Mantra movie cast: Rajat Kapoor, Shiv Pandit, Kalki Koechlin, Lushin Dubey
Mantra movie director: Nicholas Kharkongor
Mantra movie rating: 2
The year is 2004. A wealthy businessman who lives in Delhi with this family — well-preserved wife, three children — is facing bankruptcy. In some quarters in the Capital of India, the fruits of economic liberalization are being gobbled up; in others, they are pure poison: Mantra is about these people, their rocky lives, and that time.
First time director Kharkongor succeeds in giving us snapshots of a few sections of the city: the fat-cats who rule India, the children of privilege who fatten on old wealth, and, in a brief, telling glimpse, of those who fetch up here because there’s nothing in the villages they left behind.
KK aka Kapil Kapoor (Rajat Kapoor) lives in a plush Panchsheel bungalow, drives a sleek foreign car, and forces himself to smile every day. Wife Minna (Lushin Dubey) feels unloved and neglected. Son Viraj (Shiv Pandit) is wrapped up in his own business pursuits. Daughter (Kalki Koechlin) feels suffocated. The youngest, a teenage boy, spends all his time in chat rooms, sexting strangers. And they meet at the dining table, exchanging sterile conversation of the pass-the-salt variety, never really talking.
There are some nicely-done scenes in which Kapoor, who is the best part of the film, channels his personal and professional isolation. You are drawn to KK (such a Delhi acronym, as is AJ, his estranged friend: this is a very Delhi film) as he goes through his paces, looking for a way out. We see the dysfunction in the family clearly too, and Kapoor struggling to keep it all together. We feel for him.
But Mantra is marred by its static delivery of the mostly-in-English lines. And the several banal observations strewn through it. ‘You have to suck up to the system’, says a character. ‘That’s how things work’
It isn’t, unfortunately, how films spring to vivid, complex life.