Friday, August 19, 2016

Review of Mohenjodaro - The Ashutosh Gowarikar movie 2016

The test of a period drama is this.. Did it take you back in time? And the test of good storytelling is this - Did you hold on to your seat? The answer to both, in case of Mohenjodaro is this - YES.

To understand a period drama, you'd have to know at least a little about the ancient civilisation. If you don't, please enter with an awareness that you are unaware (Read: Ignorant.  It is as humbling as it sounds), and not with the attitude of what all is "incorrect"(because, honestly, you have no clue.)
Just enjoy what's on the screen. Someone has done the hard work for you already.

This line is especially true for the genius who saw the trailer of Mohenjodaro and said "The Great Bath finally gets color." My response: "What did you think? They lived life in black and white?"

Majority of the people will tell you that Mohenjodaro is a love story set in an ancient civilisation. But that's not what it is at all. After the intermission, something truly dramatic emerges - this is a story of power and incredible betrayal. The story of Srujan, albeit briefly narrated, is the story of Mohenjodaro. It is a  story that fills your senses and puts everything into perspective.  A story that is entirely credible, even considering whatever little we know about the civilisation.

First, the important stuff. Is there entertainment? Yes. There is. You can soak yourself in the yellow of the soil, the beauty of the sets, while trying to recreate the motifs that we may be familiar with. You can focus on how gorgeous Pooja Hegde looks, how great the casting is. But if none of this matters, feel free to enjoy the music. It is soothing and melodious and... like all AR Rahman.. beautiful!

Or you can enjoy the multiple sub plots that emerge like tiny surprises out of nowhere.. adding even more intrigue to an already great story. The beauty of this story is the subtlety of the sub plots. You really, really have to use your brain to understand the many things that are happening here.

Maham was expelled from Harappa because he made a side deal for smuggling. And then he made a dam on the Indus, for the exact same reason. How he reached a democratic city state and worked to systematically annihilate all institutions of democracy within the establishment - to emerge as a Dictatorial "king" who also goes on to nominate his son to rule after him - unilaterally.

The simple fact that even though its a green, green land in the valley of the mighty Sindhu, because of the dam, the vegetation around Mohenjodaro is the desert "Keekar" - while the rest of the landscape is verdant and lush. The way the crowd stands up when Sarman enters the arena, and what that does to Maham. If you like subtlety, this is soooo your thing.

On the technical, the cinematography is great. The digital art is largely credible, except for a couple of places. The biggest let down is Hrithik's stitched dhoti. I don't know whether to blame the costume designer or the star. Because in the scene where Srujan moves to destroy the dam with a handful of supporters, they are all wearing dhotis. The casting is great. Each performer fits the role to a T - down to the giants who played cannibals and the wife of Maham.

The sound is just right - there is no overpowering background music. In Art Design, there is no unnecessary grandeur. This was a mercantile civilisation with class division, and square was a uniform feature of construction. All of that is faithfully reproduced. The strength of this movie is the absence of grandeur. There is beauty without exaggeration - which , I think, is also true of the civilisation that it draws from.

The one flaw I noticed  in the story - when you say "Sindhu ka nyaya" - one expected a water element. That's all.

As a historian, I took away 3 important things from the movie, at least 2 of which are valid hypotheses worth exploring:
One, that perhaps, the civilisation was composed of independent city states.
Two,  that the Indus Valley people migrated East to create a new civilisation in the twin valleys of the Ganga and the Yamuna. I think that one merits some more discussion.
Three, that the burial/cremation practices varied by geography and by class of people. I have been convinced for a while that given the very small number of skeletons recovered at various sites, the final rites would have to be a combination - varying by the region/ class of people. This movie mentions that the Harappans floated their dead in flowing water. That's not an idea I had considered earlier, but we still do it in the Ganges, and for cities that had a long forest ahead, it would be a completely safe thing to do, without any risk of contaminating the water.

So there, plenty of food for thought. And something that I say for very few movies: If you haven't watched it, you absolutely must.

1 comment:

Onkar said...

very helpful review. will go, watch it.