Maya shows new promise
Arthur J Pais
The sun sets too many times in Digvijay Singh's first film, Maya, and the killing of lizards seems to go on endlessly.
Then, there are scenes of urination, vomitting, and prolonged rape sequences which, while shocking in intensity, are at least not titillating.
It is not that Maya, a Hindi film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, has no virtues. In fact, it signals the arrival of a director with a resonant and big promise.
Singh, 28, has been working on the film for nearly five years, and shot it last year in Andhra Pradesh in a few weeks.
The horror of young Maya (played with awesome power by Nitya Shetty), being ritually raped by the temple priests and the complicity of her parents will haunt the viewers for long.
Singh, who wrote and directed the film, deliberately set the story in a middle-class and upper caste family. When it comes to sexual abuse, he wants us to know that the more educated and upper caste families can be as callous as the lesser-educated and lower caste people.
By setting the story in the relatively more affluent milieu, he has made the sexual crime even more disturbing -- and less forgivable.
The film also succeeds in creating the near idyllic world in which Maya and her cousin live. There are many hilarious scenes here involving the young children.
But when Maya reaches puberty, her life begins to change in more than one way. She has to be blessed at a public ceremony, money has to be spent for the event, dozens of family friends and relatives would be invited for a communal meal -- and inside the temple premises, the priests have sexual intercourse with Maya, one after another.
Only her cousin is shaken by her screams. Her own family -- and her closest relatives carry on with festivities and the feast as if it were just another religious ceremony.
Some audiences, like this reviewer, could wonder how the parents would not have felt even a wee bit of concern for the girl. And how could the women not prepared Maya for her ordeal?
Yet despite structural weaknesses, this 105-minute-long film quickens the pulse and becomes enormously disturbing in its last quarter.
Superbly acted and beautifully photographed, the film could have gained considerably with tighter editing.
It spends far too much time with the little domestic scenes, especially with the family servant and his passion for alcohol. Many of these scenes, of course, carry hints of pathos.
However, there is too much of comedy in the film. While they are spontaneous and charming, they go on and on -- delaying the crucial and shocking scenes of sexual perversities.
Singh knows how to frame beautiful sequences. Like the time the aunt is telling the story about a king and a sage. You will notice how gently the young girl's feet are dangling by the side of the bed.
Nearly 45 minutes later, the feet are dangling again, but this time you have witnessed a cruel story.
Cast: Anant Nag, Mita Vashsht, Nitya Shetty.
Director, Scriptwriter: Digvijay Singh