talking movies

In Bengali movie ‘Ahare Mon’, love comes in all shapes and forms

Pratim D Gupta’s film was released on June 22.

The Bengali words “ahare mon” roughly translate to “poor heart”. But “mon” also means mind – the word denotes both the emotional and the cognitive. Matters of the mon are thus a tricky affair, something only the most assured can negotiate. Pratim D Gupta does this successfully in Ahare Mon, released on June 22.

When Ahare Mon was announced as “the new film from the writer-director of Machher Jhol”, I was immediately curious. The 2017 food-themed movie had been special to me – it was the first Bengali film I had watched with my daughter in a theatre. Even her five-year-old self could sense the filial bond at the core of this film named after fish curry. The film stayed with her for a while. While occasionally having her own machher jhol-bhat after returning home from school in the following weeks, she would remember the attractive variations of it that she had seen on the big screen!

But in Ahare Mon, Gupta serves a very different dish. He offers four stories that run parallel, coming together in a surprise twist at the end. The stories trace unusual relationships – between a frequent flyer and an immigration officer, a dying teenager and her screen idol, two charming crooks from different socio-economic backgrounds and two residents at an old-age home.

While the film’s attempt to bring the stories together seems inorganic, the structural unity of the plot is less important than its philosophical one, in the nature of the bonds between the characters. Each story explores different shades of love at different stages of life.

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Ahare Mon (2018).

The film also reminded me of two much-loved movies of the previous decade: Richard Curtis’s Love Actually (2003) and Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro (2007), which too linked individual tales of romance together in one overarching plot.

Like these films, Ahare Mon also has an ensemble cast. But there are subtle, though important, differences. Love Actually, coming in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, stressed the value of love over hate against the backdrop of Christmas festivities. Life in a Metro, on the other hand, was as much about the city of Mumbai and what it exacts from its inhabitants as it was about the love. As Irrfan Khan’s Monty tells Konkona Sen Sharma’s Shruti in film: “Yeh sheher hume jitna deta hai, badle mein use kayi zyada humse le leta hain” (This city takes from us much more than it gives).

In Ahare Mon, it is difficult to choose a favourite among the stories, thanks to pitch-perfect performances by an incredibly talented cast. Most of them have worked in the director’s previous films and bring a comfortable ease to the characters they portray. Chitrangada Chakraborty makes a striking debut as the terminally ill Titli, who is madly in love with the superstar, Dev. Ritwick Chakraborty is adorable as the seasoned crook Michael Tendulkar who finds a surprising mate in Parno Mitra’s Suzie Q. There is a bubbly innocence about their bond that is missing in the teenager’s story, which is overshadowed by an imminent death.

Anjan Dutta and Mamata Shankar bring a measured mellowness to their performances as two senior citizens abandoned by their children who find companionship in one another. The veterans have performed together frequently, since their first joint appearance in Mrinal Sen’s Kharij (1982), and their chemistry hasn’t waned one bit with time. Each brings their unique flavour to their character. For instance, Shakar infuses dignity and pathos into her Charulata Dutta, who, like her literary namesake from Rabindranath Tagore’s short story Nastanirh, finds true love outside marriage. She is able to reveal this long-held secret only to Dutta’s Barun Babu.

The most memorable story, however, is that of Paoli Dam’s Ramona and Adil Hussain’s Purnendu Pahari. One would imagine there is very little in a staid, middle-aged immigration officer that would attract a young, successful, independent woman. But she is drawn to him when, after an argument, he apologises for his mistake and praises her forthrightness. Subsequently, they interact regularly during her frequent trips out of the country. She starts enjoying their conversations so much that she manoeuvres the queues to ensure she’s interviewed by him at the airport.

Adil Hussain in 'Ahare Mon'. Credit: AVMA Media LLP
Adil Hussain in 'Ahare Mon'. Credit: AVMA Media LLP

Hussain is unforgettable as a scheduled caste immigration officer, burdened early in life with an ailing widowed mother and doomed to loneliness. Purnendu has a way with words, and is given the best lines in the film. In opening of Love Actually, David says, “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think of the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport” – because of the love that people spontaneously display while welcoming their dear ones. Purnendu is moved to a similar reflection during a conversation with his colleagues, where they all complain about their dull jobs. Unlike them, he likes his work. He loves seeing the play of emotions on the travellers’ faces – excited when they are about to embark on a journey and somewhat tired but satisfied upon return, enriched by new experiences.

It is this ability of his to look into other’s lives that makes him extraordinary. More than love or chemistry, theirs is a story of empathy and compassion – much like the film itself.

That distinction is very fine, something that many might miss. But the film is essentially about the deep understanding between people, even when the romantic love is not reciprocal. It is this compassion that makes Barun Babu pledge to find Charulata’s lost love, Titli’s elderly companions in the hospital share her obsession about Dev, and even the young crooks’ plan to steal to help a poor family.

Romantic love has been done to death in films – probably because that’s the only place where it still exists in that form. But Ahare Mon is a rare movie that explores the beauty of love that comes in all shapes and forms, and in the human bonds that help make life bearable.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.