By Reema Gowalla
Directed by Arpita Pattanayak; featuring Ashwath Bhatt, Mandakini Goswami and Anamika Shukla; presented by Films By Film Buffs
Sandhya balks at giving up. Middle-aged but hopeful to be able to bear a child of her own, she’s relying on rituals and the power of resilience to fulfil her wish. This routine, however, is causing discomfort to her husband Vijay, who has made his peace with the fact that they cannot conceive, and will probably only have each other for the rest of their life. A story not hitherto unheard of, director Arpita Pattanayak’s slow-burn short film, Mannat, is a moving portrait of compassion, desire and grief, with some remarkable performances by NSD greats Ashwath Bhatt and Mandakini Goswami.
There’s an overpowering grey in the film. The mood, overcast and the stairs to the temple that Sandhya visits every Saturday are all grey. Vijay is a vendor, who after his day’s work retires to his table and writes. At most times, though, he is a helpless spectator to his wife being trapped in a spiral of superstitions. “Hamara kirdar toh umeed aur sachai ke beech mein jujhte rehna hai,” he thinks to himself.
The burden of ‘incompleteness’ that childless couples bear and the lifelong ‘loneliness’ that is said to come along with it are portrayed with both subtlety and anguish in the 28-minute film. As a society, whether or not we should be more open to the idea of child adoption and not see it as the last resort is for the audience to decide.
Every frame delineates an emotion and quite adequately so. You’ll struggle to find a flaw in Mandakini’s portrayal of Sandhya, who is perpetually praying to god to correct her infertility. She ties holy threads to the peepal ka ped and also wears a tabeez around her waist, all in the hope of having a baby. In their sombre and secluded household, Vijay is the only witness to his wife dwelling in this pool of pain, which now even orchestrates their sex life.
Both the seasoned artistes keep you interested in the narrative, not only by their craft but also an honest effort to not over fictionalise a real-life problem. There are hardly any dialogues in the film, but messages are conveyed. Adding more profundity to the piece, Ashwath narrates the story that Vijay pens in his diary until it reaches a sunehra mod brought about by actor Anamika Shukla’s character.
Unfounded beliefs and an inability to comprehend circumstances are often to be blamed for the predicament that rural people find themselves in. But how would you describe situations in which you have no way out but surrender to something unreasoned? You still count them as the blessings of life. Mannat beautifully interprets this emotion, called prayer.