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MLA Durga Pandey and Contractor Tirpat Singh are two corrupt villagers, who manipulate others to get what they want. Their main concern is to divide two brothers - namely Abhay Singh and his younger brother Vinay. They do succeed considerably, after Abhay renounces married life and takes on the celibate life of a temple priest, leaving his wife, Chandravati, alone, devastated, and dependent on Rambaran, a sympathetic villager. Vinay is in love with Ketki, and soon both get married. Ketki seeks to protect her husband from the growing influence of Tirpat Singh, but Vinay ignores her, and even physically abuses her, warning her not to interfere with his affairs. However, Vinay later realizes that Tirpat has taken advantage of his friendship and swindled him. Vinay is humbled, he apologizes to Ketki, and both of them put their resources together to do what then can to reclaim their property. Written by
At the surface, Parakash Jha's Mrityu Dand is a feminist tale, and it actually is to a high extent, but there's much more to it than just that. Mrityu Dand is a rather uplifting story about the power of self belief and togetherness, and it shows how far one can go by summoning up the courage and demanding their right to be respected. The movie addresses woman empowerment, and yes, it would certainly inspire women to stand for their rights. However, I believe it has a much broader message and it would equally inspire any person of either sex to fight for dignity and independence, even when facing the cruelest, strongest and most evil of opponents. In that respect this movie is universally relevant for everyone, irrespective of their gender, colour or class.
Jha's script and direction are very good and he captures the raw atmosphere of the village, which is quite disturbing at times. As she often does, here too Madhuri Dixit accepts a strong female character, reminiscent in parts of her famous characters in movies like Beta and Anjaam. She enters as a young bride into a conservative family in a small village with a cultural and social world which is very distinct from hers and in which both men and women see domestic violence as a common norm of family life. Yet she herself refuses to accept such behaviour and is ready to fight against it. The village itself is dominated by a cruel landowner, and this bureaucracy is also something she is willing to condemn.
Madhuri Dixit is excellent as the smart, fearless and decisive Phoolva. This really is a role this actress does best, and she yet again creates a charming screen lady with conviction. This is also the kind of role that explains why she is so admired by women and aspiring actresses. Shabana Azmi once called her role in this film, that of an abandoned wife who sets on a relationship with another man, as one of her best of that period in the 1990s, and her story in the film is indeed very interesting. Azmi is unsurprisingly amazing and plays her role with great depth, making the transformation from a subservient woman to someone who finally makes a place in the sun exceedingly well. Shilpa Shirodkar is fantastic in her small role. Ayub Khan is fine, while Om Puri turns in another impressive performance.
Mrityu Dand is not a particularly flawless film. It could have been better had the execution been better handled like casting better actors for the very minor supporting roles (some of them really overacted) and taking out some annoyingly irrelevant little sub-plots and some melodramatic sequences which didn't really make sense. I also felt at points it went a bit too far in its attempt to make its feminist point, which is a pity because it was very well conveyed even without being overly emphasised. The ending was also sadly exaggerated in this regard. It could have been much simpler, given most of the film was not dramatically unrestrained.
Having said that, this is as already said an inspiring film which is also quite entertaining and generally very well made, and the performances are thoroughly good by the leading actors. It works much more as a film celebrating social empowerment, and that's where it is most powerful and riveting. I'm sure not many would enjoy watching a film which depicts a world of cruelty, corruption and rural bureaucracy, but it still is a good social film which strikes an interesting balance between art-house cinema and mainstream film standards, and is well worth watching.
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