I have admired Aparna Sen for as long as I can remember. She was my favourite actress and even as a child, I found her infinitely smarter than the other more traditionally beautiful and popular actresses in Bengal. Her transition into direction was effortless and she gave us the ‘36 Chowringhee Lane‘ – a wonderfully poignant film about the loneliness of an elderly teacher and the selfishness of the next generation who take advantage of her goodness. She went on to write and direct some more fantastic films like ParomaMr. and Mrs. IyerThe Japanese Wife etc. I obviously wanted to watch her latest offering ‘Goynar Baksho’.

I have not read ‘Goynar Baksho’ the novel by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay. However, that was not a deterrent to my watching the film and I managed to catch a show during my short, full of work visit to Kolkata. Quite a few friends mentioned they had not watched the film because of mixed reviews from people who had seen it and I was interested in understanding what caused the mixed reviews.  

The story travels through the three women across three generations and depicts the inherent conflicts of those times in Bengal and East Pakistan, before, during and after the partition. The film opens with a narration that introduces Rashmoni – the central character of the film played by Mousumi Chatterjee. A young girl married off at the age of 11 and widowed in less than a year, Rashmoni is sent back to her father’s house only to spend the rest of her life there. The young, pampered daughter of the privileged family comes back to a life shorn of all colour and beauty – as befitting a widow in those times. The one thing she clings to is her box of jewels, filled to the brim. Through the passing decades, this box brings a smile to her face and she keeps a strict tab of its safety as well as contents. The rest of the family including her brothers, their sons and elder daughter in law covet the jewels in the box but cannot get anywhere near them as Pishima (Rashmoni) guards it with her life. 

The younger son of the family gets married to Somlata (Konkona Sen Sharma) – a young girl from an impoverished family. Lata’s entry into the family is greeted with scorn by Pishima. However, Lata manages to establish a kind of connection with her and is the first to comprehend Pishima’s silent demise. The fun part of the film starts with this demise. Pishima, though dead, cannot let go of her box of jewels and her ghost threatens Lata with dire consequences if she does not keep it hidden and safe. A massive hunt ensues since everyone is the family is desperate to get their hands on the box, but Pishima’s ghost protects the box as well as Lata’s secret. She keeps a strict tab on the box and punishes Lata severely on realizing that a necklace had been mortgaged to raise money. 

The film deals largely with Lata’s fortunes; her skilful handling of various members of the family; success in making a man out of her good natured but lazy and useless husband; a brief encounter with a mysterious stranger and ultimately raising a independant and spirited daughter. Chaitali (Srabanti Chatterjee), Lata’s daughter is a spitting image of Pishima and also buddies with her (ghost). Watch the movie to know how Chaitali inherits the box of jewels and what does with it.

For me, this is a very well made film that was great fun to watch. Aparna Sen pulls off her first ever attempt at comedy as brilliantly as she did the social conflicts and family dramas previously. I could understand people’s mixed reviews of the film because most of us tend to tag films into a particular genre. But this one has history mixed with comedy layered with romance and topped with a ghost story, making it absolutely impossible to slot into a familiar category! 

The high points of the film are fabulous performances by Mousumi Chatterjee andKonkona Sen SharmaMousumi was amazing in The Japanese Wife and has possibly outshone that performance with this one. Konkona’s gradual evolution from the shy young bride into a confident woman is as subtle as is effective. There are little touches of genius scattered through the film – dwindling fortunes of the family potrayed through gradual disappearance of antiques and artifacts, the mantle of complete irresponsibility worn so casually by the men of yore, the subtlety with which the Lata manages to save her business without shaming her in laws….and many more. 

I missed watching many of the good Bengali films that have been made in the past few years but am glad I could watch this in a theatre. Watching on the DVD just does not have the same charm, does it?

 

Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa May 2013

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