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Upperstall Review




Bengali, Drama, 2008, Color

Cast And Crew

Malini (Rituparna Sengupta is a photo-journalist specializing in stories that focus on the dead while Urmila Sanyal (Rati Agnihotri), a middle-aged, high-profile socialite, is a committed social worker who runs an NGO for oppressed women living in the margins of society. Malini idolises this woman she has not met and is bent on doing a photo-biography for the magazine she works with, the text to be given by Rajat (Ferdaus), her fiancé, the only scion of an extremely affluent family. Malini meets Urmila when she goes to photograph a young woman who has committed suicide because of the constant physical and mental abuse her husband subjected her to. The dead girl had come to Urmila’s NGO for help. Urmila forces the attending police officer to arrest the husband. A fascinated Malini decides to capture Urmila in her multi-faceted persona as a happy wife, a successful social activist and a celebrity in the social circuit, on camera. As the two-way process between the photographer and her subject begins, a sense of bonding is created between the two. But Rajat is so embroiled in his father’s business that he just cannot get down to write the textual complement to Malini’s photographic story on Urmila. Malini goes about her work on her first ‘live’ subject, and discovers that all that she captures on camera are not what they appear to be. Along the way, she also discovers shocking truths about her personal life she would never had known had she not become pregnant during a holiday with Rajat forced on her by the two families to make her ‘get familiar’ with her future in-laws. She opens up a hornet’s nest when she announces her decision to keep the child inspite of tremendous pressure on her by her mother (Alokananda Roy), her scheming brother (Dipankar De) and Rajat. With her back to the wall, she now turns to Urmila and is shocked when she too, says that she ought to abort the unborn child...

Aainaate weaves an unusual tale of female bonding but spoils the slow and steady build-up by ending the film with a melodramatic twist that could have been done away with.

The camera opens on a beach and then backtracks to capture a litter of dead bodies lying ashore. A bespectacled young photographer in jeans and a shirt keeps clicking on her camera, trying to hold the images of these bodies in deep freeze. Malini is a photojournalist who has not taken any live pictures ever since she captured her father on camera as a little girl when he lay dead on the streets, a victim of a freak accident. She wants to switch channels to click live people but is in search of her iconic subject – Urmila Sanyal, a social activist, a fighter of women’s causes, a happily married housewife and a high-profile socialite to boot. Her dream is fulfilled when her editor commissions her to do a bio-piece on the celebrated lady.

The relationship between the two women is understood through their respective interactions with other members close to them. Urmila’s understanding relationship with her husband is juxtaposed against Malini’s complementary relationship with her wealthy fiancé Rajat on the one hand and with her mother and kid sister on the other. Layer by slow layer, Duulal Dey peels off the complexities of these relationships, laying bare several unpalatable truths about social work, about the true face of women who run NGOs and also socialize at high-end parties, about the theatrically designed ‘politically correct’ relationship between Urmila and her barrister husband, about the fragility of love between Malini and Rajat when she finds herself pregnant. Malini’s life becomes a spider’s web of complications and traps she cannot come out of. How does Urmila respond to Malini’s crisis?

The script does more justice in fleshing out Malini’s commitment to photojournalism than to Urmila’s social work. Considering the whole truth, this marginalization stands the test of reason. Juxtaposed against these two strong and powerful women are the weaker links in the story – Malini’s fiancé Rajat, her flippant and frivolous younger sister, her rather unsympathetic and wimpy mother, Rajat’s snobbish father and Malini’s diabolic and exploitative uncle.

Rati Agnihotri fleshes out Urmila with characteristic dignity, punctuated towards the end with her double-faced morality that shocks Malini enough to turn away in quiet disgust. Dipankar De’s villainous uncle is subtle and controlled. The kid sister looks too old to move around in frocks and pretend to be much younger than the camera makes her look. Ferdaus’ Rajat needs a lot of polishing to do. But all this is cancelled out with Rituparna Sengupta’s brilliant interpretation of a committed photojournalist who is as disturbed by her professional encounters with death as she is with the problems structured into her first ‘live’ subject. She looks beautifully tanned, a very good touch to add credibility to her extensive fieldwork as photographer, and is not once overdressed for the character she portrays. Soumitra Chatterjee as Urmila’s husband adds the right touch of caustic soda to his passing comments on marriage, on life, on the role of ‘drama’ in his life, and on his wife’s multifaceted talents.

Aseem Bose’s cinematography in the intimate love scenes between Rituparna and Ferdaus captures sensuality without making the scenes voyeuristic. The location shots too, are very good. The ‘dead’ bodies in the film look too fresh and posed to be ‘dead.’ The choreography in the felicitation function for Urmila is simple, and very good because it is made to look amateurish. Malini shown to be a victim of sexual abuse as a little girl lends credibility to her confused state of mind and her general apathy for men when she grows up. Another good touch is Malini’s camera suddenly failing her when she tries to click Urmila with a completely changed perspective on the older woman and the true nature of her ‘social commitment.’ Rajat not quite getting down to write the textual complement to Malini’s photo-biography of Urmila. is another good touch handled with subtlety.

Too many song sequences between the lover pair shot rather unimaginatively are the negative points of the film, more so because neither the music, nor the lyrics, belongs to Malini’s character, her approach to life, and her ideology. The editing too, is uneven and jarring. Ferdaus could have done with a different hair-do because the one he sports in the film is quite funny. The dialogue is pithy, mostly serious, sometimes spiked with double entendre, and intelligent. The screenplay needed to be tighter, with several of the song sequences clipped out of the film to make its message come across clearly and strongly.

As the film draws to a close, again on the beach at dusk, showing the two women embracing each other in a cliché coincidence, one wonders what the director wants to depict through this film. At one point, one feels he has tried to make a celluloid statement against abortion. Placed differently, it could have been Malini’s freedom to choose to keep her baby instead of aborting it. But this does not hold true either because an earlier suicide has already established motherhood as the ultimate fulfillment for a woman. The narrative keeps contradicting itself at several points that do not jell with the director’s argument that the film “is based on social injustice committed against women over the years” without explaining what made Urmila discard her baby in the first place!

Aainaate is a reasonably okay film, which, with proper handling and treatment, could have been a much better film than it has turned out to be. One desperately wishes directors would stop riding piggyback on some woman’s cause or another without really believing in them. One is forced to ask that famous Freudian question to the director – “What does a woman really want?” Does he know the answer?

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji

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