Mahashweta Devi is no more with us but she has left an unforgettable legacy for us. Her works – her novels, short stories, drama and essays – will keep the flame of compassion and courage burning forever.
She grew up in the midst of poets and thinkers. Ritwik Ghatak was the paternal uncle of Mahashweta Devi and Manish Ghatak her father, was himself a poet and novelist under the pseudonym Jubanashwa. Her mother, Dharitri Devi was a social activist and writer and in those days, that was a really great achievement for a woman. Her maternal uncles were the famous sculptor Sankha Chaudhury and Sachin Chaudhury , the founder and editor of the Economic and Political Weekly of India. While growing among these illustrious people strengthened her desire to stand up and blaze a trail.
Mahashweta Devi is the holder of Padma Shri, Padma Vibhushan, Sahitya Akademi award, Jnanpith award among the many other honours bestowed upon her. Through her works she has brought forward the trials and tribulations of the tribals and forest dwelling communities in India, mainly in the area of eastern India that has brought international awareness and has led to their welfare.
Five of her stories have been made into movies.
The short story Layli Asmaner Ayna was the plot for this movie. Released in 1968, it has a strong cast of film stars Dilip Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Sanjeev Kumar, Balraj Sahni and Deven Verma. The film portrays a false god-man who lures gullible people into his plot using the false premises of divine blessings and then kills his wealthy clients when opportunity comes. The god-man’s son detests his way of life and decides to leave and decides to leave with his wife and three children but he is forced to leave one son to protect the rest of his family. The god-man raises this grandson as his heir.
Kalpana Lajmi made this movie in 1993 upon the ‘weeping women’ of Rajasthan. Rudaalis are paid mourners, engaged to express the grief when someone has passed away. However, the female lead in the story who is to become a Rudaali is a strong woman who never gave in to tears in real life in spite of her several misfortunes. The role of the protagonist was done by Dimple Kapadia and she won a National Film Award. The film also featured Raakhee, Raj Babbar and Amjad Khan, it being his last movie.
Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa
Based on Mahashweta Devi’s novel Hajar Churashir Maa, Govind Nihalani directed this film in 1998 casting Jaya Bachchan, Anupam Kher, , Joy Sengupta and Nandita Das. It is notable that Jaya Bachchan made a comeback in acting after a gap of eighteen years.
The story revolves around couple’s shock and then subsequent inquiry on their talented and well educated son’s death. Jaya plays the mother who discovers her son’s involvement with the Naxalite movement and the circumstances that led to this point. Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa was honoured the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
This film was made in Marathi based on the short story, Daayen in Bengali. Directed by Chitra Palekar, Maati Maay (A Grave-Keeper’s Tale) was released in 2007. Nandita Das acting skills have been highly acclaimed in her role as Chandi, a village woman given the task of managing the funerals of the village’s children. As time goes, people fear her as a witch but her ten year old son sets out to see her who she truly is, a human being.
Gangor was directed by Italo Spinelli in 2010. The film is multilingual as in it has dialogues in with dialogues in Bengali, Santhali and English. This movie was made on the Bangla short story Choli Ke Peeche (Behind the Bodice) by Mahasweta Devi. A brutal story against male dominance and female uprising, the film won the Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress awards at the New Jersey Independent South Asian Film Festival.
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