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Mrityudand portrayed feudal tyranny in rural Bihar; Madhuri Dixit in progressive role

By Harsh Thakor* 

Mrityudand, made 25 years ago on July 11th, in 1997, is an ideal illustration of feudal tyranny and monopoly of womenfolk in Bihar.
Even if a commercial film, aspects of classical art comprise an integral part of the movie. Scène dissection is crafted with great precision as well as dialogues. The ebb and flow or twists and turns keeps an audience guessing .To me amongst the finest portrayals of social reality and a movie that projects crusade against social injustice of women at a crescendo.
The script was not a classical essay but at the very ground projected the subjugation of the village folk to the political ruling classes, illustrating how they dictated their lives.
Artistically it dwelled on the psychology of village men and women when faced with a different set of situations, particularly in confrontation. The tussles between contending forces and their co-relationship are most surgically depicted. It probes into the roots of rural violence at the economic base.
The movie is directed and produced by Prakash Jha. The music is composed by Anand Milind and the lyrics are written by Javed Akhtar. The cinematography is by Rajan Kinagi and Rajan Kothari. The choreography is by Nimesh Bhatt. The star cast includes Ayub Khan, Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Shilpa Shirodkar, Om Puri, Mohan Agashe, Mohan Joshi, Harish Patel, Pyare Mohan Sahay, Brij Gopal, Pradeep Kuckreja, Suhas Bhalekar, Achyut Potdar, Ajit Vachani and Abha Dhulia.
Mrityudand portrays some of the most scintillating sequences formulated. Killing of local temple head priest, Ketki rescuing Kanti from Tripat, Ketki and Vinay’s confrontation when she pokes her nose into his affairs,, Murder of Vinay Singh, Ketki and Tripat's confrontation in her house when she attacked by him at one night, Abhay and Chandravati’s confrontation when Abhay knows about her pregnancy, and execution of Tripat Singh at Ganga Ghat; captivate the audience till the very end.
With inept skill Prakash Jha grafts this script or transplants genuine art forms to weave the plot. A shot of Ganga ghats, village temple, landlord haveli, powerbroker’s farmhouse, and village streets gives the movie a touch of realism and takes cinematography to classical shades.
The climax of the film when Madhuri Dixit as Ketki executes Mohan Joshi as Tripat. It is amongst the most soul searching scenes depicting social justice of a woman.The movie simply brought out the very best in Madhuri Dixit,who for the first time enacted a progressive role portraying rebellion of a woman against feudal injustice. The scale of intensity of Madhuri’s eyes in scenes of vengeance or anger transcends regions of a Tsunami. I simply cannot forget her scenes executing the tyrant Tripat, in the climax and confronting the reactionary characters. It is heart touching to witness the evolving or metamorphosis of Madhuri Dixit as Ketki from a subordinated village woman into a rebel striving for social justice. She revealed her prowess for championing social reality in place of donning sex symbols or a conventional Bollywood heroine, with great malleability. Madhuri gave shades of the classical acting of Waheeda Rehman, Nutan or Meena Kumari and even overshadowed Shabana Azmi. In the climax Madhuri symbolised a rural women launching a rebellion or crusade against injustice in a path breaking manner. It is regretful that in her career she sold herself to crass commercialism, rather than invest her talents into art films. The performance was a testimony of the talent Madhuri was endowed with to perform path breaking roles as a truly consummate actress. Instead of selling herself as a consumer brand heroine, Madhuri may have touched the levels of a Smita Patil,in portraying the struggle of an oppressed woman.
Most articulately the characters of Viay Singh, Abhay Singh and Tripat are integrated into the plot and that of Ketki, Kanti and Chandravati ,to illustrate the contradictions of the social system. The portrayal of how a priest behaves as a criminal in case of Abhay Singh, depicts the oppressive nature.
Perhaps this film missed out on highlighting or integrating the aspect of land struggles tyranny of landlords ,misery of lower caste agricultural labour or seizures or caste oppression. Upper landlord rivalry is projected and not the confrontation of the peasantry with landlordism. The first part also has excessive plots and sub plots, with tinges of romanticism.

Plot of Film

In the village of Bilaspur in Bihar, women are treated as mere sex objects and can be used or eliminated from their lives at random by men folk.. One day it’s a horrific sight in the village to see a mob killing two defenceless girls in full public view with no person coming forward to help or rescue them. A young couple Vinay and Ketki live a life encompassed with love and happiness but all that soon changes, as he gets influenced by a corrupt contractor named Tirpat and becomes a slave of drinking, domestic abuse and lots of other vices. Ketki is a dedicated wife but is unable to bind the family together due to her husband’s bad habits.
Ketki and Vinay show great determination to confront the shackles that the village has engripped them to. She also struggles to survive in a male dominated village.
The village is ruled by a contractor and broker Tripat (Mohan Joshi), aided by the local politician MLA Durga Pandey (Harish Patel), who whose main objective is to divide two brothers - namely Abhay Singh (Mohan Agashe) and his younger brother Vinay Singh (Ayub Khan), sons of upper class local landlord, who lives in his past glory and acquire their rocky river land for their construction projects.
Vinay gets married to the educated young woman, ketki (Madhuri Dixit). As Vinay struggles to keep the household going, Ketki aides him to embark in an entrepreneurial venture as a contractor, but destiny shapes for Vinay getting enslaved in the hands of Tripat and Pandey. He abuses Ketki, warning her not to interfere with his affairs. As their marriage begins to break up, Vinay soon realizes that the Tripat and Pandey have taken advantage of his friendship. Vinay is humbled and apologizes to ketki. As Vinay and ketki were trying to regroup, Tripat kills Vinay . Abhay Singh (Mohan Agashe. brother of Vinay Singh (Ayub Khan), renounces 17 years of unfruitful married life and turns nto a temple priest after killing local temple head.
Kanti (Shipa Shirodkar), a servant, whose husband is forced to leave the village to pay off a debt, resorts to prostitution in order to help. Ketki witnesses Kanti being exploited by Tripat. Abhay Singh's devastated wife, Chandravati (Shabana Azmi), banj (sterile woman) throughout her life, falls in ove with the Rambharan (Om Puri), a sympathetic lower caste merchant who has been giving loans to the landlord's family. Chandravati's relationship with Rambaran turns sexual; with Chandravati discovering she is not sterile. This provokes Abhay to get help from his biggest rival, Tripat to save his reputation. They unite with the villagers and decide to give Mrityudand to Chandravati.
Abhay Singh (Mohan Agashe) brother of Vinay Singh (Ayub Khan), renounces 17 years of unfruitful married life and takes on the celibate life of a temple priest after killing local temple head.
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*Freelance journalist

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