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Unfinished business: Mantra
Subhash K Jha | Friday, 17 March 2017 AT 09:59 PM IST
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There is sequence in this intelligently and sensitively scripted, if somewhat choppily executed drama on the fall-out of foreign investment on the Indian economy during the 1990s. A near-bankrupt entrepreneur Kapil Kapoor, KK to friends, played by the ever-empathetic Rajat Kapoor, abandons his chauffeur and car on a Delhi highway and hitches a ride with a truck driver.
“Saab, what do you do?” the trucker asks chattily.

“I make blue films,” says the entrepreneur with a straight face.
“You mean people doing it in front of you?” the trucker (played with gusto by Shantanu Anam) is amused and incredulous.
“Yes, and sometimes I’ve to show them what to do,” smirk-sighs the entrepreneur as only Rajat knows how.

Mantra is as much about a disintegrating business family in Delhi as it is about chance encounters that change your life forever. This is one of the many chance encounters that the script instills into the belly of Delhi -- a city that orgasms on politics and wealth.

Oh yes, Delhi is also known as the rape capital. Little surprise, then, that Kalki playing the derelict daughter of Rajat, gets nearly raped in a car.

When Pia goes to the police station to report the assault, she realises there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip... or the cop and the rape. Oddly, the cops speak to her with disturbing equanimity. Adil Hussain in the cameo as the kind man migrant from Jharkhand not only turns the image of the scummy outsider around, he also gives the most memorable performance that this little-big film has to offer.

However, not all the anecdotal encounters work. Rajat’s youngest son’s (Rohan Joshi) meeting with his cyber-love, the former’s disastrous boys’ night out with his pals at a dhaba and his closing encounter with a doped-out foreigner left us underwhelmed and entirely unmoved.

Debutant Nicholson is definitely a better writer than a director, which is not to say he doesn’t nail the characters’ vacuousness that lies beneath their double speak. The drama, however, lacks consistency. The crackling tension between Rajat and sullen son Shiv Pandit during the mandatory family-dinner sequence, doesn’t crackle enough, for no fault of the brilliant actors.

Kalki as his restless daughter doesn’t have much space to let her character breathe. She makes the best of her cramped spaces and pulls out all stops in her one big confrontation sequence with Rajat, where she accuses him of siring a third child to get over his guilt of mal-rearing his two other offsprings.

This interesting intriguing study of money and power and domestic politics is bogged down by its ‘arthouse’ budget. It had the potential of being the new-age Kalyug, Shyam Benegal’s 1970s’ portrait of industrial subterfuge. Alas, there is too much unfinished business in Mantra. 

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