The widespread havoc caused by the changing course of river Kosi across 14 districts of Mithilanchal region in 2008 plays a crucial role in director Nitin Neera Chandra’s National Award winning Maithili film Mithila Makhaan’s plot. The protagonist Kranti played by Kranti Prakash Jha stays in Toronto but returns to his village after more than two decades for a family function, and to meet a prospective bride, of course, at his mother’s behest.
The four days that he spends in his village serves as an eye-opener for him. During his short stay, he unravels his family’s best kept secret and is a witness of all that is wrong with his village. He is appalled to see how some people are hampering development and progress of the village by exploiting the vulnerable and poor hapless villagers.
He tries to look for his childhood friend but is told that there’s no information about his whereabouts. The news of his family being swept away in the floods comes as a rude shock. Standing amid the ruins of the ravaged village, he gets to know that lakhs bore the brunt of river’s fury and were either submerged or left homeless. The village wears a deserted look as its once-fertile land had been rendered barren by the overflowing sand, forcing people to migrate to other cities and states in search of livelihood.
Kranti meets the prospective bride and her “crazy family” and also the female protagonist Maithili played by Anuritta K Jha. She lives true to her name by doing her bit for the region. Armed with a fine arts degree, Maithili has chosen to return to her village and runs an NGO for the promotion of Mithila paintings and in the process uplift rural women by giving them an opportunity to earn their livelihood. She shows her strength and attitude when she tells Kranti that “it takes a lot of courage to leave behind a life of luxury in foreign shores and settle in the village”. She makes a beautiful painting depicting the plight of those affected by the Kosi deluge as a parting gift for Kranti that forces the lead actor to take a call and return to his motherland for “if he doesn’t, then who will work to make it a better place for others”.
The protagonist returns to his village for good to become an entrepreneur and revives his age-old family business of fox nut cultivation under the banner of Mithila Makhaan Private Limited with renewed vigour. He has the state-of-the-art knowledge about processing, storage, and marketing and by efficiently using new social media tools such as Facebook, he manages to publicise its benefits among the people and create a viable market for his produce. It is an endeavour to push the Make in India theme. With this novel initiative, he promises a fresh start, gives livelihood to hundreds of unemployed rural youths and heralds the promise of a better and brighter future with his grit and determination.
But the odds are stacked against him in the form of opposition from local businessman Brahma Singh played by actor Pankaj Jha, who hides his evil intentions behind the gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, and wears khadi kurtas and “prefers to do things silently and not violently” and moves around with a dozen gun-toting security personnel.
Kranti takes the thought of “being the change that one wants to see around” a notch higher with his entrepreneurial spirit and manages to do so.
The film successfully brings the best of Mithilanchal to the fore by capturing the small nitty-gritty of the culture, enlightens, educates and informs about the best of Maithili culture in particular and Bihar in general. It doesn’t shy away in highlighting all that is wrong with the state — casteism, dowry system, poverty, unemployment, rampant lawlessness and rising crime rate — that is taking Bihar many steps backwards. The romantic angle between the lead pair is subdued in the background, and expressed subtly and that through a song that serves as a breather from the heavy doses of issues that Mithila Makhaan has dealt with in its 130 minutes presentation.
The film like the truth is sharp-tongued, crude and authentic. The stellar performances by the lead actors and supporting cast are commendable; all of them have played their part with honesty and sincerity. The surprise is a cameo by film’s co-producer Rajiv Nayan as Kranti’s Toronto-based boss. The music and background score by Ashutosh Singh and Aashish Rego, song renditions by Udit Narayan, Vandana Bharadwaj, among many others, add to the film’s regional flavour. Editing by Archit D Rastogi, cinematography by Sanjay Khanzode, story, dialogues and screenplay, direction by Nitin Neera Chandra… all of it make it a perfect package. A medium budget film, it has managed to make the cut with its realistic portrayal, making the most of its limitations and constraints.
The film stands out because it is not dolled up in any which way for the cinematic outing but served as it is, in a de-glam avatar. You may like it or hate it, but you can’t certainly ignore it. Perhaps that will help the film connect with the masses in India as well as abroad. The end is a predictable climax where the good emerges victorious by slaying the evil and the fox nut business flourishes and changes the face of the village.
The idea that Mithila Makhaan serves as food for thought is the reverse migration of the educated class to their native states and their entrepreneurial contribution for promoting Make in India to make our villages, cities and towns a better place to live. It may be a small step but will surely go a long way in promoting and keeping our identity alive. It will also bring a plethora of job opportunities for the unemployed youths and help reduce migration and poverty in the state. The underlying thought is to invoke that sense of belonging to one’s language, culture, and tradition and stay rooted to them, no matter how high one tends to fly.
Produced by Champaran Talkies, Asthwatha Tree and Illuminant Films, it is slated to hit the theatres after the monsoon.
The film was screened at the National Film Archives of India, Pune, on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
-by Shillpi A Singh
Shillpi is a freelance contributor at NewsGram and can be contacted [email protected]