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 Morning Raga
Director :
Music :
Starring :
  Mahesh Dattani
 Amit Hering
 Shabana Azmi, Prakash Rao, Perizaad Zorabian, Nasser, Lilette Dubey

Subhash K. Jha, IANS Send to Friend
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Whether it's "Abhimaan", "Sur" or "Saaz", Hindi movies about music and musicians have employed ego as the primary focus of interest.

In Mahesh Dattani's second feature film after "Mango Souffle", every character moves with a baggage of guilt but never projects it into the music that finally emerges from his or her soul.

"Morning Raga" is as fresh in subject and enticing in treatment as the title suggests.

Sure, at first the English language with generous smatterings of Telugu tends to be at loggerheads with the music that runs, no, waltzes through this moving tale of the power of music to heal and unify splintered souls.

Download Morning Raga WallpapersBut then as we get into the dreamy swing of things, the Andhra Pradesh countryside, so caressingly captured by Rajiv Menon's camera, we realise that the clash of languages represents the bigger clash of cultures, which in turn magically telescopes into a debate between destiny and ambition, holding on and letting go.

"Morning Raga" tells the very dramatic story of a Carnatic singer, Swarnalata (Shabana Azmi), who loses her little son and her close friend, who's also her violinist-accompanist, in a bus accident.

Twenty years after the calamity, the dead woman's son Abhinay (Prakash Rao) returns to the village to open up hardly healed wounds.

The light touch that Dattani lends to the inherently dramatic plot is a marvel of creative restraint. The narrative is carpeted with pastel shades of emotions and a surprisingly large amount of humour ladled out gently, like the subtle strains of the tanpura wafting softly into a room quivering with hushed voices.

"Morning Raga" is a raga recital played out at a tenor that's as gentle as the breeze blowing through the Andhra Pradesh village where Swarnalata, stoic in her grief-stricken remembrance of the past, comes face to face with her dead friend's adamant son.

Download Morning Raga Wallpapers"My mother did a lot for you. She's gone. But I'm here...or maybe that doesn't mean anything to you," Abhinay mocks the proudly grieving singer, prodding awake her most precious and indelible memories, provoking her into jazz-raga sessions with her friend's adamant son.

In this way she finds a son she lost, while the young man rediscovers a mother whose memory he embraced all his life.

The passing on of a legacy is a critical leitmotif in this luminous tale of loss and redemption. In one way or another, every character finds his or her lost self in ways that are forever unpredictable and surprising.

Yes, some of the metaphorical strokes in the plot are almost gimmicky.

The fact that the boutique owner's (Lilette Dubey) daughter Pinky (Perizaad Zorabian) is stricken with guilt because the fateful bus accident 20 years ago had been caused by her drunken father is a thematic device that tries a trifle too hard to dilate the circle of destiny into a neat cyclic package. But then not everything in art need be perfect to be authentic.

Miraculously, the fragile plot holds together in a tender but firm clasp of traditional values and their uprooting in modern times.

Dattani pokes good-natured fun at the dudes and dolls in the metro, so distanced from their roots they wouldn't recognise them with binoculars. If Abhinay, Pinky and their rock 'n' roll band cross that symbolical bridge dividing the city from the village then the stoic Swarnalata too needs to get out of the past, shrug the baggage of guilt and cultural confinement and sing at a concert in the city.

Download Morning Raga WallpapersThe swap, so to speak, occurs with a delectable fluency so far removed from the strenuous sexual statement of Dattani's first feature film "Mango Souffle" that you wonder how an artiste could evolve so dramatically within two films!

Of course, Dattani's crew is an invaluable impetus and steppingstone to excellence. Rajiv Menon's cinematography captures the verdure of the village with an astute, underplayed, almost offhand grace.

Sreekar Prasad edits the filigreed footage with deft delicacy, drawing out characters from their peculiar settings while putting them in a perspective vis--vis their past.

Amit Hering and Mani Sharma's fusion of jazz and Carnatic music is so fluent you want to simply let the music play.

And what would the sublime music of Dattani's soul be worth if Shabana didn't sit tall at the centre, performing a ravishing melody of existentialism?

She has done it repeatedly in the past. And yet Shabana doesn't cease to surprise us when she takes on the guilt-stricken, troubled but stately Carnatic singer's role with a passionate, territorial possessiveness.

Download Morning Raga WallpapersShabana performing the intricate classical tunes, or running panic-stricken across the bridge that once snatched away her happiness, is a sight that goes beyond the poetry of the soul. Shabana performs at a place where most actors never dream of going.

She has a wonderful ensemble of actors to support the symphony of her performance. Newcomer Prakash Rao as her pupil who helps his dead mother's traumatised friend reclaim her past is effortlessly and fluently in character. One can't imagine anyone else playing Abhinay.

Perizad Zorabian as Abhinay's romantic interest is so in-sync with her character, so ebullient and warm she makes you smile. Lilette Dubey as Perizad's mother makes splendid space for herself in a cramped role. However, her comic moments in the village tend to bend towards the self-consciously strenuous.

Tamil actor Nasser as Abhinay's estranged feudal father is portrayed rather uni-dimensionally. Did he have to be a boor to offset the sonorous sensitivity that suffuses the soul of this genteel work of art?

But let's thank him for giving Shabana one of her many glorious moments in the film. When he confronts her and warns her against a musical partnership with his son, she stares glacially at the philistine and says: "I'll sing for your son."

And the music plays on...gently filling our senses with the raga of echoes from the past. Nostalgia has never seemed more nourishing.

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