It is easy to dismiss Mitr as a whimsical work. The story of an Indian family
in San Francisco, the movie's target-audience is recklessly specific, meaning
that it leaves a large part of the junta cold. Not many people will identify with
Mitr, which makes the fact that the movie was made at all quite commendable. And
while we are not the kind that stands by non-conformity for its own sake, Mitr
certainly deserves a pat on the back for Daring, as they say, to be Different.
A small pat.
Lakshmi (Shobana) moves from a small town in Tamil Nadu to San Francisco after marrying Prithvi (Nasir Abdullah), and spends eighteen years being the typical Indian wife. While she holds on (quite effortlessly, if the movie is to be believed) to her roots, wearing saris and salwar-kurtas in a land where they are referred to as "costumes", her husband moves on to become the typical American husband. Conflict? You bet. Their marriage, like many American ones, runs into some major trouble. And Lakshmi cries.
It all starts when the couple's eighteen-year-old daughter, Divya (Preeti Vissa), declares she wants to move out and start working. Lakshmi is horrified at the thought of her "baby" losing herself to the big bad wolves, lions and dinosaurs lurking in the bushes, and says so. But not in so many words. In fact, not in words at all. A slap from Lakshmi drives Divya right out of their palatial home. Moreover, Divya favors her remarkably understanding and supportive father over her old-fashioned mother. And Lakshmi cries.
Around this time, the entry of a mysterious "mitr", someone Lakshmi meets on chat,
makes it easier for her to cope with the crisis and her deep sense of loss. Even
as Prithvi grows more and more distant, "mitr" becomes Lakshmi's sounding board
and confidante. Things get better as Lakshmi gets a hold on herself, takes carpentry
and dance classes, buys herself some new clothes and stops caring when Prithvi
comes home la Steve and Paul, kids next door that take to Lakshmi. But the transformation
happens a little too rapidly to be believed, and your suspicions that nothing
has really changed are confirmed when Prithvi walks away from home. Lakshmi returns.
To her old self. And Lakshmi cries.
The ultimate reconciliation comes when you are expecting it. The identity of mitr, though, is very annoying. It is beyond me why film-makers, even the experimenting types, believe they have to fall back on clichés to make their stories work.
Mitr is another of those films that could have worked wonders, given Shobana's remarkable talent and a new-age script. But the tacky direction and the unidimensional straightjackets that the characters don make the attempt an average one, lacking in depth and intensity. There are also some unnecessary blunders in the continuity and the credibility of the script that needle your brain.
Redeeming features: Shobana and the sincerity with which Mitr is made. There is
nothing pseudo or false about it, which is more than you can say about a lot of
films. Also, the movie is made in English, with bits of Tamil and tinier bits
of Hindi here and there, and though this can annoy you in the beginning, it does
lend some authenticity. And as for those specific audience groups - if you are
a mother with a young daughter, or the young daughter herself, you might really
enjoy Mitr. And it certainly helps if you understand some Tamil.