It was the penultimate night at the 12th MAMI Festival.
In one of the last few scenes of Aparna Sen’s latest offering, the Bengali language film Iti Mrinalini, the young actress Mrinalini’s friend Chintan Nair, a Malayalam author, says, “… and there is yet another kind of love, Minnie… maybe you don’t realize it… love where there is no expectation… love that sets you free…” Mrinalini embraces him and speaks softly, “I know… you need not say any more…”
So tender was that moment, so true in the emotion it expressed, that I almost wished it were the last scene of the film as well…! But obviously it was not! Because, only when you start thinking that you know it all, the ending of the film comes and hits you like never before!
From Oedipal references in the beginning, to revisiting already known stories of actor-director relationships, to dealing with the dreamy zones between love and friendship, and culminating in magical realism, Sen’s Iti Mrinalini is a treat to watch from the word Go!
The one thing that stayed on with me long after the film was over was Mrinalini’s character… Here was a woman into poetry and literature and seemingly quite sorted in life. Still she makes the same mistakes that her mother did in her time! There is a certain naiveté about her evident in the obsessive compulsive disorder that she has – evident in arranging and rearranging not only small household items, but also lives – of others to start with and finally her own! That she is insecure about love is supported by the four relationships in her lives. It is only natural for someone like her, then, to think of planning her ‘exit’ from the world’s stage as a reaction to an otherwise regular incident of love and betrayal!
How often have we felt like controlling our lives and surroundings, and how often have we realized how impossible it is to do so! Sen does a masterful job in handling the issue.
Iti Mrinalini deals with randomness in life – both personal and external. The timeline of the film is marked by historical references of the period. At one level it tells us the exact time in which the incidents are set. At another level it shows the randomness and the ‘out of control’ nature of happenings in the external world. It charts a similar course in the highs and lows in Mrinalini’s life.
The best part in the narrative is something else, though. The randomness of Mrinalini’s disturbed mind translates into randomness in her memories! And so, the flashbacks unfurl in a fashion in sync with the random state of the suicidal actress’s mind! The narration of flashbacks opens up layers of memories, one layer invoking yet another, and so on, back and forth.
The circular narrative ends on a note where one is left with the feeling that life comes full circle at the end, after all! Aparna Sen and her co-writer Ranjan Ghosh have been able to whip up an engaging script for the most part. However, three-fourths into the film, the screenplay starts dragging for a while. It picks up again towards the end and delivers a punch of an ending at the climax! On the flipside, the verbosity of the screenplay makes the film’s pace languorous at times.
Rabiranjan Mitra’s editing is more or less competent, except towards the end. It could have been tighter though. The film could have been shorter by probably five odd minutes. The cinematography by Somak Mukherjee blends with the narrative and gives a period-feel to the narrative. Fancy camera angles, hand held shots, and meaningless compositions have been dispensed with. Anyway, it is well known that Sen has never allowed any of the departments to overwhelm the film!
Production design by Aparna Sen is top-notch and delivers us into another period every now and then. A brilliant sound design by Anup Mukherjee and music by Debajyoti Mishra add that much needed mood feel to the film. In the absence of too many exteriors, the sound design ably transports us into a Bengal of yesteryears even though we are inside rooms for the most part. Mishra’s soundtrack is soul stirring.
Performance-wise, Aparna Sen shines as the elder Mrinalini along with stellar acts by Rajat Kapoor, Priyanshu Chatterjee and newcomer Saheb Bhattacharjee. Sejuti Mukherjee as Kamaladi is worth a mention. The acting accolades will, however, be shared between Konkona Sen Sharma and Koushik Sen for their sensitive portrayals as the younger Mrinalini and her Malayali friend Chintan Nair.
If Iti Mrinalini falters on a few counts, to my mind the duration of the film would be the foremost. It could have easily been a little shorter. Also, the use of the main song in the film looks forced. Maybe one did not expect a full-fledged song in an Aparna Sen film!
A film is known for its moments, if there are any. And Iti Mrinalini has quite a few of them. While 36 Chowringhee Lane remains her best film till date, Iti Mrinalini lives up to its claim to its director’s fame!
Aparna Sen tries her hand at the mainstream or popular genre and has been able to pull together a decently well-crafted film. A sparkling gem in itself, Iti Mrinalini is a must watch for all film buffs!