JWR Articles: Film/DVD - A Peck on the Cheek and the short film "The Mantis Parable" (Director/Screenwriter: Mani Ratnam) - May 22, 2008

A Peck on the Cheek and the short film "The Mantis Parable"

3.5 3.5
87 min.

A Tale of Two Mothers

The effects of war are too frequently measured in territory won/lost and combatants killed or wounded. Further down the list comes destroyed property and infrastructure as well as stolen art and artifacts. All of these travesties combined may or may not determine the “winner.” But win, lose or draw they always wreak havoc on the survivors, many of whom have suffered unimaginable losses only to survive with bleak prospects as refugees.

Director/writer Mani Ratnam has zeroed in on the Sri Lankan/Tamil conflict to demonstrate the consequences of political upheaval under the guise of social/religious/commercial progress. Told in a variety of narrative techniques (from flashbacks to first-person through characterization via song, swooping cameras and a modicum of choreographed movement), his point frequently gets mired in the “heavenly lengths,” but still packs an emotional punch of despair by journey’s end.

On her ninth birthday, the precocious, it’s-all-about-me, “Isn’t she a wave only born to dance,” Amudha (P.S. Keerthana, an instant favourite of Ravi K. Chandran’s camera) learns from her engineer/writer father, Thiru (Madhavan—just a tad bland to convince as a hot-tempered author), that she was adopted at birth. Shyama, Mother No. 1 (Nandita Das) was well along in her first pregnancy when the erupting hostilities drove her stoic/realistic husband (“Let’s not have children until there’s peace.”—yet another example of the perils of unprotected sex) to stay and fight after putting his young bride on a boat to India.

Shocked by the news (from which present-day mom—Simran—bailed at the moment of truth), Amudha immediately begins her inevitable quest in search of her roots. After a few predictable reactions of running away, coercing Grandpa (Dehli Kumar) to slip her some cash for bus fare to the scene of the adoption, and enduring the taunts of her younger step-siblings, it’s decided to hop a plane back to the war zone and discover what became of Shyama and—most importantly—why she abandoned her child and went back to Sri Lanka in search of her man.

Once arrived (the younger brothers left back home), their tour guide is Dr. Vikramsinghe (Prakashraj)—an affable orthopedic surgeon who risks his life walking the terrain of the guerilla soldiers, only to be saved by Thiru’s ability to recite Tamil dogma as his murder-on-their-mind capturers dragged them through the reeds.

That scene and a number of miraculous coincidences (the town square gets pounded by mortars, bullets and grenades, but the good doctor’s pulverized sedan starts up right on cue and lets the beleaguered family live for another day), tend to weaken the believability factor, but the brutal depiction of suicide bombers and never-ending attacks—witnessed first-hand by Amudha—should cause any thinking person to cease and desist before more innocent lives are lost. Fat chance!

The half-dozen songs (from the prolific pen of Allah Rakha Rahman) help pass the time but their routine melodies and construction soon fade from memory. The natural scenery provides visual relief and spectacular settings.

Once the inevitable reunion is over, the script completes its circle as Shyama invites her emotionally drained daughter to return for a visit “when there’s peace.” Don’t hold your breath. JWR

The trapped caterpillar

The Mantis Parable
Josh Staub
2005, 8 minutes
United States 4 and a half stars

(Featured short film with A Peck on the Cheek on Film Movement's DVD of the Month Club for new, award-winning independent and foreign films.)

Josh Staub’s début will make established filmmakers, composers and storytellers as green with envy as the leaves that nurture the trapped caterpillar. This truly marvellous tale flits across the screen with precision, whimsy and subtlety. The simple theme and variations from the solo piano reinforce the action and effectively underscore the mood. More, please. JWR

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Director/Screenwriter - Mani Ratnam
Director - Short film - Josh Staub
Producers - Mani Ratnam, G. Srinivasan
Cinematographer - Ravi K. Chandran
Art Direction - Sabu Cyril
Original Music - A.R. Rahman
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Film Movement Mongrel Media
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