It's one of the funniest, smartest movies of the year and a viewer's delight
There's a scene towards the end of
, where the mercurial pishima's ghost, played by Moushumi, asks her granddaughter Chaitali — a dewy fresh, understated Srabanti — to join her for a smoke on the terrace. The two women sit there —
— talking about their shared dreams and memories. Pishima draws on her hookah; Chaitali strikes a match and lights her cigarette.
This scene, in many ways, captures the essence of Aparna Sen's latest offering. Past encounters present, old meets new and two visions of Bengal, pre-Partition and Bangladesh War, face up to each other. And this is just one of many juxtapositions in the film.
succeeds because it operates at many levels. There are intensely personal vignettes:
asking a blushing Somlata — Konkona in an endearing, nuanced performance (honestly,
why can't we offer her more such roles in Tollywood?) — about her first night of lovemaking with her husband;
talking about the taste of
in her native Faridpur. But Aparna flags each such moment for her commentary on Bengal's changing fortunes over much of 20
The film opens with Somlata's entry as the new bride into the decadent zamindar family presided over by the imperious Chandranath (Paran). The expenses for the wedding are paid off with an old Burma teak four-poster and a luxurious carpet. But no man of this family has worked for a living, so his two sons — Chandan (Saswata) and Chanchal (Pijush) — while away their time fishing and marking time at their favourite courtesan's. Everyone in the extended family eyes the
— a jewellery hoard of 500
— that's guarded by the hawk-eyed, foul-mouthed, venom-spitting pishima. Once she croaks, the treasure can be divided. But
has other plans. Within moments of he death, she entrusts the box to Somlata, with the rider that she has to safeguard it. But Somlata uses her native intelligence to convince
to pawn the jewels and use the capital to set up a sari shop. Thus the landed gentry enter the realm of commerce. Inevitably, the wheels of industry and industriousness turn, as do the fortunes of the family.
Through the tale of this one family and it's members, Aparna deftly captures the grand sweep of history. The trauma of Partition, of lands and inheritances lost, of unfamiliar adjustments after years of
grandeur — it's all there. But the men are in some ways the paraphernalia of this film. At the centre stand the three women — Pishima, Somlata, Chaitali — as they fight against patriarchy and social mores in their unique ways.
is vitriolic, Somlata quiet but intelligent, Chaitali couldn't care less about societal norms — or the
. Mind you, the feminism is not heavy-handed, but dovetails smoothly with the comic elements. Somlata calls Chandan "purush singha", but manages to send him scouting for the best saris across the country.
What do you say about the acting of these three women? Moushumi is superlative. Beneath all her expletives is a lonely, unfulfilled woman, rejected by society, consigned to the periphery of familial existence. At the same time, she's straight out of a Sirshendu Mukherjee book, comical, unpredictable, sharp as nails. With Konkona, you always expect something special, and she doesn't disappoint. Timid yet charming, fearful yet strong-willed, she's so 1950s that you almost forget that her last Bengali release was
, where she plays a fearless journalist. She's the bridge between
and her own daughter, Chaitali. Srabanti — both as the younger Moushumi and as Chaitali — holds her own against the other two. The men, of course, turn in stellar performances, from Saswata to Paran, Pijush and the others.
A word about the music and camerawork. Debajyoti Mishra has done a lovely score, the high point being the soulful
by Subha Mudgal, which tugs at your heartstrings long after it's over. Soumik Halder does brilliantly again, working in tandem with Aparna, to create a lush, small-town Bengali landscape.
A few pointers in an almost-perfect film: the genesis of Somlata's nebulous affair with Rafique (Kaushik) seems under-explored; the special effects — the shower of rose petals, the flying utensils in the kitchen — are a bit amateurish; and did Chaitali, growing up in the
s of the '70s, have to have a layered hair cut? Aparna, who works on the minutest details — during the Bangladesh war, even the cover of a mag lying casually on the table has a Sheikh Mujib photo — could have given this more thought.
But these are minor quibbles. It's one of the funniest, smartest movies of the year and a viewer's delight. If you think otherwise, as