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Film Description
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Film Title:
A Grave-Keeper's Tale
(Maati Maay)

Programme: DISCOVERY
Director: Chitra Palekar
Country: India
Year: 2006
Language: Marathi
Time: 98 minutes
Film Types: Colour/35mm
A Grave-Keeper's Tale

Friday, September 08    6:15 PM    CUMBERLAND 2  Buy tickets now
Saturday, September 09    12:30 PM    ISABEL BADER THEATRE  Buy tickets now
Friday, September 15    6:15 PM    CUMBERLAND 4  Buy tickets now

Production Company : DNYA Films 

Producer: Chitra Palekar
Screenplay: Chitra Palekar, based on the short story "Baayen" by Mahasweta Devi
Cinematographer: Debu Deodhar
Editor: Hemanti Sarkar
Production Designer: Arundhati Chattopadhyay
Sound: Vijay Bhope, Neel Chattopadhyay
Music: Bhaskar Chandavarkar
Principal Cast: Nandita Das, Atul Kulkarni, Kshitij Gavande

In recent years, Nandita Das has emerged as one of India's most committed actors. She often lends her distinctive passion and intelligence to complex roles, most notably in Deepa Mehta's Fire and Earth. Here she takes on that most feared of female personae: the witch.

In an affecting and atmospheric feature debut, Chitra Palekar adapts Mahasweta Devi's Marathi-language story "Baayen" ("Witch"). Das plays Chandi, a wild-haired outcast from her northern Maharashtra village, reduced to banging a pot to warn children of her movements. A young boy named Bhagirath (Kshitij Gavande) is bright enough to question his father, Narsu (Atul Kulkarni), about Chandi. Narsu claims she is a ghoul, but he is soon forced to reveal that Chandi is also the boy's mother.

A Grave-Keeper's Tale shifts smoothly between the fifties and an earlier time, when we see Chandi as Narsu's beautiful and lively young wife. Caste and circumstances give her the job of burying young children, but she faces her role pragmatically. "It is God's work," she says simply.

Palekar immerses the film in the mood and rituals of a remote village, where no film had ever been shot before. This is a parched landscape of sun-bleached earth and gnarled trees. As Narsu recounts how his wife and Bhagirath's mother transformed from human to ghoul, the eerie, spectral setting gives the story palpable force.

Narsu barely believes the things his son has learned in school. The Earth orbits the Sun? Equality among all Indians has been decreed from far-off Delhi? These sound like fairy tales. So why should he doubt that his former wife is now an evil spirit, especially when he hears her siren song drifting across the cracked earth?

By paying close attention to character detail, Palekar achieves a unique naturalism, even with the film's supernatural elements. A Grave-Keeper's Tale also has provocative hints of allegory. Who is Chandi but any woman, anywhere, cast out from society by ignorance and fear?

- Cameron Bailey

Chitra Palekar was born in Dharwar, India and received her B.A. in economics from St. Xavier's College in Mumbai, and her M.A. in economics at the University of Mumbai. An actor and director, she has played an important role in Indian avant-garde theatre. She wrote screenplays for the features The Village Had No Walls (96) and The Square Circle (96), and has directed the short documentary Portrait of a Visionary (02) and the fiction feature A Grave-Keeper's Tale (06).
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