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Upperstall Review



Goynar Baksho


Bengali, Drama, 2013, Color

The story revolves around Rashmoni, a feisty, bold and modern-thinking child-widow and her obsession for the jewellery box she had to leave behind when she died. She keeps haunting the house she lived in as a ghost to guard over her jewels and the box they are stored in. She blocks every attempt by other family members to gain access to this box filled with jewels and is very angry when her niece Somlata married into the family, hypothecates some items to begin a business in saris. Somlata's business in saris is so successful that it rescues the large extended family from financial ruin. Somlata's daughter Chailtali inherits the box when she grows up. Through these three women, the film reveals how the Indian woman's relationship with jewellery has changed from one generation to the next. Finally, a happy Rashmoni's ghost goes away when Chaitali gifts the jewels away to a good cause.

Aparna Sen's directorial stature in world cinema did not really need the huge media hype that began with the shooting of the film and ended with the carnival-like premiere this week. The actual film reinforces this specially considering that Goynar Baksho is her first 'period' film that spans important phases of Bengal's socio-political history from 1949 to 1972. The female voice-over of Chaitali that narrates the story is used as a marker. Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay is one of the best contemporary litterateurs in Bengali literature. He is also the most popular among filmmakers. But his films are not easy to place on celluloid. Goynar Baksho is no exception.

The film is brilliant but only up to a point. The hero' of the story is not really Rashmoni but the jewel box. Her life revolves around it and she is not prepared to part with it even after her death. The jewels are the purpose of her life and death because for her, they represent in concrete form, her repressed sexual desires she could not enjoy as a child-widow. It is a metaphor for all Rashmonis who, as child widows, were deprived of every joy of living - beauty, food, colour, jewels, sex, relationships, everything. It is also a sociological metaphor for the changing role in plays in the lives of three women - Rashmoni, Somlata and Chaitali in three different ways that offers a sociological reading into the evolving relationship between women and jewels. Rashmoni is attached to the jewels because that is her only possession. Somlata uses some of it for a worthy cause ' saving her husband's family from certain financial ruin. Chaitali in the 1970s, does not wear jewels and has no use for them except for a political cause - the struggle for independence in Bangladesh in which her lover is an active participant.

Moushumi Chatterjee gives her career-best performance as Rashmoni, punctuating the anger, the jealousy, the bonhomie, the sarcasm, the joy of being able to control people as a ghost with tiny flashes of pain and joy. She strides across the screen in her white wig, a ghost-like halo around her, perching on a wall, sticking a thumb out in amusement or pulling at Somlata's hair without being seen. Take for instance, the scene where she transports herself in the sari shop Somlata has named after her. Her eyes well up in tears when she finds that an 'unlettered, insignificant widow who no one remembers has now been archived with a shop named after her.' When Somlata offers her some mutton, she says, "does being a ghost mean I am no longer a widow?" She foams at the mouth in anger and disgust, throwing abusive words at the world out there. On the other hand, she eggs Somlata on to have a torrid affair with her silent lover who brings a rose to her door everyday. "A husband is like an everyday sari," she says. "The other man is like a fancy sari! It is an award-worthy performance complete with the dialect intact.

Konkona Sen Sharma comes a close second as Somlata, a traditional daughter-in-law of a feudal family who takes control when she finds that the men while away their time in fishing or playing chess or fighting partition cases in court. She comes from a poor family, is timid and diffident because she has a stammer. But within that timid interior hides a woman who knows how to run a business and even how to indulge in intelligent promotional strategy. There is the telling sequence where she wins back the confidence of an old customer who brings in a relative by giving away the sari as a wedding gift for his daughter. She switches on her feminine charms, ready to be drawn upon as and when necessary.

Srabonti inspite of trying very hard is a terrible miscast both as the younger Rashmoni pining for a servant as well as Chaitali who rides a two-wheeler to meet her lover while the grand-aunt's ghost takes a piggy-back ride with her. Manasi Sinha as Somlata's mother-in-law, Aparajit Addy as her older sister-in-law and the actors in the male roles are all very good. Sudipta Chakraborty, though in a blink-and-you-miss-it bit cameo, is outstanding.

Debajyoti Mishra's musical score both for the songs and the background track covers an entire span - a Bangladeshi folk number used as the theme music, a modern rap-style song to complement the scene of saris, a Tagore number, the works. Tanmoy Chakraborty's art direction captures the period with creative authenticity while Soumik Halder must have had the time of his life playing around with light, mellow colours like earthy reds, ochres, browns and yellows with blue as relief during the day and the shimmering nights after sundown. The top angle shots of the two old cousins playing chess by the pond, or the two brothers fishing with their backs to the camera are eloquent. Special mention must be made to the collage of scenes where the camera pans across artefacts as they get sold - a huge chandelier, an antique, four-poster bed, other pieces of antique furniture, statues, paintings, portraits, clocks which begin to disappear as the women of the house watch on helplessly.

The first half of the film is brilliantly presented, filled with intrigue, layered emotions of greed, jealousy, passion and obsession. However, there are a few serious technical gaffes one does not expect in an Aparna Sen film. Rashmoni's 'dead body' lying on the bed can at times be seen breathing with a heaving chest. She even blinks once. Somlata's foot gets a bad cut from the mirror that shatters on the floor. Yet, when she comes back to her room, she walks normally and there is no hint of blood. Her stammer is inconsistent but that might be due to her diffidence and timidity which she gets over when she is successful.

The second half however, begins to totter, then falters and then collapses. When and how did Somlata's admirer see her to fall so hopelessly in love with her? It is difficult to digest Somlata returning home from the shop late in the evening through lonely spaces way back in the 1950s or so. When and how did Rafiq (Koushik Sen), her Muslim 'lover' write and deliver his poems to her? In this sub-plot, one could not find either 'love' or 'story.' It is understandable that Rashmoni's ghost switches loyalty from Somlata to her daughter Chaitali soon after Chaitali is born. But why do the men disappear completely from the film after Chaitali is born? One is familiar with Aparna Sen's marginalization and/or negativisation of male characters in many of her films. But simply throwing them out is abrupt and unexplained.

Chaitali's love story drags on and on just to justify the final destination of the jewels and the box. Her trips to her lover's hiding place with other mukti-joddhas, her trying to nurse one of the sick joddhas in vain, drag on, failing to add any kind of depth to Chaitali's relationship with Benu (Koushik Roy). Goynar Baksho, therefore, inspite of carrying the brilliant Aparna Sen signature, is marred by a rambling script that falters half way through and has neither logic nor cohesion nor drama.

Upperstall review by: Shoma A Chatterji





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