Mai Ghat: Crime No 103/2005 is one of two Indian films selected for the International Competition at the forthcoming 50th International Film Festival of India. This Marathi film directed by Ananth Mahadevan chronicles the crusade of Prabhavathy Amma, a mother from Kerala who led a thirteen year old legal battle for her son Udayakumar after he was killed while in police custody in 2005.
Prabhavathy Amma’s fight led to a historic verdict that handed capital punishment to the senior police men involved. Inspired from the indomitable spirit of Prabhavathy Amma, filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan directed the Marathi movie Mai Ghat that depicts Prabhavathy Amma’s legal fight for her son’s justice and also raises disturbing questions about custodial deaths happening in the country. The film has already been selected at various film festivals and has paved way for discussions about custodial deaths happening in the country. As Mai Ghat is set to be screened at International Film Festival of India and subsequently in Kerala in the following months, Ananth Mahadevan talks about his journey of making Mai Ghat.
Q. We’ve been witnessing all kinds of exploitations and crimes against the underprivileged and alienated communities in our country throughout the years. Was there any particular reason to choose Udayakumar’s custodial death for your movie?
The verdict of Uayakumar custodial death was a very notable judgment in the history of our judiciary system. Two policemen involved in the murder were sentenced to death last year. Two points in that verdict drew my attention, one was that this was adjudged as a rarest of rare case and the second one was that the judge asks in the verdict whether it should take a mother’s tears for us to realize the gravity of custodial murders. That verdict worked for me at two different levels – one as a very emotional human story from the mother’s perspective, another one as a relevant social comment which poses questions like why are these custodial deaths happening? And what drives law to resort to such extremities. So at one level the movie tries to explore social conscience as well as human emotions. In today’s times human beings are subjected to so many forces, be it legal, social or personal, so Mai Ghat tries to address these conflicts in multiple layers. The movie goes beyond a mother’s thirteen year long legal fight and tries to reveal how our legal machinery work.
Q. While researching about Udayakumar case, did you wonder about how power can bring out the animalistic instincts in a human being considering the torture the victim has gone through?
In this particular case, the cops involved had an impulsive shot of ego. Thinking that a scrap collector can’t have 4,200 rupees with him and torturing Udayakumar suspecting he has stolen that money from somewhere. So, for 4,200 rupees the whole thing was blown out of proportion which affected so many human lives. Of course, power comes into play when cops try to pin things down on people to get promotions or other professional gains. It’s like exploiting your own kind to further your own interest, a frightening truth about our society today.
Q. How was your experience talking to Prabhavathy Amma?
It was astounding. I was just tongue tight meeting her, I was just listening to what she had to say. I might be a filmmaker, but here I’m speaking with a woman who has experienced a brutal reality. For her it’s not important whether such a film is made or not, but she still was kind enough to talk to me and gave me all the details about the case. I would have never made Mai Ghat if Prabhavathy Amma had denied meeting me and told me she doesn’t want a film made out of her life .But the movie has came out like a tribute to her resoluteness.
Q. Did your idea about the movie change after meeting Prabhavathy Amma?
I was very clear how to approach this movie. I told her not to mistake me as one of those directors from Bollywood who came to make a commercial movie. However, she wasn’t familiar with cinema and has often said that she hasn’t even been to a cinema hall. So I talked to her lawyer and made it clear about the style and purpose of this movie.
Q. Why did you choose to place the story in a rural village in Maharashtra instead of Kerala?
The story is same everywhere. The plight of Dalits, the hurdles faced by underprivileged communities are same everywhere in the country. This incident is something that can happen anywhere in the world. At the end of the movie I’ve given statistics of custodial deaths happening all over the world and why it’s happening. So, the subject has got an international ramification. Also, I wanted to finish this movie immediately, so if I had to shoot it in Kerala, to set up a unit there and write a Malayalam script, it would have taken me at least six months. Mai Ghat got completed in three months. One month of writing, one month of pre-production and one month of shoot. That way the logistics also worked better for me. However, it really doesn’t matter where the story took place, as it could happen anywhere and the lead character was named Prabha Mayi in the movie so that Prabhavathy Amma’s fight gets an identity.
Q. Other than Prabhavathy Amma, who else did you speak with, to get details of Udayakumar case?
I spoke to her advocate Swaraj who was very helpful. He facilitated the meetings with Prabhavathy Amma. He also gave the details about the trial, the twists and turns happened in the case and how the justice was delayed for thirteen years.
Q. Did you try to portray the caste system prevailing in the country and how underprivileged communities are always at the receiving end whenever justice is denied?
Yes, there’s one scene in the movie where an MLA asks the policemen involved in the murder that, ‘you ended up exploiting your own caste, would you have done the same thing to someone from a privileged caste?’ That was the tragedy in this case, the victim and the guilty parties were of the same caste.
Q. Marathi actress Usha Jadhav plays the lead role of Prabha Mai in your movie. How did you make Usha conceive the real life experiences of Prabhavathy Amma?
I shot videos of Prabhavathy which I later showed to Usha. One important trait of Prabhavaty Amma was that she never revealed her sorrow, nor cried during the entire course of the trial. She was made of a different mettle. The internalization of grief of Prabhavathy is what I wanted in the character played by Usha and the actress did justice to her role.
Q. Did Prabhavathy Amma had the chance to watch Mai Ghat yet?
Not till now, but I’ve plans to invite her as a guest of honor during the screening of movie at this year’s IFFK in Trivandrum.
Q. Mai Ghat has been selected at several international festivals. How do you feel about the movie’s reception on global platforms?
The very first festival the movie got selected was the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival which comprises of international jury except for two Indians – Mani Ratnam and Rajeev Menon. There, the movie won awards for Best Film, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography. The movie is in competition section at IFFK, Trivandrum, and also at New York South Asian Film Festival and Kolkata Film Festival. So in that way I’m happy that the movie is getting a global recognition.
Q. Can you remember any notable response you got for Mai Ghat till date?
The jury chairman of Singapore South Asian Film Festival, Roger Garcia said that he was stunned by the movie and particularly disturbed by the truth that the case has taken 13 years in our country to reach a conclusion. This response made me also think how people from other countries view the delay in our legal system which we have taken for granted.
Q. You started off as a director making commercial movies in Bollywood and along the way you made Marathi movies that deals with valid subjects. How do you see your evolution as a filmmaker?
One chapter of my film career is dedicated to popular mainstream cinema. My first movie Dil Vil Pyar Vyar was a retro musical in which we used published works of RD Burman to create the movie. Then I went on to make movies like Aksar, Dil Mange More etc, all of which were box office successes. At some point I realized that this is not I want as a filmmaker. I wanted to make movies which could appeal to global audience and deals with universal subjects. So I started making movies like Red Alert, Gour Hari Dastaan which brought me international recognition. Now, I strictly try to improve upon each film I make. So Mai Ghat, I think is one step ahead for me as a filmmaker. So, that part of my mainstream Bollywood career has been left behind, I enjoyed it while it lasted and I needed that phase to establish as a filmmaker.