Review: Nani Ma

Written and directed by Subhashish Panigrahi, a 95-year-old woman, Musamoni Panigrahi, who must share her songs and stories before they are lost forever or she is gone.

Preserving the experiences and knowledge of our elders is something that isn’t always valued today but it should be, so it’s refreshing to see Subhashish Panigrahi trying to do just that. Especially when he’s also creating a loving homage to his own family, making it a much more personal story. It plays out like a collection of home movies, moving from song to song as we see Musamoni Panigrahi take a walk through her past and the culture that she grew up with. That style strikes a very casual tone, it’s a lot of simple shots and simply letting things play out naturally.

It’s a solid choice but it does leave itself open to weaknesses when the runtime is long. Firstly that it’s too consistent, there’s no tangible variety to it, ending up hitting the same note repeatedly. The visual and audio quality can also be spotty, even when taking into consideration budget and time constraints. It’s mostly the telephone call audio which is problematic, it can be quite grainy which can become distracting. Occasionally it feels as though it’s jumping around, there isn’t a clear path to the way that it’s telling this story.

Part of that problem is that there needed to be a bit more context to give a bigger depth to the songs and stories. They have a great message about the importance of education for women and the typical patriarchal treatment within their society but adding to the history initially or creating an introduction would have enhanced their meaning. There’s some traumatic inclusions to the stories which feel slightly reminiscent to the same way that Blues music came to be. So if it had the added explanation, or someone to act as an interpreter almost, of these experiences it could have expanded its impact and made itself more accessible.

Nani Ma is a loving homage to family and culture but needed some refining to really make it work. There’s a solid foundation both in concept and tone, but the actual execution is somewhat messy. It needed a stronger structure to it, to build an element which guided the audience through the songs and stories. Particularly when it’s running very long for a short film, it’s missing that aspect of variety or an outsider perspective to keep an energy that would better hold your attention.

Verdict: ✯✯½ | 5/10

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