Mai Ghat Crime No.103/2005, the Marathi film, directed by Ananth Narayan Mahadevan a.k.a., Ananth Mahadevan, starring Usha Jadhav, earlier selected in the Indian Panorama 2019 has now been nominated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India for screening at 73rd Edition of Festival de Cannes in Marche Du Film Online to be held from June 22-26, 2020. Mai Ghat will be screened on June 25, 2020 at 9.00 A.M.
The film, based on a real life incident, where a Kerala woman, Prabhavati Amma, fights a long drawn legal battle to win the case of custodial death of her innocent son, Udayakumar back in 2005. As early as in July 2018, Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Special Court in the capital city of the south Indian state of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram finds two police personnel guilty of the custodial death of Udayakumar. Apparently, in a first, the Special Court sentenced these serving policemen to death.
The trigger point of the making of this movie was when the actor turned writer and film director, Ananth Mahadevan happened to go through a newspaper editorial on this landmark verdict. He was instantly inspired to make Mai Ghat: Crime No.103/2005 on the legal ordeal and the struggle a marginalised and illiterate mother, who fought the case overcoming each obstacle to win the case and thus getting justice to not only her son, but also exposing the social imbalances, violence and violation of human rights.
A perfectionist to the core, Ananth Mahadevan did his groundwork pretty well. The first thing he did was to directly be in touch with Prabhavati Amma and buying the rights to the story. Then he approached the English poet and former Editor of Times of India, CP Surendran for scripting the story and writing dialogues. Both Ananth and CP Surendran flew down to Thiruvananthapuram and met her. They spent lot of time with her, interacting with her, knowing each and every turn of events during the course of the trial. Though the incident happened in Kerala, he changed the topography and chose a village in Maharashtra and decided to make the movie in Marathi context. Contrary to the few money minded and exploitative producers, Anand Mahadevan was very clear about one thing.
Instead of encashing on the lady’s misery, he rather wanted to salute her by paying encomiums in the form of this movie. What Anandh did was to stick to the real life story of her long legal battle, but changing the scene setting from the panoramic Kerala to the rural hinterland of Sangli in Maharashtra. In fact, the title of the film, Mai Ghat is a real destination in Sangli district on the banks of Krishna River. He also made requisite changes in the jobs the real life mother was doing to the more convincing profession of a washerwoman at the village of Mai Ghat. Her job is to wash the laundry given by the people in and around the village that includes uniforms of police.
The next major job for Ananth was to choose just the right actor to portray the powerful character of the determined mother who waged a protracted war against the wrong did by these policemen towards her innocent son. So, the portrayal of the single mother, Prabhavati Amma was quite cumbersome and he found a perfect fit in Usha Jadhav, who enacted the role of Prabha Mai. Also, Ananth kept the thread of how the lady’s son was rounded up. In the real life incident, the cops arrest her son leveling charges of theft.
After meeting he had with Prabhavati Amma, Anandh was convinced that she for one would never wilt under pressure, least of all, have bouts of emotional upheavals. Throughout his interview with the mother, she was never seen breaking down even once. So, he decided not to show Usha Jadhav too crying on screen.
The positive effect of that decision was writ large on Usha’s countenance and when the shoot got over, Ananth got the desired result of internalising the grief within the protagonist itself. There was always this risk of getting into melodrama element as the depth of the incident was such, nevertheless, Ananth did manage to camouflage the inevitable melodrama by the emphasis on the very basis that the mother had fought for her son, who was wronged by the administrative apparatus. Her innocence, honesty and her fight against travesty made the central character balance between melodrama and the determination of the protagonist to see that her case is vindicated.
The precedent is loud and clear. It is not just Prabha Mai’s son Nithin who is the first victim of custodial death. Hundreds of youths are rounded up like this across the country on frivolous charges and the yet to reform British Raj police resort to third degree measures to force the hapless victims to confess on the crimes which they did not do. Here in this case, Nithin is the only son of Prabha Mai and rightly so, she firms up her mind to such a level that she would fight till the finish to prove her son’s innocence.
When the story develops, the film portrays how the custodial death is affecting the family lives and also show different sort of impacts it has on individuals and their relationships with other members of the family. The movie also reveals that even upright people can end up being wronged, if they do not have the wherewithal to wage a long drawn out battle like what Prabhavati Amma has done. There are other ironical situations that has been portrayed in this film. Suresh, the friend of Nithin, is constantly on the run, unable to see his mother because he was forced to bear witness against the crime and if he said the truth the police would put him in trouble.
Ananth has also tried to delve deep into the contradictions of the characters of the real life incident. He learns from Padmavathi Amma that one of the police man was so fond of her daughter. Anant and CP Surendran were flabbergasted to learn that the cop on the one hand was true to his family and he was a loving father and an loyal husband, at the same time, ruthless to the core when it came to perpetrating atrocity on the youth. This apparent contradiction, Ananth has successfully been explored in this movie.
Whatever progress we as a nation can boast about in terms of doing away with casteism, the ground reality is different. In this movie, how casteism rears its ugly head is being highlighted in no uncertain terms. The film exposes the hollowness of the policemen who could not act against those people involved in various crimes, if they happen to be from the upper castes. Ironically, the cop who ends the life of the youth in the custody, actually ends up killing the youth belonging to his own lower caste. Also, the movie highlights when the time moves at a steady or rather quick pace for others, how time was moving slow when it came to Prabha Mai. She had to wait 13 long years to get justice and in the meantime, the pages in the calendar was merely turning for her!
In addition to the high voltage acting of Usha Jadhav, other actors who have enacted in the movie too had done their jobs pretty well. For instance, the seasoned actors such as Suhasini Mulay, who dons the role of the lawyer, fighting the case as well as Girish Oak, who has done the character of the CBI lawyer had made the movie more intense.
How does he evaluate Mai Ghat? Ananth draws parallel to the classic Malayalam cinema, Piravi, directed by Shaji N Karun in the year 1989. Why? In that movie, it was an adaptation of yet another real life story, where an old man’s son was rounded up during the National Emergency and tortured to death in custody. The poor father waged a protracted war to know the fate of his son, who went missing. In Piravi, if the hapless father was yearning for his son to come back, in Mai Ghat, Prabha Mai fights for her deceased son, who was wronged. Although, years passed by between the first and second incidents, the custodial death crime continue to happen. In a way, Ananth has involuntarily following it as a treatise for this Marathi film, which has won laurels across the world.
The best part is that the now 69-year old Prabhavati Amma too joined the film crew to see the screening of the film at the International Film Festival of Kerala. After all, the cops killed her son for a mere Rs.4,200 theft case charged on him. In the decade old case, scores of mothers across the country prayed for the mother in order to get justice to her son.
Why Marathi? The reason was simple. Getting a producer for this real life incident in Kerala is between far and few. Ananth was convinced of this fact as he had earlier experienced the difficulty, when he was contemplating on making a flick on the famous ISRO spy case, Nambi Narayanan, he never got a producer. A detailed interview with the script writer of Mai Ghat, CP Surendran will be posted tomorrow. Do visit the website.