeply depressing, slow and repetitive in the first half hour, that as you leave the theatre, you leave with a very sad taste in the mouth. Is Life really this depressing? One hopes not. It would be apt to borrow another famous quote from Gladstone that goes, “It is not a life at all. It is a reticence, in three volumes.”
Bengali, Drama, Color