In 1991, the Government of India opened up the economy and unleashed the forces of globalization, forever changing the landscape of the country. A dozen years later, India was celebrating its emergence as a global economic super power.
Set in 2004, in the midst of a nationwide ‘India Shining’ campaign, the film Mantra tells the intimate story of a family and its travails, and through it, the story of the New India.
The protagonist of the film is Kapil Kapoor, the founder of an iconic Indian snack brand in the 'License Raj' old India. But today - in 2004 - he is fighting a losing battle against a multinational that has taken over the market. But it is not just his company that Kapil is desperately trying to save; it is also his own wife and children who are battling their own crises. But for Kapil to hold on to everything that is dear to him - professionally and personally – he must confront himself; what he will save, and what he will lose, depends on the extent he is willing to face his own demons. Mantra is a film that is deeply personal, set against the landscape of a sprawling, changing, India.
By Noyon Jyoti Parasara
There is something about Rajat Kapoor. He looks like a man who could fit into a corporate world as a business leader, who travels in BMWs and wears expensive suits. Not surprising hence that he has so often been cast as a wealthy man in films. Yet, he has never really quite done what he does in Mantra. Here he excels as a man with a company that’s on verge of bankruptcy.
The India story shifted gear with the liberalization. Much of the country celebrates this move made by the central government in 1991. However, not everyone was happy. Especially the indigenous businesses that faced stiff competition from the global brands which came into the country when the markets opened up. There were plenty such businesses that were either wiped out or acquired by these multinationals with infinitely deep pockets.
Kapil Kapoor, played by Rajat, showcases what could have such Indian businessmen possibly gone through in those years.
But the film is not just about how the businesses went kaput. It talks about the changes the people in the country went through at large. So while Kapil deals with his sinking ship, his son, who embodies the new generation, warms up to the idea of venture capitalists. Not everything changed though! Like the importance of pleasing the political parties when you need to do business!
In the meantime, the film also talks about the rapid growth in the cities while the rural areas remain unattended, resulting in rapid immigration into cities. There is a scene where Adil Hussain, who plays a lower-middle-class immigrant from the newly formed Jharkhand talks about the rural-urban disparity even as the frame captures an ‘India Shining’ hoarding above him. There is also the daughter who is trying to find her own self and the teenage son who is caught up in the enticing new virtual world of cyber chats and romance. Set in the early 2000s, Mantra deals with an entire landscape rather than a particular company.
Made on a shoe-string budget and released with money got through crowd funding, Mantra shows enough heart. Director Nicholas Khorkongor, who has earlier assisted Rajat Kapoor, shows conviction in a story that is difficult to tell. He refuses to fall into the trap of providing a mainstream end to his narrative but prefers treating it like a phase in someone’s life. He adds powerful subplots too.
Nicholas is provided unflinching support by his cast. While Rajat obviously leads the pack, Kalki beautifully executes her part of the daughter who is trying to break away and be her own person. Shiv Pandit has lesser to do but stays consistent. Lushin Dubey is remarkable in a couple of scenes.
Mantra is not the regular mainstream feature in treatment. It is designed to appeal to a niche audience. An audience who could probably get nostalgic remembering about a much-loved potato chips brand that was taken over by a major multinational at the turn of the new century. But more importantly, an audience who would possibly understand that a changing India story!