Director: Vinod Rawat
Cast: Sonal Jha, Rita Heer
Vinod Rawat’s MAD (“Mother And Daughter”) has a phenomenally felt scene that conveys the conflicting emotional dimensions of two separate features within the duration of a short film. There is something immensely disquieting and strangely heroic about this film, or rather, this moment. A moment – requiring two adults to scramble beyond the conventional clicks of Indian womanhood – that is designed to make us feel as if we were encroaching upon the private vulnerability of a family in transition.
A lady (Sonal Jha) from Patna visits her Mumbai-based working daughter (Rita Heer); MAD begins the second the jaded young woman returns after a long office day to her dimly lit apartment accommodating the edgy familiarity of her mother. It is the death anniversary of the girl’s father, and they plan to spend it together. Yet, it is occasions like these that threaten to crack open the reservoir full of modern-day frustrations – and, in this case, a full-blown crisis. Twenty-three minutes of conversation – divided into two distinct situations – unfurls in a way that allows us to sense the twenty years that precede and proceed this night.
There are so many things MAD captures, without really forcing upon us the misguided social label of cinematic feminism. On one level, it is about two different kinds of India and the invisible shades of relocation. The first situation – where a daughter breaks down and confides in her stunned mother – informs our interpretation of big-city pressure and loneliness on a fragile migrant mind. Here is a girl, struggling to cope with the paradox of the urban bubble, coming clean to the one person incapable of judging her. Without going totally “Kangana” on her, the broken girl finds comfort in her mother’s presence precisely because the surroundings are alien; “Don’t be my mom here, drink with me and leave all that mothering back in Patna,” she mumbles, during her stilted, submissive monologue.
A lady (Sonal Jha) from Patna visits her Mumbai-based working daughter (Rita Heer); MAD begins the second the jaded young woman returns after a long office day to her dimly lit apartment accommodating the edgy familiarity of her mother.
The second situation – that of an unnerved small-town mother finding the strength to confide in her adult daughter – seamlessly reverses the perspective. Here is a woman who resorts to communicating her problem to a girl she believes has internalized the calm open-mindedness of cities enough to understand her; Mumbai will do what Patna cannot. The cultural gap will do what the blood bond cannot. The general belief is that migrants stubbornly hold onto their roots and personalities because they have so much to lose. But MAD suggests that they are the ones also in a position to change the most – and embrace the concept of moving forward – once they depart in search of a “better life”.
On another level, MAD delves deeper into the evolving mechanics of working-class liberalism. In other times, the reactions of both the women might have assumed the extremity of mainstream honour and righteousness; one senses that still may have been the case if the “man of the family” was alive. They feel sorry that he isn’t around, but they’re also aware that they are probably better off now. And they are only just coming to terms with this new sense of identity. “Papa never treated you well,” the girl mentions, amidst the ruins of her own revelations. Because it’s invariably the males who tend to define the role, and derivative existence, of females in such an environment.
Ruchika Oberoi’s middle segment of Island City, too, in which three generations of middle-class Maharastrian women thrive in a household suddenly rid of toxic male influence, communicates the bittersweet gender politics of a similar fate. It’s the reason references to an arranged marriage – “don’t show me photos of new boys” – are shrugged off and not obsessed over anymore. They have nobody to put on an act for anymore, which is why this film looks so frightfully honest without advertising its progressiveness.
Irrespective of the lens we observe this wonderfully acted short through – both Sonal Jha and Rita Heer are completely consumed by the essence of their moment – the filmmaker, even by merely hinting at two different stories, narrates the same feeling. A feeling of refuge and faith. And that, in this day and age of overwrought generational showdowns, is quite a necessary triumph. Because for once, Mad is not an emotion; it is a portrait of rational rage.