Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 17, 1999. Original title: Janmadinam. Malayalam dialogue. Running time: 105 MIN.
With: Nandita Das, Surekha Sikhri.
A nonlinear meditation on parturition, family and violence, this challenging debut feature from poet and documaker Suma Josson is an earnest, absorbing effort aimed at a more sophisticated art market but complicated by a labyrinthine narrative approach that will prove relentlessly puzzling to all but the most attentive viewers. Pic will find a home at fests that emphasize uncompromising work but will have complications gaining a berth in the mainstream.
Bombay TV reporter Sarasu, on the verge of giving birth at a hospital, and her mother, Amma, spend a long night reminiscing. Pic slowly reveals tension between the two, centered on Sarasu’s tryst with cameraman Ajay during the 1993 Hindu-Muslim clash in Bombay. That, and not her arranged marriage to Raghu, led to the pregnancy. Once characters are sorted (the seamless flashbacks are the film’s most daunting test), colorful movie yields numerous visual treats, from the young Sarasu’s search for a special teak tree and first terrifying brush with death to the Macarena danced by a group in the surreal, ironic coda.