There's mainstream cinema that caters to the masses, the janta.
There's parallel cinema that caters to a new segment of moviegoers - those thronging the multiplexes.
There's art house cinema that caters to a niche audience. The target audience for these movies exists in the Festival circuit.
Mahesh Dattani's second outing MORNING RAGA belongs to the third category.
MORNING RAGA is a simple plot well told. But the problem with movies of this genre is that they cater to a very tiny segment of moviegoers. Those appreciating this kind of cinema are hard to find in today's times!
MORNING RAGA tells the story of Swarnlata [Shabana Azmi], a gifted Carnatic vocalist, whose ambition of performing in the city gets aborted due to a ghastly accident on her village bridge, in which she loses her only child as well as her dear friend, who plays the violin.
Swarnlata holds herself responsible for the tragedy and now spends her time in a self-imposed exile, never daring to cross the bridge. Twenty years later, her friend's grown up son Abhinay [Prakash Rao] returns to her life.
Not satisfied with his job as a jingle composer, Abhinay sets out to start a music band.
Priyanka/Pinky [Perizaad Zorabian], a city-bred girl, finds herself drawn to the same village since she is also affected by the tragedy: Her father, driving in an inebriated state, was responsible for the accident.
Abhinay and Priyanka start a music group, but soon realize that something is missing. Abhinay bumps into Swarnlatha in his village and persuades her to sing for his group. She turns down the offer initially, but relents subsequently.
MORNING RAGA rests on a simple plot and the setting is a beautiful village in Andhra Pradesh. Visually striking and laced with competent performances, the film falters only because it takes its own sweet time to drive home the point.
There's no denying that the film does boast of a few poignant moments. Sequences like Shabana Azmi daring to cross the bridge for the first time after twenty years, but not mustering the courage to do so, is brilliantly executed. Even the sequence towards the climax, when Shabana comes to terms with actuality, is exceptional.
Mahesh Dattani deserves credit for handling the subject with utmost sensitivity, but his choice of the subject and the screenplay could meet with diverse reactions. Cinematography [Rajiv Menon] is breath-taking. Music [mostly Carnatic] suits the demands of the script.
MORNING RAGA clearly belongs to Shabana Azmi, who delivers an award-worthy performance, taking to this role like a fish to water. It was a difficult character to portray [that of a Carnatic vocalist who has been affected by a tragedy] and any other actress in her place may not have been able to do as much justice.
Prakash Rao is a revelation. The actor matches up to Shabana and does a first-rate job. Perizaad Zorabian is another performer who catches the eye. She seems to be evolving into a fine actress. She catches you completely unaware with an efficient interpretation. Lillete Dubey is lovable. Nasser is, like always, highly competent.
On the whole, MORNING RAGA is a genuinely hatke fare. But hatke products such as these appeal either to the intelligentsia, pseudo critics or those who believe in this kind of cinema in the Festival circuit. From the box-office point of view, the film has nothing to offer to the common man. Therefore, its business prospects appear miserable. A non-starter!