Mukherjee Dar Bou is what happens when the intent of making a film about free spirited thinking against a regressive patriarchal backdrop gets terribly hampered by a writing style and character development heavily influenced by the daily bangla soaps of today! An important story about everyday women fighting their own insecurities and for their identities, while becoming the biggest enemies of each other as severely conditioned by the regressive societal upbringing and unconscious patriarchal thinking, gets completely lost in execution since debut filmmaker Pritha Chakraborty and writer Samragnee Bandopadhyay only know the over the top, theatrical and terribly cliched narration style to deliver their message. And it feels extremely sad when two women cannot shape the content about women in a dignified, poignant and effective way, and almost fall into the same trap of typical cliches that they want their protagonists to overcome and be victorious in life.
Recently widowed Mother-in-law Sobharani (Anashua Majumdar) and daughter-in-law Aditi (Koneenica Banerjee) are both struggling with their insecurities about being the more relevant Mrs Mukherjee, and searching for an identity beyond that surname. These women haven’t even earned a place at the nameplate of the door of a house they are supposed to think as their home, and their frustration and pain only comes out as venom for each other. To their knowledge that is how they are supposed to behave, their observations since childhood have conditioned them that way. The man in their lives Saswata / Khokon (Biswanath Basu), the pampered son and the easy going husband, is basically an escapist not interested to take any stand as such, other than of course when he has to abrasively prove that he is the ‘man’ of the house and the provider for both the women. There is also the other typical daughter-in-law with a significant name Putul (Aparajita Addhya), who is the model caregiver on the surface, but that is the mechanical facade she has built to hide her messed up life. And then there is the psychologist Aratrika Bhattacharya (Rituparna Sengupta) who comes in as a mirror to Aditi and Sobharani to gradually change their perspective about each other, their own selves and hence life, of course all this only after there is enough drama to even get over the taboo of seeking out psychological help to save themselves.
And that excessive drama is what becomes the biggest enemy of the film. The character of Sobharani, her intent, her dialogues, her reactions are so poorly overwritten that the only references she becomes relatable to are the caricaturish villainous mother-in-laws one only sees in bengali telly shows. And Pritha Chakraborty gets Anashua Majumdar to over dramatise it even further, to the extent that one almost feels sad at what Majumdar has been handed with. It has to be one of the poorest examples of character development in recent times in a supposedly message oriented film, and Majumdar’s expressions are terribly over the top. Biswanath Basu is the most typical and cliched choice for portraying the mostly spineless and unambitious middle class man who is constantly being fed poison both at work and home (the work scenes are practically laughable), who suddenly gets triggered in his ego to prove a point, and then goes on a similar overdrive as his on screen mother in his emotions. Aparajita Addhya has become the most typecast in practically all her films (other than an occasional Maati) as the hyper melodramatic wife who has almost forgotten to emote with a straight face. Her Putul is written in the same cliched template, and she can now sleepwalk in such characters without sweat. One can almost predict the voice modulation and eye expressions she will use for her lines.
In contrast, Putul’s contemporary Aditi is far more grounded and nuanced even though her character arc is highly predictable too. There is a certain earnestness and honesty in her, and even though the template is again of the typical wronged daughter-in-law, kudos to Koneenica Banerjee to keep her as much natural and free-flowing as possible. There is a certain transparency in Banerjee’s performance, her expressions remain identifiable, and in spite of her dramatic scenes, she never loses handle on the idea that Aditi stands for, and hence is able to evoke a genuine empathy throughout the film. Banerjee’s Aditi is remarkably opposite and restrained as compared to her performance in Haami last year. Rituparna Sengupta and her Aratrika comes in as a breath of fresh air in the film as it enters its second half, when the disastrous writing of the first half has almost killed the film. The scenes with her are the best written parts of the film, and Sengupta delivers them with a lot of poised gravitas. It is almost like a new found understated avatar for her this year in back to back films. A special shout-out to her wardrobe and styling as well, that beautifully amplifies her grace.
The build up to the film’s climax and its eventual execution remains as predictable as the rest of the film too, and robs it completely of a cathartic high that it aims at. The only time when it comes close to that is during the heartfelt sequence of mother daughter bonding (and yes the inspiration from Paromitar Ekdin was clearly visible) over ‘O jiban tomar sathe‘ beautifully rendered by Iman Chakraborty on a composition of Indraadip Dasgupta. His rearrangement of Tagore’s ‘Khanchar Pakhi‘ is also nicely done, though the overall background score of the film is forgettable and pretty melodramatic in sync with the treatment of rest of the film. Malay Laha‘s editing deserves a special mention especially in the second half as he skillfully intersperses the therapy sessions with the journey of rediscovery of new found identities and friendships for the Mukherjees.
If such an overdramatized rendition of such an important topic finds so much popularity amongst the larger audience as one can see from the film’s box-office performance, it is deeply worrying. Just like the success of deeply regressive films of Nandita – Shibaprasad duo has been for long. It only means that most of our cine going audience have been so much conditioned by the tonality and pitch of the daily soaps every day, that the filmmakers will only have to borrow that language to hammer down the most sensitive and important messages back to them, just like patriarchy in various proportions has been hammered down into all our systems, often without our own conscious acknowledgement of the same.
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