Verdict: Mammo’s story stems from the specialist’s nursery to medicate third degree bruises of partition.
The narrative is not an autobiography neither does it draw inspiration from the defects in the life of any person living or dead. Yet Shyam Benegal’s Mammo is as strong a persona on screen as it might have been in script and even before, thronging in the director’s grey ideas.
NFDC and Shyam Benegal’s alliance canvas the torn life of Mehmooda Begum fondly addressed as Mammo. Partition has Mehmooda and her husband move to Pakistan where she eventually is entitled Pakistani citizenship. Shortly after her husband’s death the childless Mammo desires to crawl back to a place of dignity and respect. Having nowhere else to go, hope and destiny bring her back to India where she knocks on the door of Fayyuzi.
Khalid Mohammad’s story is instrumental in projecting the deficiency of harmony and love in infinite lives during and after 1947. As opposed to documentaries and features that retrospect the events of history, filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s Mammo sensitizes the audience to the after-impact of partition.
Popularly known as the first installment in Benegal’s Muslim trilogy (Mammo-Sardari Begum-Zubeidaa), Mammo is graced by Gulzar’s lyrics and Jagjit Singh’s voice. The music of the film is noteworthy because of its ability to set the mood and lend a platform to the screenplay. The cinematography and editing is average and possibly the areas that deserved a little more attention. Mammo has dialogues that melt your heart.
In Bombay, Mammo’s sister Fayyuzi is survived by her grandson Riyaz. The film realistically captures the displeasure of the 13 year-old in welcoming a new entrant in their lives. Soon Mammo, Fayyuzi and Riyaz bond and Mehmooda finds solace in the new quarter which she calls her home. Farida Jalal, known for her zestful appearances delivers that and also maintains a cloud of sadness which reflects quite organically in her expressions. Surekha Sikri as Fayyuzi is aptly-cast and the child actor Amit Phalke brings out the best through his performance. The cast is also supported by Himani Shivpuri as Anwari – the third sibling, and Vallabh Vyas as Anwari’s husband.
Political priorities have always had upper hand. Situations intensify and Mammo is dragged by ‘law’ and deported back to Pakistan. The film begins in flashback where Riyaz (Rajit Kapoor), a man his twenties reads a letter written by Mammo and reminisces about his childhood.
The remainder of the film traces the possibilities of Mammo reuniting with her sister and grandson in Bombay. The film on many counts is about the obscure potential of togetherness. The film has subtext. One that unambiguously highlights that legality and politics of nations have deafened the cries of parting and destroyed compassion.
Mammo, like other films from NFDC might carry glumness in air, but it also never completely rules out the possibility of families reuniting and the probability of one returning back to his soil. Shyam Benegal’s most-appreciated work after Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda is a story of lives instrumentally-shaped by the politics of societies. It is the story of Mammo.
Why should you watch this film?
Mammo (the film) like the character marks dignity. It never asks for sympathy but by the end earns sympathy. Mammo is a title under the NFDC label ‘Cinemas of India’. The film is out on home video by NFDC.
By Soham Bhattacharyya