MOHAMMAD AND URVASHI
Review by Shevaun Cavanaugh Kastl
Film by Vivek Agnihotri
“I saw the Devil. I saw him clearly. My words of prayer and penance were my safe house. But He came knocking and I realized my house was made of glass. And as we stared each other in the face, my glass walls shattered and I was left with nothing but my will. But what is will to a weak man? It is madness.”
Those were the words that came to mind when I first viewed “Mohammed And Urvashi” – A film directed by Vivek Agnihotri and this month’s recipient for Outstanding Achievement Award for BEST ACTOR: Mayukh Ray. In Agnihotri’s own words, the film “depicts the inner conflict of a God fearing man who has surrendered himself to his religion and his human side that leads him astray, who he believes is the Devil.”
I viewed this film four times. Each time finding something unique to offer insight into the Director’s overall vision thematically and symbolically. What makes this film so special is that there is a symmetry that ties in so many different classic themes one normally finds in film: Good vs. Evil (most obviously) Man vs. Nature, the Loss of Innocence (more subtle but still prevalent) and Man vs. Himself. That so many conflicts one might base an entire film upon work in tandem and form a provocative rhythm in which they enhance each other is rare, especially in a short film.
There are four stages to the film:
When we meet Mohammed (played by Mayukh Rayhe) is striving to save an ant – One of the smaller of life’s creatures. He fails, and suffers for that failure. It is clear he reveres all of God’s creatures. (The Loss of innocence)
Later, he encounters a man stranded in the desert whose car won’t start. He helps him, but notices a watch left on the hood, and steals it. (Good vs. Evil) It is a compulsive act; even as he covers it with his foot, he mutters prayers and apologies to Allah while committing the act of sin. This use of the watch made a huge impression on me as a viewer. It is a Time-Keeper and yet, Mohammed measures his time in scribbles of penance on the wall and whispered prayers on his knees. The value of the watch is of little important to him. That he should steal this trinket only to bury it in the ground is ironic. And a nice piece of sound design emphasizes this. The TICKING of the watch is deafening, a reminder of his crime. He places the watch in a box and buries it in the sand.
That night, a couple comes to his door seeking refuge from the rain. The woman, Urvashi, is beautiful and immediately Mohammed covets her. (Man vs. Nature) He gives them refuge but spies as they make love. As he watches through a grimy window pane (symbolic for how distorted his view of the world has become) she seems to smile at him. Through his POV we see temptation, perhaps the Devil incarnate.
In the morning, the couple thanks Mohammed for his hospitality and as payment, gifts him a watch. As they take their leave Mohammed is left alone with his shame. The TICKING resumes. He rushes to the sand where he buried the watch he stole from the stranded traveler. But when he opens the box, it’s empty. (Man vs. Himself)
I almost never include a complete synopsis of a film I review, but in this case, I have. Because the film “Mohammed and Urvashi” is more like a cinematic dream and open to much interpretation.
If one becomes obsessed with sin, do we not manifest it when we see temptation everywhere we look? Is it not possible to create a prison of our own fear of sinning and is it not possible that that same fear leads us to a dark, delusional place where we have not acted sinfully but suffer the same consequences as if we had? With a skilled director as Agnihotri, I believe this is an intentional question he leaves to the viewer.
A conscious being is not fooled by mental delusions as much as cravings and desires. Evil is relative to the observer. But how can we trust ourselves when nefarious cravings and religion are at odds?
In the end, this is the very question Mohammed must answer. I encourage everyone to see the film and draw their own conclusions. But Madness is defined (according to Psychology Today) as a “loss of contact with reality and distress or impairment.” So perhaps, Mohammed is truly mad. And perhaps that is what Director Vivek Agnihotri’s “Devil” was seeking all along.
Shevaun Cavanaugh Kastl is an award-winning actress, writer and producer currently living in NYC. Her production company, Mad About Pictures, has produced three films all currently playing the festival circuit. “The Mourning Hour”, her most recent film, just took top honors at The Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently writing a thriller feature but continues to pursue her acting career and can be seen on television and online in episodes of Revenge, Criminal Minds and Heroes.