For the past couple of years, women centric films seem to have become quite the staple with Bollywood. Across a spectrum of genres including drama, action, biopic and crime thrillers, Bollywood narratives have been keen to see a female figure in the thick of things. And quite a few of them have also attempted to deal with or even directly address what can be called women’s issues. But what has been the consistent aspect throughout all of these films is a looming presence of sympathetic male figures who are mostly in a pivotal role when it comes to the actual articulation of a woman’s victimhood or her right to justice. The most recent example would be Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink where the core argument about consent can only be heard in Amitabh Bachchan’s booming baritone. Ashtar Sayed’s Maatr becomes a significant achievement in this context as the film reclaims and redeems the narrative and hands over the agency to its female protagonist. However the film’s triumph lies in its simplicity of idea while at the same time it is utterly defeated in becoming too simplistic in language and craft.
— kaahon (@kaahonwall) April 19, 2017
The plot of the film revolves around the vicious gang rape of Vidya Chauhan and her daughter Tia, the latter succumbing to her fatal assault. The mother survives the trauma, both physical and psychological and embarks on a revenge ride against all odds picking up the perpetrators one by one ending with the leader of the gang, the debauched son of the state’s Chief Minister. While the plotline maybe minimal, it is the extreme poor plotting and even inferior writing which stops the film from being a memorable one. In spite of its political correctness, and there have been quite a few significant accomplishments there, the film delivers a rather dreary viewing experience. While the incompetence in writing becomes somewhat evident in the scenes, it is the array of paper thin characterizations where the film utterly gives away its shortcomings. While RaveenaTandon attempts her best as the dark and silent avenger in the main role of Vidya, the rest of the cast range from functional to cartoonish in terms of performances.
A serious engagement with Maatr finally ends up being a sad reminder of the importance of craft in filmmaking and the fact that good intentions cannot save the day alone. Having said that the camera work, especially the low angle shots during the rape scene should be mentioned which succeeded in delivering a truly disturbing experience at times even perhaps treading the thin line towards becoming exploitative. While the editing seemed too focused in maintaining a steady pace worthy of a revenge thriller, its unnecessary haste and use of dissolves to move past time, fails to generate any affect especially during the moments of Vidya’s mourning for her daughter. And together with the loopholes in the plot, the entire revenge ride is made to look like a walk in the park.
However, there is still no denying the film’s conception and the basic idea is commendable. Given the Bollywood tradition, the film is quite clear and defined in its goal when it comes to the notion of a woman’s revenge and her definite agency in the course of actions. The utter insignificance of the male figures, be it the villains or the cops or even her husband is a significant move as Vidya almost hijacks the narrative from the male characters. In fact, there is also an interesting use of the story of Ramayana and how the supreme male Lord Rama avenged Sita’s dishonour right at the beginning. And then throughout the film, there is a consistent effort in completely subverting this power relation as the woman herself becomes the avenger, responsible for her own actions, both good and bad. The film also breaks away from the very stereotype of an asexual mother figure epitomized in Bollywood through the ages. In Maatr, Vidya Chauhan is a sexual being, quite comfortable and in command of her own sexuality. Even when she is shattered by the gruesome death of her daughter and taking up the mission of her life, she doesn’t need to discard her sexuality. Even as the avenging mother, she is a woman in her full glory.
Arup Ratan Samajdar