What is fascinating about debutant filmmaker Nicholas Kharkongor’s Mantra is the time frame it choose to be in. From late 90s to mid-2000s, the film traverses the transforming phase of traditional business running more on acquired loyalists than clever sustenance strategies. Set in this post-liberalization phase of India, the film takes us on a brief trip to days of jingle-led marketing, kirana shop owners ‘suggesting’ new products over their established counterparts, the slow burst of corporate perplexing massively successful family businesses, with blatant buy-out propositions. Given the less trodden path it takes, one wishes Mantra to take off and make a profound impact. Alas, it doesn’t.
The core problems is about the writer in Kharkongor trying to lace this exciting proposition onto a dysfunctional family framework that is tiring, familiar and highly unconvincing. Each character in Kharkongor’s world possesses a peculiar problem or quirk diverting attention from its otherwise arresting central plot. In what could have made sense in a tighter, well-cooked screenplay, the principal characters and their struggles seldom work. The weakest link in the scheme in Kalki Koechlin’s independence-seeking daughter. Rebel without a cause, never had a better prototype.
It is creditable how the newcomer director willfully experiments. Although the scene does not warrant it, the long take party scene is worth noticing. On the flip side, it jars when the filmmaker decides to over-direct otherwise lazily written parts. Case in point being one with Koechlin in her dim-lit bedroom, with each family member turning up to make a revelation. Why, oh why?
To close it, the family drama side of Mantra is unbelievably amateurish, with a severely bad déjà vu of Kapoor & Sons. On the other hand, Rajat Kapoor’s KK and his tryst with a fast dwindling business is worth pondering and partly makes sense. One wishes the story delves more in the political and operations sides of the core theme, or at least develop on private equity-funded restaurant that KK’s son sets up. Unfortunately, the story ends at an idea level and the film ends up a tasteless concoction with an ensemble cast (barring a restrained Kapoor) that comfortably hams away or are absolutely clueless of their actions.
I am sure 90s kids deserve better, when the subject is as nostalgic is this!
Author at Filmy Sasi