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13 year old Riyaz lives a poor lifestyle in Bombay, India, with his grandmother, Fayyuzi, and her sister, Mehmooda alias Mammo. Quite outspoken and embittered over his dad abandoning him, Riyaz does not have many friends, save for Rohan. When Mammo plans a surprise birthday party for him, Riyaz is offended as he believes his friends will make fun of him as his lifestyle is not as good as their's. Fayyuzi and Riyaz have an argument with Mammo, and she leaves for the Mosque at Haji Ali, but returns when both apologize to her. Although Mammo was born in Panipat during the British Raj, she was one of thousands of Muslims who left for Pakistan. She was married over there, could not conceive, was branded a "barren woman", and asked to leave. Having nowhere else to go, she came to live with her widowed sister in Bombay on a temporary Visa. Every month she would walk to the nearest Police Station and get an extension. She finally paid a Rs.4800/ as a bribe in order to get a permanent visa ... Written by
The unforgettable Mammo, immortalised by Farida Jalal
Shyam Benegal's Mammo is an account of a certain period in the life of Riyaz, a teenager who lives a poor lifestyle with his grandmother Fayyazi as they get a visit from his grandma's sister Mehmooda Begum Anwar Ali, commonly known as 'Mammo'. Mammo was born in Panipat during the British Raj, but she was one of those many Muslims who left for Pakistan after partition, automatically becoming Pakistani citizens. After the death of her beloved husband, Mammo is thrown out of the house by her relatives, and having nowhere else to go, comes to live with her widowed sister in Bombay on a temporary visa. Lots of things change while she is there, Mammo is loud, vivacious, opinionated and funny, and she keeps everyone on their toes. Initially unhappy with her presence, Riyaz learns to love the old lady and ultimately gets very close to her.
Mammo is a brilliant film, superbly written, directed and acted. It is both entertaining and touching. Shyam Benegal is as already known a true master of his craft. He keeps everything so real and authentic. The film's dialogues and script are exceptional. The relationships are portrayed wonderfully, and Benegal must be applauded for his simple and natural presentation of the three characters and their everyday struggles, through which we get to know of their stories and life experiences. Benegal skillfully captures the atmosphere of those times; the music, the streets, the films, everything is so realistically depicted. At times it felt like a real documentation of a period of time in the lives of these three people. The movie has drama, comedy, and many moments of joy, happiness and rage we all are familiar with.
The story unfolds as seen through the eyes of the young Riyaz. Benegal shows us in minute detail who Mammo was, and clarifies why Mammo occupied such a special place in Riyaz's heart. She was not only a mother figure to him, she could be a friend, a confidant, a spiritual teacher, and generally just a person who could be counted on anytime. Everyone would want to have an aunt like Mammo, an open-minded, honest and straightforward person, who is both funny and likable. I cannot forget the scenes in which she caught Riyaz smoking and promised him to keep it between them or the scene in which she herself asks him to light a cigarette for her and starts smoking. Another memorable scene is the one where Fayyazi gets mad as she finds out porn magazines in Riyaz's closet while Mammo reacts naturally to this, with complete understanding that the boy is now grown. This is such an amazing character.
I can really see why Khalid Mohammed wanted to immortalise Mammo by making her the central character of a feature film. It is partly a comic, partly a dramatic character, and it is just a very inspiring one. She was not only a caring and unselfish person who was always willing to help, she was evidently a strong woman who knew how to take things as they come, live with what God had given her and thank him, and she also had the ability to call a spade a spade and frankly tell her opinion about a person directly in his face. This can be seen in several scenes such as the one in which she attacks her sister Anwari for stealing her and Fayyazi's property. One more scene is the one in which she preaches housemaid Shantabai's husband for drinking and abusing his wife.
But the main reason Mammo will always be remembered is Farida Jalal. This is not only one of her finest performances, this is according to me one of the greatest performances by an actress in a leading role in Hindi cinema. Jalal's portrayal of Mammo is marvelous from start to finish. She is amazingly natural and plays her role with soul, depth and humour, making Mammo so easy to relate to and so easy to like. One can really see the pain in her eyes as she reminisces past incidents, and yet her way to accept what she has and move on is admirable. I cannot see anyone but Jalal in this role. This is an unforgettable performance. Surekha Sikri as the worried and caring Fayyazi is nothing short of excellent, and she too manages to move you in many of her scenes. Amit Phalke plays the young Riyaz exceedingly well, and so does Rajit Kapoor playing the older version of this role.
Mammo is not only an impressive piece of art, it is also a fantastic entertainer which would be certainly enjoyed by the entire family. One has to note Jagjit Singh's wonderful Ghazal which can be heard from time to time. In a few words, Mammo is another masterwork by the great Shyam Benegal - a haunting, moving, involving and riveting tale of one little family. This is a true cinematic experience, one gem of a movie.
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