Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa (Mother of 1084)
Directed, photographed and produced by Govind Nihalani
Starring Jaya Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Seema Biswas, Milind Gunaji, Nandita Das and Joy Sengupta
Music Debajyoti Mishra
From the cover:
Calcutta (Kolkata), the capital city of West Bengal, the eastern state of India. The period is 1970-72. The city is in the grip of a leftist militant movement, popularly known as the ‘Naxalbari Movement.’ The ‘Naxalbari Movement’ began in the Naxalbari region to get minimum wages for the agricultural labour and soon spread to other rural and urban areas including Calcutta. It attracted wide participation from the leftist intelligentsia and student groups.
Sujata Chatterjee is a middle aged, traditional, submissive, unprotesting, upper middle class lady, employed in a commercial bank in Calcutta. She awakens one early morning to the shattering news that her youngest and favourite son, Brati, is lying dead in the police morgue, reduced to a mere numerical: Corpse No. 1084. This awakening propels her on a journey of discovery, in the course of which, struggling to understand her Naxalite (militant leftist) son’s revolutionary commitment, she begins to recognise her own alienation as a woman and wife from the complacent, hypocritical bourgeois society her son had rebelled against. In an attempt to regain a sense of self from the intense psychological and emotional trauma, Sujata, as a mother, gains some deep insights into the complex relationship between the personal and the political.
Brief illnesses are sometimes a blessing (if they aren’t accompanied by pain). The biggest advantage being that your boss doesn’t want you in the office and at home without anything better to do, you finish reading some unread books or watch those movies collecting dust on the shelves. For me it was the latter. I wanted to watch Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa for long (in fact for the last eight years) but was somehow unable to, until my last short break from work.
Revolution is usually red signifying blood, but it is also has a romance attached to it. The Naxalbari Movement, referred to as the ‘first authentic Maoist phenomenon,’ was one such revolution. Though the part of the country where I grew up in was far detached from the May 25, 1967 happenings in Naxalbari (Darjeeling district, West Bengal) and its aftermath. By the time I was born, the movement had lost its initial steam. Today the offshoots of the movement are perceived as a major threat to the country’s security and much is being feared about the ‘Red Corridor’ from Telangana to Nepal. The general perception was not much different then too, just that the young and the educated felt for cause and many died for that. In today’s post-liberalisation India, the feelings lie elsewhere and perhaps the movement has also moved away from the ideals.
As a child hearing the names Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal in adult discussion was common. I didn’t know who they were. Later as I grew up a little, some (it was usually the women) who had witnessed the upheaval in Bengal told me of an entire generation gone waste, other labelled them as martyrs for an honourable cause. The ideology appealed to me, the concepts of a classless society where all men are equal, were impressionable to a young mind but later understandings of the lack of individual liberties in the society for the cause brought in mixed feelings.
Our popular culture doesn’t understand the Naxalite. They are sometimes referred to as ‘misguided youths,’ politically correct terminology sounds nice to the ears, but the same can’t always be said for the heart. Else, merely dreaded ‘terrorists’ who need to be wiped away, as they systematically were.
Though Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa doesn’t delve into a deeper understanding of the cause and the effects, it does bring forward the lack of understanding (or knowledge) from even close family members. The enigma element remains till date. The support, the bonds and the betrayals are all there in the life of the revolutionary. And in death, a living, breathing, energetic individual is simply reduced to a mere number, four digits – one, zero, eight, four – so impersonal, so unattached, so ununderstanding and so insensitive. Death ushers one into the ultimate classless society.
This was Jaya Bachchan’s comeback film, and what a wonderful one at that, controlled and an effective performance. The titles say ‘introducing’ Nandita Das and Joy Sengupta. Joy Sengupta is a fine actor, but isn’t seen much around. Nandita Das, in spite of her acclaimed performance, seemed overtly theatrical to me. Anyway it was Jaya’s film based Mahasweta Devi’s novel, Govind Nihalani played the able role of the facilitator.