Directed by: #Tathagata Ghosh
Written by: #Tathagata Ghosh
There is a danger in making a film topical that (in a few years) the film will be obsolete. Tathagata Ghosh's Mangsho takes place strictly in the topical, in the relevant, in what is commonly described as the current global moment. Coronavirus. Migrant workers. Video-chat. Facebook. Islamophobia. The director-writer does not flinch at any of these contemporary subjects.
The film is told almost entirely through the medium of video-calls and concerns four characters living in an Indian town some distance from Delhi, their lives more closely linked than they know. Gradually, their identities are revealed. Ghosh is in no hurry to expose his character's backgrounds, one of the strongest features of the film.
A young man called Rizwan (Bimal Giri) talks to his wife Fatima (Payel Rakshit) via the video-call interface, the screen divided between his image and the smaller image of the young woman. It is revealed that he is a migrant worker, who has hitched back to the city, and also a Muslim. Now he is hiding out, harboured by a local man. Fatima is working as a maid, unhappy but stoic.
During these scenes, the viewer is confronted with this direct communication, in the familiar situation of a Skype-call. In a subtle move, Ghosh locates the viewer at a distance: in the smaller splitscreen, alongside the young woman at the other end of the call, powerless to intervene.
Cut to a man of similar or slightly older age, preparing food in his kitchen. This is Sahadev (Guatam Siddhartha Ghosh), located in the large screen, his correspondent in the smaller. Both of these men are of a higher social class than the young lovers, and notably, both are Hindu, while the lovers are not. It is revealed that Sahadev is a politician, hoping to use the migrant worker he is harbouring as kudos for his campaign. Now the points are drawing together, starting to converge.
And the backdrop begins to unfold: the current discrimination against the Muslim population in India becomes a question of dramatic significance, with Rizwan's safety at risk.
The film's powerful realism is in this live quality of the video-call, and some of the intervening montages are effective, such as the usage of news-archive to open the film, but some of them are less so. Editor Rajdeep Mukherjee's Soviet-style montage of predator and prey, cut with the sound and image of a slaughtered pig, feels outdated in a film that is otherwise contemporary.
But the skill and craft involved in telling a story in which no two characters share the same mise-en-scène at the same time, while sometimes on the same screen, and sometimes in the neighbouring space, should not be underrated.
When Rizwan weeps, overcome with unexpected gratitude and faith, the suspense is threefold as he kneels down to pray, in a cinematic move that is hard to define, involving this clever distribution of character, threat, and space. This alone makes up for some jarring narrative and editorial features, setting the film aside safely from the merely topical.