Mithun’s master act in Mrinal’s masterpiece
Writer and Director: Mrinal Sen
Cast: Mithun Chakraborty and Mamta Shanker
Language: English, Hindi and Urdu [fascinating]
Rating: A genuine masterpiece
Awards: All the national awards plus a lot of international awards
This is a testament to the great talent of Mrinal Sen and Mithun, who is the only actor in the history of Indian cinema to win the laurels [national and international awards] in his debut act.
It is indeed a sheer pleasure to see him play a fearless young tribal man, proud and noble, exuding raw energy in every frame in a simple langooti [loincloth].
He is the son of the local village headman, somewhere in the mountains of north-eastern India. In the last days of British Raaj, who loves a local young woman [Mamta], she happens to be abducted by a local money lender, in lieu for the debt of ten rupees owed by her father to the Mahajan, who is the local equivalent of shylock,
except this man holds nothing sacred, whether a human life or a woman’s virtue, he violates every code of ethics, in one scene where a child is eaten by a tiger he consoles the bereaving family by telling them at least they have one less mouth to feed.
So begins the Royal Hunt [Mrigaya], a proud warrior on a quest alone against a corrupt system, a solo young man in search of justice even if it has to be self acquired and a landmark in world cinema.
I say so because the remarkable similarities between this movie and Apocalypto are too many to be coincidental, only Mel Gibson has not given any comments on his inspiration.
The character of the hunter who is also the quarry is a unique portrayal by Mithun, his eyes glowing like fireballs set against his darkly handsome countenance with his superb physique, and he looks more like a jaguar on the hunt which is indeed royal by any comparison.
The subplot of his brief friendship with the local Anglo administrator who befriends him and becomes his ardent admirer in respect of his unique hunting talent is a very relevant comet on the colonisation of India and the evils and benefits we derived from that experience. The sympathetic English woman who plays the wife of the commissioner is a symbol for the virtues the British brought to India along with the corruptions as well.
The setting is natural, no sets are erected, and it’s the adivasi village and the colonial mansion and the forest which is the playground for this master class in how to direct an entertaining movie on a shoestring budget.
The symbolic white costumes reflect the purity of the two main characters, as does the rest of the simple yet totally relevant wardrobe used in the movie, the whites contrast brilliantly with the beautiful black Dravidians bodies of Mithun and Mamta, a tribute to the natives of the sub-continent.
The cinematographer is superb in the manner he conveys the calm and quiet, yet the frenzy of the climax, the movie is shot in various techniques, maybe one of the first movies in India where the camera is being handheld to convey the feelings and experiences of the characters directly to the audience.
The luscious greens of the tea estates and the rocky terrain alternatively help to build the mood of the movie from a soft core to a terrifying climax; the landscape plays a vital role in storytelling.
The background musical score is authentically ethnic as is the movie with tribal women chanting in local dialect melodiously while reaping the harvest or the simple tabla playing in frenzy in the chase sequences culminating in a frantic mood.
The director is brilliant, to say the least, every sequence is meticulously planned and the brilliant scene in the colonial compound where the triumvirate of the English, the old Muslim guardsman and Mithun talk about the remains of a human skull dig out from the grounds reflecting on the vanity of human existence is uniquely executed in English, Urdu and Hindi languages, symbolising the rich culture of the paradox that India is, and yet Mrinal Sen doesn’t betray his characters or the audience into sentimentality or unnecessary violent gore, a tribute to his aesthetic sense and to his cinematic genius.
He succeeds in making a master thriller without any stuntmen or special effects, a lesson for today’s filmmakers who have turned our cinema into a circus, Mithun has done all his stunts from the archery and the bare hand fights by himself in an extraordinary manner, unique to this actor in an action thriller, the sequence where he chases and captures the deer is proof enough.
But then the final accolade goes to Mithun in a role he was born to play, he symbolises India itself, raped, pillaged and exploited yet defiant and proud and eternal, blessed with the soul of a martyr yet humane enough to break the chains that try to bind it from time to time.
They say every true artist is born to do one solo act that justifies their god given talent, Mithun is indeed blessed he found his dream come true in his debut role,
he is a spontaneously natural actor and doesn’t need the help of Methodism, he was perfectly cast and delivered more then required in this Indian masterpiece, there aren’t enough adjectives in English language to praise this performance, in a simple loincloth, his eyes doing most of the talking and his superb body language expressed by his perfectly athletic frame, he is stunning.
Mamta with her innocent looks and simple beauty devoid of any makeup matches him all the way; she too wears the same costume throughout the movie.
The movie was made at a time when glamour was the order of the day in Hindi cinema, yet this artful but effortless simplicity was a slap in the face for the makers who were exploiting and still are the simple audience by cheap gimmicks and melodrama.
If you take your cinema seriously and haven’t seen this movie you aren’t seen anything yet.
Review writer: Usman Khawaja