A Triumphant Doll
OFFICIAL SELECTION CANNES COMPETITION 1998
Cast: Pran, Mithun Chakraborty, Nandana Sen
Director: Goutam ghose
Duration: 140 minutes
Review writer: Usman Kahwaja
This forgotten gem from Indian cinema was a worthy tribute dedicated to ray by its maker, it works as a political satire but above all it’s an emotional drama which captivates you with its trivial details.
It is also the last great performance by Pran as khan sahib, the great legend who is one of the most versatile actors on Indian screen, along with the great Mithun, playing the central character as Johnny, this subversive political satire becomes an un-miss able movie in every context.
It will be an understatement to say sparks fly when the two great actors rub shoulder on screen, the chemistry between the duo is scintillating, to say the least and they are perfectly cast as an aging Muslim pathan ventriloquist and a young angry man who comes to be his pupil, learning the trade from the master who has devised a giant sized puppet doll as a showcase for passing satirical comments on politics and religion.
This seems to be inspired by real life theatrical events from Mumbai where the Parsi community used to perform these kind of plays and it seems they were very popular at one time as well, I don’t know the details however the puppet is dressed and acts like a chaste young Muslim girl, dressed in virginal white and seems to be a cultural symbol singing ghazals and acting as an Umrao Jaan, its delightful to see it sing and dance as well as mock the society in a subtle way.
The artist who has invented the doll is dying of a terminal illness and bequeaths his cherished puppet to Mithun, who becomes obsessed with the Gudia, so much so that his girlfriend starts feeling neglected and jealous of the doll, the sequences where Nandana Sen tries to adopt the look of the doll act like her to get more attention from her boyfriend are very gripping yet essentially reflect on the feminine nature.
The doll assumes a real identity thanks to the masterful script and the directors skills and its fascinating to see Pran and Mithun adorably dressing her and decorating her to make her look more beautiful then ever and her mannerisms and the lines she utters are charming, yet devastatingly satirical of our social and political system, Johnny reinvents the doll with modern clothes and pop music to attract an audience and his efforts pay off in a big way..
Nevertheless the act gets very real with Mithun in charge and the local politicians are alarmed by the popularity and start seeing it as a threat to their ambitions, as the doll questions the political morality of our system and her remarks start to stir popular unrest amongst the ordinary people, it almost starts a rebellion.
This is not acceptable to the beaurucracy and as Mithun turns down their bribes to tone down the show they instigate a riot with the help of some local gangsters where the doll is symbolically stripped and raped, while Mithun and the audience are beaten mercilessly, the shameless act while comprising the climax is so relevant to our prevalent culture where nothing except naked greed is sacred.
The scenes where Mithun is shown holding the desecrated doll and weeping are memorable as are the dialogues and expressions of this great actor in that sequence alone.
I wonder why despite movies like Mrigaya and Gudia, Mithun never got the acclaim he deserved from Hindi cinema, indeed this movie is proof enough that his second to no one else.
The direction, makeup and background score help to make this a haunting experience and the camerawork with the giant doll and the ventriloquistic details is a triumph in itself, a difficult act to accomplish but made to look seamlessly natural ,thanks to the cast and crew
This is essential viewing for all who enjoy meaningful well made cinema which is entertaining as well as realistic, a virtue fast disappearing from cinema world over
The movie was deserved acclaimed at festivals world over and is a cult classic.
Rating: * * * * *