Director: Aparna Sen
Cast: Tuhina Das, Jisshu Sengupta, Anirban Bhattacharya
In 1916, Tagore wrote Ghare Baire (The Home and the World), in which ideology, friendship and forbidden love get mixed up. Set during the early days of the Swadeshi movement, it's about the kind, progressive – and privileged – Nikhilesh, who loves his country but doesn't necessarily take part in it. His wife Bimala, despite her husband's encouragements, has never stepped out of the house, never been with a man other than him. Confined to the domestic interiors, she takes piano lessons from an Anglo-Indian lady. Sandip, Nikhilesh's friend, who comes to stay at their house, is a rising leader of the Swadeshi; his passion for the movement stirs something within Bimala.
In 1984, Satyajit Ray made a film on Tagore's story, a piece of work that seems to remind us about the dangers of militant nationalism. Now Aparna Sen has made one, titled Ghawre Bairey Aaj, set in present day – an update that seems timely.
Sen has said that she has always been drawn toward the source text and the film (for which at one point she was being considered for Bimala's role), but never got around to do anything until two years ago, the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh gave her a jolt. She dreamt about a contemporary version of Ghare Baire.
It could have been a great way to explore if it's possible to create a dialogue between the two sides of the great political divide of our times: the right wing and the liberal. But the idea doesn't translate to the film. Ghawre Bairey Aaj reimagines the story in present day Delhi. Nikhilesh (Anirban Bhattacharya) is the editor of an online, probably left-leaning, news portal. I'm trying to remember if Bimala is shown doing anything other than being a good hostess to her husband's best friend, Sandip (Jisshu Sengupta), a right-wing political upstart, whose reputation as a charmer precedes him.
How are we to believe that a young Delhi woman who went to Stephens, and was brought up by a liberal family, hasn't yet met a man in her life other than her own husband? The contrivances keep piling up. Sen gives Bimala and Sandip Bihari origins and makes them talk in Bangla, but doesn't know what to do with their accents.
One of the main foundations of Bimala's character – in the text as well as the new film – is how guarded and confined her life is, which is why Sandip's arrival lights such a fire. But how are we to believe that a young Delhi woman who went to Stephen's, and was brought up by a liberal family, hasn't yet met a man in her life other than her own husband?
The contrivances keep piling up. Sen gives Bimala and Sandip, Bihari origins and makes them speak Bangla, but doesn't know what to do with their accents. One moment he is saying it correctly, the next she is slipping into an Utpal-Dutt-playing-Maganlal-Meghraj-accent. (Bhattacharya – measured, quieter – has the more solid presence).
These are baffling choices by a director as seasoned as Sen, whose earlier work has shown a refined sensibility. Ghawre Bairey Aaj is a broad, simplistic film with neither the pleasures of a broad, simplistic film, nor the room for the nuance and complexity of the subject. At one point, Nikhilesh, who Sandip accuses of being an armchair socialist, actually rests on an armchair; and the colour of Sandip's kurta is, well, saffron.