Banner: Windows Production
Producers: Nandita Roy, Shiboprosad Mukherjee
Director: Pritha Chakraborty
Cast: Anashua Majumdar, Koneenica Banerjee, Rituparna Sengupta, Aparajita Addhya, Biswanath Basu
Writers: Samragnee Bandopadhyay (Story, Screenplay & Dialogue), Pritha Chakraborty (Screenplay & Dialogue)
Music: Indraadip Dasgupta
In 2000, Paromitar Ek Din released. The film, starring Aparna Sen and Rituparna Sengupta, came as a gush of fresh air at a time when formula films became almost nauseating. It is one of the first few films of our times that talked about women empowerment. Tracing the slowly blossoming friendship between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law, the film changed the face of Bangla cinema. It dealt with issues such as lunacy, identity crisis, the lack of self-expression and gender-based discrimination.
19 years later, Sengupta is now starring in a similar film titled Mukherjee Dar Bou, directed by debutante filmmaker Pritha Chakraborty. The drama draws on similar themes and makes you realize that the battles, big or small, which women fought almost two decades ago, is still relevant and continues to resonate.
Mukherjee Dar Bou is the story of Aditi, the daughter-in-law, and Shobharani, the mother-in-law, of the Mukherjee household. After the demise of Ishwarchandra Mukherjee, the patriarch of the family, the bittersweet relationship between the women plummets even further. Aditi soon realizes that her mother-in-law has turned extremely bitter against her, often belittling her in front of neighbours and refusing to eat dinner cooked by her. She chastises her for attending dinner parties barely a few months after a death in the family. Shobharani keeps bickering that Aditi lacks the expertise to cook and is not capable of taking good care of her son. Ironically, at night, when her husband’s memories haunt her, she only has one pillar to rely on, her daughter-in-law. But all hell breaks loose when Aditi gets a new television for herself so that she can watch her favourite actor Aamir Khan’s films sans any interference, an act that is mistaken for creating a rift in the family.
The story seems simple, at least on the surface. It draws on several familiar and yet complicated themes such as old age isolation, insecurity, extra marital affairs, loneliness, identity crisis and deeply embedded gender stereotypes. At the heart of it, is the story of two women dealing with life, the lack of opportunities and being the victims of circumstances that life has meted out to them.
Supriyo Dutta’s lens creates a middle-class Bengali household with aplomb. He uses close ups and tight shots to frame their lives in the initial part of the narrative. Once the protagonists start confiding in each other, wide shots are used to represent their little moments of fun and freedom and you feel a heartwarming feeling engulfing you immediately. Chakraborty, in her first film, weaves a story that makes you reminisce about your childhood and your life back home. Along with writer Samragnee Bandopadhyay, she manages to strike a chord with the audience and lets you become a part of the world of the Mukherjee women without an ounce of high-octane drama. Even the wrangling between Shobharani and Aditi, no matter how bitter, does not feel over-the-top. The heart-wrenching moments that they share in the second half of the film is not a sappy affair, but will make you grin from ear to ear.
The issue of identity crisis has been dealt with very delicately. There are very few times when the women are referred to by their names. They lack self-worth. Shobarani tries to show her authority by taking away Aditi’s happiness and by seeking attention. Aditi tries to fight her battle against her – sometimes passively and sometimes being vocal (that ultimately results in a fight) by not complying with everything that her mother-in-law says or does. This is how they vent out years of pent-up anger and insecurity.
But what makes this film important is that it addresses mental illness. Their lives change once they step into the cabin of Dr Aratrika Mukherjee Bhattacharya. They begin to acknowledge and address deep-rooted insecurities, fears and repression that they have been subjected to since their childhood. Depression, anxiety and identity crisis are, after all, not just diseases of the rich.
The course of the narrative is not difficult to predict. But the genius of the writer and the director lies in focusing on meticulous details (be it the simmering tension between a bangal and a ghoti, something that only a Bengali can relate to, or the daily routine of a homemaker) and attention to unfolding events. They present the humdrum of everyday life as realtistically as possible. What powers the narrative is that every character is very well-fleshed out. The makers let the characters determine the flow of events. Chakraborty shows us without telling too much.
The film also benefits from crisp editing. The 126 minute runtime helps the film and it hardly ever drops pace. Every frame will remind you of the time you grew up in a home with your mother and your grandmother who sang you a lullaby and put you to sleep every night. The subplot leaves you feeling strong and hopeful. The use of a linear and simple narrative is the USP of the film.
Koneenica Banerjee as Aditi is a treat to watch. She is convincing, both in the vulnerable and the emotionally intense scenes. Her scenes with Sengupta at the clinic tug at the heartstrings. Veteran actor, Anushua Majumdar’s Shobharani is complex and she essays her with immense grit and sensitivity. In a few emotionally key scenes, your heart will go out to her. The camaraderie between Banerjee and Majumdar is endearing. In what seems to be an extended cameo, Sengupta delivers an impressive act. As Dr Aratrika Bhattacharya, she is graceful and strong. She lights up the screen with her presence. It is gratifying to watch three powerful actors in a single frame. Aparajita Addhya as Putul is a treat to watch. Her seamless transition from a happy-go-lucky homemaker to a devastated wife cements her position as one of the best actors of the Bangla film industry. Biswanath Basu as Sasawata, Aditi’s husband and Shobharani’s son, is good.
Verdict: Must watch!