Aparna Sen‘s contemporary take on the Tagore classic, that she has named Ghawre Baire Aaj is an unabashedly political film. So much so that I was almost wondering as I sat through the film, as to how difficult would have been the film’s certification process. So much so that much before Sen would have finally completed the film would she know that many would outright reject her film just because they don’t agree with the film’s politics. In a country that has never been this politically divided before, just that Ghawre Baire Aaj exists makes a strong enough statement. It takes a lot of courage to just be there. As a viewer, I just wished that the film was as flawless in its execution as clear it was on its intent, and didn’t compromise on the emotional quotient to meet its aggressive political ambition.
There is nothing to talk about the premise of the film because we all have either read Tagore’s story or watched Ray’s film or done both. Sen just takes from the novel and places it on a very contemporary context where the ideological divide between the elitist Nikhilesh and his revolutionary buddy Sandip is clearly based on liberal armchair socialism and hardcore right wing extremism. There is also the context of playing the class upliftment card where the orphan dalit girl Brinda (renamed from Bimala) is now socially ‘reformed’ by education and marriage into a high class household. And then there is the juxtaposition of the larger political and social narrative, right from trouble over a disputed site between extreme nationalist and secular forces, religion based mob lynching, murder of Gauri Lankesh, candle light marches at India Gate to student politics and radicalization.
It is all rather bold as a concept, but unfortunately does not get executed very well. In an attempt to make the film too accessible, Sen overstates things and resorts to templates and stereotypes. So the right wing Hindu leaders are as one note and caricaturish, as is the cardboard cast white bearded socially woke professor. Everything is over-expressed and made too simplistic. A Sandip has to explicitly call out the hypocrisy of the elitist Nikhilesh and his family to ‘brahmanize‘ the dalit girl. The social activist in the remote forest has to be called Shweta’di. The smoking pipe of Nikhilesh has to be the notional prop to depict his elitism or Sandip has to address Brinda as Bee, to spoon feed the direct translation for Mokkhi Rani. These are just representative observations and the film is full of such obvious tropes. Our expectation from such a seasoned filmmaker as Sen is far more nuanced and deeper language of cinema, because over years she should have had an assurance on the maturity level of her audience, who are capable of delayering her films on their own and add their own interpretation to it.
However, all is not blatantly lost in the political chaos. Sen does get her cinematic language right in the other core area of the film – i.e. depicting complicated relationships at a more human level. The best parts of the film are when she organically builds up the chemistry between Brinda and Sandip and seamlessly makes us believe that impulsive attraction between two very matured individuals is often above logical reasoning. Or the way she lays down the foundation of Brinda’s assimilation into Nikhilesh’s world ensures that the final moment of truth between them in the film is handled with utmost sensitivity and grace, and hence that sequence possibly will remain the most poignant memory of the film. Some tasteful work on the cinematography, production design and background score (+ two beautiful songs) further enhances the mood of those moments. Sadly, the bond and the tension between Nikhilesh and Sandip does not flow that well, and doesn’t create the intended depth in conflict which is the core to the film. As a result, a lot of things in and around them eventually become superficial, and do not reach the intensity that the story demands. In a way, the overt focus on its politics robs the film off the time and space it should have invested in the undercurrents of the extramarital drama, which in turn dilutes the impact and eventual outcome of the political conflict.
One major reason for this overall inconsistent experience with the film is also its uneven performances. Surprisingly, the strongest performance comes from Tuhina Das (I was actually most tentative about her post the trailer, but she surprises and how!). She makes Brinda all flesh and flood, her background story beautifully explains her mannerisms (which she maintains most consistently in the film as compared to the rest of the cast), and other than a couple of scenes (where her reaction to Nikhilesh’s discomfort about Sandip rather feels put on and forced), she holds a very steady ground. Anirban Bhattacharya is also good as Nikhilesh, especially in his scenes with Brinda and plays out the classy urban socialite with a kind of graceful restraint that had gone missing in most of his performances this year. Relatively Jisshu Sengupta pales in comparison, more so because he is possibly not a right fit as the dashing, firey revolutionary who is supposedly seductively irresistible in his charm. The rest of the supporting cast is also tepid (barring Sreenanda Shankar who does well in an aptly cast role and I hope to see her more often on screen), and don’t lend any additional depth to the film.
Ghawre Baire Aaj could have been so much more. No, every film doesn’t need to be perfect or technically superlative like The Japanese Wife or Mr. and Mrs. Iyer to always make the mark. I absolutely loved Iti Mrinalini with all its imperfections. It had a beautiful heart in its core, it had a soul. The problem with Ghawre Baire Aaj is that it tries to prioritise matters of the head over those of the heart way too much, and somewhere messes up with the soul in the process. Sigh!
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