Anjan Dutt’s Aami Ashbo Phirey (2018) is the story of shattered souls and their complicated and interconnected lives. The film is quite cathartic in the way it handles themes of healing and difficult turns in relationships with hauntingly melodious music. As we watch the film, it is impossible to ignore how emotional repression and the image of the home are intertwined, which is the topic of discussion in this article.
In the film, Ranajay (Anjan Dutt) is seen from the very first in the frustrating and confusing position of trying to deal with his twenty-five year old son, Sanju, having raped a woman in his college. He tries a myriad ways to confront this truth, sometimes painting his son as a foreign entity and sometimes mulling about ‘the reasons rapes happen’. Dutt in the character of Ranajay bemoans the patriarchal society that sees rape as an aberration with which they themselves have nothing to do. Such people will condemn rape but fail to see their own complicity in its existence. Therefore, while his ex-wife and Sanju’s mother, Mala, blames him for their son’s condition – “Kintu o ogulo shikheche tomar theke, Rano, o ganja chorosh khete shikheche tomar theke”(But he has learnt all this from you, Rano, he has learnt to smoke pot and hash from you) – Ranajay himself keeps underlining that nothing he does could contribute to his son being a rapist. He admits that he engages in substance abuse at home, and that he and his wife had a very abusive relationship, but that is a reality many children face: do they all become sexual offenders? He might sound convincing but soon realizes the fault in his perspective.
While the whole city is seen debating along with Sanju’s parents on ‘why rape happens’ or why Sanju committed the act, there are moments in which Ranajay is confronted with the answer. The culprit is his own toxic masculinity expressed through physical violence towards his son because he wanted to be a cricketer and Ranajay wanted him to be a musician. Mala’s lover and live-in partner, Deepak, points this out to him and, before that, the audience gets a glimpse of it in the way he gets physically aggressive with someone on the street who snaps at him for interfering in their conversation. The home itself is, therefore, the birthplace of a rapist. Jeremy Posadas, in “Teaching the Cause of Rape Culture: Toxic Masculinity” (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 2017), argues that rape culture is a product of the violent behaviour inculcated in young men that social scientists term ‘toxic masculinity’. Therefore, “if we want to eradicate sexual violence, we must transform the apparatuses by which boys are subjectified into toxically masculine men”. (Posadas, 2017, p. 178) Sanju being a rapist is, therefore, a culturally embedded behavioural problem that is a more normal consequence of Ranajay’s inculcation of toxic masculinity into him (through physical violence and forced emotional repression) than he thinks it is.
Emotional repression at home builds up to cause violent eruptions in some characters of Dutt’s film. For instance, when Oona’s (Sauraseni Mitra) mother keeps verbally abusing her everyday because she does not want to do a job and instead stays at home all day, Oona leaves home to go and live with her lover; and when Ranjana (Darshana Banik) is unable to take the pressure from her father and lawyer, who want her to testify in court because they want her to ‘prove to the world she is not lying about her rape’, she resorts to an act of self-immolation. Some of Dutt’s characters leave home or refuse to go home after repressed emotions have reached a breaking point. For example, Deepak spends the night at a bar and then in his own house, lying to Mala that he was overseeing a project in Durgapur; Gargi (Swastika Mukherjee) refuses to go home and attend to a client at her clinic, lying to them that she was with another client even though she was also at a bar; and even Ranajay leaves home and everyone he knew at one point in the story. Therefore, home is not only seen as a site of repression and pain, it is also the only place this happens. Naturally, the solution the characters see is to leave home in some way or refuse to go home for as long as possible.
Judith Sixsmith, in “The Meaning of Home: An Exploratory Study of Environmental Experience” (Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1986), explains the various symbolic manifestations of ‘home’ in the lives of various individuals. For the characters in the film, the quality of relationships with people at home determine if the home is fit to live in, or even be called home. (Sixsmith 1986, p. 287) The characters in this film are mostly admirably resilient. So, they soon find healthier ways of dealing with the violent significance the idea of home holds in their lives. And they do this by changing homes in terms of which relationships they find qualitatively better. They go as far as to form unconventional families and escape to a more emotionally salubrious home. So, we see Oona going to live with and then eventually marrying and having a baby with her lover, a man who was her mother’s ex-boyfriend and therefore, old enough to be her father; we see Mala deciding to continue living with Deepak at her paternal home instead of marrying him; and we also see Ranjana finding compassion in her boyfriend, whom she had refused to see for so long but who, in the end, helped her heal, and not her own father.
Anjan Dutt not only gives the audience a new way of healing but also offers alternative ways of perceiving the concept of ‘home’. To do that, his film honours such relationships that might be stigmatised in the eyes of Indian middle-class morality and normalises them, granting ‘homes’ to those lives that are oppressed by more conventional family structures and relationships. Who knows, such changes might lead to more music and less violence!
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.