Maati movie review: Paoli Dam, Adil Hussain's performances keep you engrossed in a film that tends to drags on

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

July 22, 2018 12:32:10 IST

3.5/5

When the powers that be draw a line on the soil and expect people to continue living their lives on either side of it, it is not a line they are drawing; it is a scar that they are leaving on the very consciousness of those people – forever. The agony of the scar may ease as generations come and go, but somewhere deep within our psyche, there still remains an imprint of the tragedy of being separated from friends and family. How else do you explain why our eyes well up with emotions when we cross the borders and go back to our roots, despite the fact that we have, personally, never lived there? It is this imprint – rife with both pleasant memories of togetherness and painful ones of separation – that director duo Saibal Banerjee and Leena Gangopadhyay try to evoke in their latest film Maati.

Meghla is a student of History living in Kolkata. When she learns that her grandfather was forced to flee East Pakistan – or what is now known as Bangladesh – because of communal strife, and that her grandmother — who had decided to stay back to protect the ancestral mansion — was murdered by a trusted family retainer, she decides to embark upon a strange journey in search of her roots. Meghla travels to Dhaka and then to her ancestral village, where the descendants of the alleged murderer now live in her grandmother’s mansion. Aided by a knowledgeable, soft spoken and kind-hearted gentleman named Jamil, she tries to unravel the truth behind what really happened that fateful night at the mansion all those years ago, but fails to get anywhere near the truth.

Paoli Dam in Maati. Image via Facebook

Paoli Dam in Maati. Image via Facebook

The one thing which I really liked about the film is that it does not have any illusions of grandeur – none whatsoever. For instance, despite what the audience expects of it, the film refuses to offer a simplistic answer to the question Meghla has been looking for. And I think that is the best way the story could have unfolded, because our destinies cannot be guided by who did what in the past, but what we can do today. If the people of this generation can understand and accept this simple fact, all the whataboutery and finger pointing would stop, and we can continue to live as two peaceful, albeit divided, nations. It is this mature and sensitive handling of the subject that is the biggest highlight of the film, which despite all its best intentions, is not without its flaws.

For one thing, the script drags on for an unreasonably long period of time and has very little creative density. Moreover, I found Meghla’s convictions rather illogical. There is no doubt that she has come to Bangladesh to trace her roots – the wedding of a friend is just an excuse. And it is also true that when it comes to the subject of her grandmother’s death, she has already made up her mind and created her own personal version of the truth. What, then, is the purpose of her journey? It can’t be fact-checking, because we have ruled that possibility out, nor can it be the securing of a reassurance that what she has perceived as the truth is indeed so. And if her convictions are so strong as to obviate any investigation into the matter whatsoever, then why does she have an on-and-off relationship with Jamil? These are questions I failed to find during the 120-minute running time of the film. And if, despite this, I remained invested in the film, it is because of the performances.

Paoli Dam plays Meghla – a difficult role to play, thanks to her internal conflicts – with remarkable grace and charm. Hers is a mind that is blinkered with the pages of history. Nor once does she stop to think that man makes history, and that it is never the other way around. Her cold, standoffish behaviour towards the descendants of her grandmother’s rumoured murderer is something that Dam plays with perfection, often making us forget that she is, in fact, acting in a movie. There are moments of deep affection that she vividly feels towards her ancient land, a land where her roots run deep. From its flora, its fauna, its cuisine, its beautiful topography abundantly marked with waterways to its many customs and traditions and its festivals, she feels a deep bond with all of them. It’s not easy to portray these emotions on screen, but Dam is a gifted actor, and she excels in her role as a wide-eyed wanderer in an alien land.

After a show-stealing performance in Pratim D. Gupta’s Ahare Mon, Adil Hussain once again warms our hearts with a nuanced and balanced portrayal of Jamil – a man whose connect with his soil is non-negotiable, and yet who understands and speaks the language of humanity above everything else. The way he welcomes a stranger from a foreign land into his village, the way he nurtures a long-distance relationship with his son and the way he jumps into action at the first call of duty towards his brethren are some of the many things that promptly endear him to us. The beauty of the undefinable relationship between Jamil and Meghla is something that I will cherish for a long time. Because it tells us that despite everything that the pages of history tells us, despite all the chasms of differences that threaten to separate us, it is what we choose to do with our present and our future that matters the most.

Updated Date: Jul 22, 2018 12:32 PM