It's difficult to take a project lightly if it includes actors like Rajat Kapoor and Kalki Koechlin.
‘Mantra’, a small, crowd-funded film by debutant director Nicholas Kharkongor, talks about the impact of globalisation and changing economic dynamics. Although we aren't given the exact period the story is set in, the huge ‘India Shining’ billboards and the second generation phones suggest the plot is set in the early 2000s.
After ‘Kapoor and Sons,’ ‘Mantra’ sees Rajat Kapoor play a Kapoor yet again. He essays the role of Kapil Kapoor, the owner of the beloved King Chips (a nod to Uncle Chips), a firm that lives in the fear of going bankrupt, owing to the fierce competition from a multinational company named Kepler.
Adding to Kapil’s worries is the disintegration of his already dysfunctional family. His eldest son Viraj (Shiv Pandit) is too busy with his own new venture to care about his dad's downward spiral. The film is named after his restaurant. His daughter, Piya (Kalki Koelchin), is 25 and wants to move out of her parent's house in order to be independent.
His youngest son is obsessed with chat rooms (long before smartphones took over all our attention) and discovering his own sexuality. Kapil’s wife, (played by Lushin Dubey) nurses a grudge about the lack of love and understanding in her marriage, with cigarettes keeping her company throughout.
Rajat Kapoor knows how to work the silent moments of the film. As a patriarch trying his best to keep his family together, or as a businessman trying to adapt to the changing business modules in a world he no longer understands, Rajat Kapoor is at the top of his game.
"Business is done on trust," he rues in one scene, only to be greeted with piles of paper and legal contracts that are slowly taking his company away from him. He reminisces about the time he could step out to buy the best potatoes for his chips, before contract farming put almost everything out of bounds for him.
Some scenes are definitely evocative, invariably the ones where little is said. Like the scene when Kalki meets the man who came to her aid when she needed help; or the scene when Kapil goes to meet his brother and mother. But sadly, these moments appear disjointed and scattered.
As a rich, connected and influential Delhi-based businessmen, Kapil Kapoor must find his ‘Mantra,’ in order to sustain himself in this fast-changing world.
There is nostalgia alright, but the screenplay lacks complexity, making it difficult for viewers to connect to the plot. We never really manage to care enough; and that’s a pity because despite some brilliant performances, ‘Mantra’ ends up as just an average affair.
I give it 2.5 Quints out of 5.