The Indian presence

Print edition : November 21, 2003

Anant Nag and Sonali Bendre in Amol Palekar's Anaahat. -


OF the two Indian films in the Asian Competition, Amol Palekar's Anaahat had nothing new to say about female sexuality, its ostensible theme. Based on Surendra Verma's play "From the First to the Last Ray of the Sun", this inaugural film of IFFI's Indian Panorama related the episode of a young queen (Sonali Bendre) compelled by ministers and generals to go through the ancient ritual of getting impregnated by a stranger as her royal spouse (Anant Nag) is impotent. Paradoxically, going through the dreaded ordeal makes her aware of her loss in not having experienced for so long the act of love.

That women are pawns in male games, and that men do not consult women in making crucial decisions even when they concern the women, are old truths. But the queen's questions were new - she asks a minister what her status will be if she does not conceive, or if she produces a girl child. The film leaves them unanswered. A refreshing moment came with Deepti Naval's remark that the queen would have won hearts if she had been crushed by the `niyoga' tryst. By proclaiming her joy in the experience she had caused deep disturbances in the men around her.

Theatricality denies the film an epic sweep. But Anaahat is crafted with love and good taste - the romantic lighting sets off the glowing costumes in the magnificent temples of Hampi, especially at twilight. Dhrupad singing heightens the emotion whether raag Bairagi or Behag, as do the crisp dialogues enunciated without artifice. Sonali Bendre holds her own with fine-tuned veterans Anant Nag and Deepti Naval.

Subhadro Choudhury's Prohor won a Silver Peacock in the Asian Competition. A vengeful nurse removes the oxygen mask from a bedridden criminal, and then tries to save him by donating blood. Forgiveness becomes possible. Many found the film "stodgy and unwieldy". A seasoned Bengali cineaste summed up: "Not a complete film, but if you are patient with the creaky start, linear narrative, and some disastrous performances, you see a mind willing to take risks in story telling and aesthetics. The director's film school training is a strength in the technical aspects. If he can shed his penchant for posing, he will be able to come of age."

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