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Mahananda As A Film Failed Mahasweta Devi’s Legacy

Arindam Sil's Mahananda is inspired by Mahasweta Devi's life; but it is dramatization to the peak, and comes nothing near to telling her story.

As the film drew to an end, Arindam Sil was greeted with a round of applause. His new film, Mahananda, released in April 2022, was one amongst which was screened at Telangana Bengali Film Festival 2022 this December. And that was where I heard of it for the first time.

Not sure due to which-faulty organization or unprecedented rush – none of the registration links for the films that we actually wanted to watch were working.

Hence, we went for this.

I am both glad, and sorry, that I went for this

The film began with the usual disclaimer of it being a fictionalized dramatization, and all similarities are purely co-incidental. I was a little taken aback because the film was supposed to have been made based on Mahasweta Devi’s life. It felt a little absurd.

However, as the film progressed, I tried to make sense of her. She was a staunch leftist, and was immensely active with her social work amongst the tribals and the marginalized community from the far-flung areas of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.

Her life was extremely political, and hence the film seemed to have given an attempt to emulate it. The timeline of her life was also blurred with the merging of incidents from various political controversies like the Nandigram, and Singur incidents.

But. Film-making is an art. Even if it is inspired by someone inspirational. In order to bring to life the characters of her literary fiction, her writing process, her personal life, her social contribution, and her political activism, it got messed up somewhere.

If you had to reread that last sentence in order to register it properly, imagine us sitting in that hall and having to take that all in.

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It reminded me of Parambrata Chatterjee’s phrase from Bhooter Bhabishyat- eclectic jogakhichuri (eclectic utter-confusion).

Yes, it was an eclectic jogakhichuri

What do you call a film whose impact lasts till the length of the film, but no more? My dad called it “time-pass, but make it a political drama.”

And it did feel like that. In what may appear to be an extremely bold portrayal, Sil was unafraid to bash, and reveal the viles of, the dying years of the 34-year reign of Communist Party of India (Marxist).

However, a good film-maker knows the balance it should maintain. At one point, it felt like the life and the contribution of the protagonist- Mahananda- took a backseat, and it came down to just bashing the CPM regime. Typical Didi style.

The brighter side of this mess

Despite its awkward editing, mediocre cinematography, the last scene was pretty impactful where she, holding a CPM flag, points out the then-government’s mistakes in the incidents mentioned before, and her subsequently leaving the party. It was moving.

Gargi Roychowdhury, who played the titular role, looked little similar to Mahasweta Devi. It can pass, given that no one can match the uncanny similarity between Jeetu Kamal, and the man that he played in Aparajito, Satyajit Ray. Ishaa Saha as Mohal Basu, sociology researcher working on Mahananda, was the only light at the end of the tunnel.

At this point I must confess that despite knowing her name since childhood, I was not really familiar with her life, and her social contribution.

Being a literature student, I focused merely on her literary work, but never beyond. The film was the main reason why it got me interested in her personality, and to enquire about her more from my didu, [grandmother], and mamu [uncle]- the treasure house(s) of knowledge related to Bengali Literature in my house.

But, my intention of getting to know her more through the film, failed its purpose.

Image source: Still from trailer of Mahananda, edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Akankha Basu Roy

The author is a Gen-Z kid who resorts to writing to vent out about the problematic ways of the world. Having majored in Theatre, English, and Psychology, I take a guilty pleasure in complex read more...

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