Have decided to pen a review to set the report straight on ‘Antar Mahal’, the latest offering by Rituparno Ghosh. There have been too many glowing reports of the movie, of the tributes it received at the Locarno film festival etc. This is how one newspaper described the movie – ‘touted to be Ghosh’s boldest film yet, with a potent mixture of religion, sex and politics. Ghosh says he was not gunning for a sensational film, but through its depiction of Indian history, it reflects the true spirit of courage. It talks about the pressures of gender, religion and colonial forces that spark off big and small rebellions.’
Firstly, I wish Ghosh would not publicise his movie as a depiction of Indian history. I shudder to think what a foreigner’s opinion of Indian religion would be after viewing this movie. There is actually a long scene in the movie where a group of priests explain the Ashwamedha Yagna to a zamindar and the interpretation includes the queen having sex with the horse before the yagna to purify it! Was this really one of the rituals of the Ashwamedha Yagna ? Could our customs have been this regressive ages ago ? Is this the ancient Indian culture we want to showcase to the world ? Anyway, this particular scene ends with the priests ‘simplifying’ the ritual and nobly volunteering to have sex with the zamindar’s wife in lieu of the horse ! (The disgusting look on the priests’ face has to be seen to be believed.)
As per Mr. Ghosh, “ ‘Antar Mahal’ is a sexy film without any skin.” I agree that there is hardly any skin shown apart from the bare chests of Jackie Shroff and Abhishek Bachchan. But I doubt I would use the adjective ‘sexy’ to describe the film. A lot of the time, I was cringing in disgust. Honestly, the movie is enough to put one off men and sex forever.
But I digress – I can hear people wondering what the basic plot of the movie is. There is an evil zamindar (played by Jackie Shroff) who is desperate to have a son. He is also desperate to outshine the rival zamindar in the pomp and splendour of the annual Durga Pooja celebrations. Nothing and no one matters in the pursuit of these two aims – the zamindar’s character is entirely selfish, self-centred, evil, with no redeeming qualities. His character is entirely one dimensional in this respect. He has two wives, the younger of whom is innocent, weak, trapped and a total ‘bakri’ – no brains, no spunk, only beauty and tear-ducts. His first wife, Rupa Ganguly, is the only character which shows some depth and crafting, she has nice sides to her as well as a bitchy side, at times you hate her, at times you empathise with her and at other times you want to give her a rousing cheer.
One didn’t get to see much of Jackie Shroff’s acting skills, he either frowns angrily and gives one a good view of his moustache quivering, or gives one a view of his bare back as he bounces on top of his wife – who, it is clear from the movie, does not enjoy it at all.
When Jackie, in his lust for a son, decides to let a priest sit in the room and chant shlokas as he (Jackie, not the priest) has sex with his young wife, she decides to hang herself (though she is prevented from doing so). I have yet to understand why she didn’t think of castrating her husband before ending her life. Why does this woman never, ever retaliate ? She could at least knee him in the crotch by mistake. Or scratch his dick with the sharp edge of her bangle. One is left wondering why she meekly accepts all the shit that life throws at her ? At one point, Jackie berates his wife for not understanding the hard work he has to do, first in the afternoon with his mistress Panna and then at night with her – and in this heat too !!! And the wife gives him a sympathetic reply.
Only good thing about the movie is that one walked out of the hall really happy. Firstly, glad that the torture had ended. Secondly, really really glad that I was born in the 21st century, to liberal parents, in an urban milieu.
Zenobia D. Driver