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|February 8, 2000||
Memories of another day
Shoma A Chatterji
Produced by Rajesh Agarwal, in this film, Sen has taken on the additional responsibility of playing one of the two major roles. She uses the flashback through the point-of-view exposition of Paromita (Rituparna Sengupta), once the younger daughter-in-law of this 'House of Memories.'
Paromita remembers her past relationship with Sanaka (Sen), her ex-mother-in-law, as she comes to attend the last rites of Sanaka. This flashback serves as visual identification of her memories. It offers permanent shifts between the past and the present, constantly overlapping the elements of time and space, all through the nostalgic eyes of Paromita.
Called House Of Memories in English, Paromitar Ek Din deals with the slowly flowering bond between the older woman and her daughter-in-law after Sanaka suddenly becomes a widow. Tiny filler-details -- like the younger woman applying a face-pack on the mother-in-law's face, the two ending their shopping spree at a restaurant where Paromita clandestinely offers Sanaka a plate of fish fry, Sanaka helping her grandchild to fly a kite on the terrace as Paromita watches happily with her spastic child in her arms, the two women reciting poems after a brief sparring match -- enrich the emotional texture of the film.
What are the bonds that bind them, apart from the fact that they are two women married into the same family, to father and son? There are two elements they have in common. One, both of them are not happy in their marriages. Two, Sanaka has a daughter who is a schizophrenic and Paromita's little boy is a spastic.
When Paromita announces that she is divorcing Sanaka's son Biru, to marry the filmmaker she met at the spastic school, Sanaka breaks down completely. She feels betrayed. But Paromita's mind is made up. She leaves and Sanaka dies a painful death of heartbreak and loneliness. The daughter-in-law comes back to nurse the older woman in her last days, the woman's face lights up for a moment, registering recognition.
The entire story unfolds in flashback which covers Paromita's emotional and psychological journey into a past that began 14 years ago and ended with Sanaka's death. The 'ek din' of Paromitar Ek Din actually stretches over this 14-year-span, from the day Paromita stepped into the extended household, a spacious mansion in North Calcutta slowly giving way to decay, like the people trapped within.
Like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, Sen leaves the duration rather opaque in the frame. She uses the flashback to reveal traits of the central character, Paromita, and tracing through her the character traits of her complement, Sanaka. The temporal, backward tendency is embedded in the story's progress.
However, in doing so, the supportive characters, except for Khuku, the schizophrenic, tend to appear rather plastic, flat, and one-dimensional. This is most evident in the characters of Deepa, the young new bride married to Paromita's ex-husband, and Monimoy (Soumitra Chatterjee), who plays the man who did not have the moral courage even to express his love for Sanaka, let alone marry her.
One does not know whether this is by accident or by deliberate design, but almost all of Sen's directorial films have male characters with flat shades of more grey than white. Even Rajeev Srivastava, who Paromita marries, is too much of a backslapping, hail-fellow-well-met guy to complement the serious, quiet and subtle personality of Paromita. "Yeh tumhare liye koyee nayee baat nahin hai (This is nothing new for you)" he says, without sensitivity, hinting at Paromita's pregnancy, when she cries on the mobile phone from Shraddha home, recalling her dead child.
There is a scene where the mother and daughter-in-law are shown soaping each other. Some critics have said that there is a possible lesbian shade in the love between Sanaka and Paromita. But this is incorrect. In extended Bengali families, women bathing and soaping each other is not uncommon.
The music (by Jyotishka Sengupta) is haunting. Also wonderful is the use of Rabindrasangeet mouthed by Khuku, who has spells of lucidity even as she shifts between total innocence and mental imbalance.The house itself -- with its long corridors, stained-glass windows with the plaster peeling off the walls, the polish wearing off from the furniture, Sanaka's mosquito net kept loose from one peg of her four-poster, the tiny TV set, the small pooja corner which is more mandatory than practised -- defines itself as an important character in the film.
But there are a few loopholes, without which, this would have been Sen's best film after 36, Chowringhee Lane. Though it has the finesse of a directorial hand that has honed its skills over many years, Paromitar Ek Din could dispense with three things which tend to dilute the intensity of the dramatic narrative.
One, the spastic element, as shown in the film, needs some brisk trimming. Two, the shots involving Indrani Haldar -- who plays herself -- underscoring the evolution of Rajeev as filmmaker are repetitive and unnecessary. And lastly, there's a needless prolonging of the closure with a crane-shot of the car winding its way through the bylanes of Calcutta. It would have been ideal had the director closed the film with Khuku feeding muri to the pigeons as she munches them herself, the notes of a Tagore song filling the expanse of the soundtrack and the screen.
The most striking portrayal in the film comes from debutante Sohini Sengupta as Khuku, ably supported by Sen herself as Sanaka and Rituparna Sengupta as Paromita.
All said and done, Paromitar Ek Din is a culture-specific Bengali film which reflects the transgenerational suppressed aggression in women within the patri-local family, exploding right into the politically correct face of the Bengali bhadralok.
The film makes one pity the patriarchal system that has consistently failed to recognise the subjectivity of women. To quote David Bordwell, "it presents a sophisticated fusion of an objective realism of texture with a subjective realism of structure."
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