Director: Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy
Writers: Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Kanan Gill
Cast: Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, Anirudh Acharya, Sudha Belavadi, Harshil Koushik, Ashok, Sonu Venugopal
Aachar & Co was marketed as a nostalgia trip, and it is that in many ways, but what stands out most is the story of a giggly, entitled Suma (essayed by the director herself) who becomes a woman of reasonable substance. Yes, there’s Bangalore of yore in the form of tree-lined roads, individual homes with gardens and small gates, and small touches like simple weddings and bridal makeup and laddoos for the feast, and Kammanahalli being considered the outskirts, but not much else to trigger nostalgia. The film could have worked in any era. Even the three gossiping aunties or BBC, played by Kalpana Rao, Shilpa Rudrappa and Sonu Venugopal, manage to lighten the proceedings only in parts.
Government engineer Madhusudhan Aachar (a suitably grim Ashok) and his wife Savithri (Sudha Belavadi) have 10 children, three boys and seven girls. The boys are supposed to become engineers and the girls good housewives (the film is set in the 60s). The children wish different things, though. One of the boys wants to become a sales representative (Raghu), another a theatre actor and the third gets a transfer to Delhi. The father is not really amused. The girls don’t really aspire for much except to get married to a good boy, and in Suma’s case, go to London, like her sister. And then, when Madhusudhan dies, life turns turtle for the family that was largely dependent on him. (The most obvious question is what happened to his insurance and pension, and did it not sustain the family to an extent.)
The second brother Raghu (a sensitive Harshil Koushik) takes on the mantle of the house, trying to get the girls married, before he dies too (when the camera focuses on the insurance papers, you just know it long before it happens), and the responsibility falls on Suma, who is still unmarried and dreaming of London, and her brother Jaggu (a sparkling Anirudh Acharya).
Suma is the kind of girl who grows up feeling that she’s meant to possess certain things and go a certain distance in life and society. She’s not really a likeable character, and Sindhu plays her that way too. When life changes and Suma begins from scratch, you feel her hesitation and embarrassment at having to do things she never intended to, like selling medicines door to door.
Eventually, you end up rooting for Suma as she discovers her inner goddess and sets about taking charge of the house. She learns to place herself last, and to be happy seeing others happy.
As a story, Aachar & Co is simple, narrated through the events taking place in a house and its people. But, where it falters is in the tone. Deaths happen and you don’t feel a thing. There’s success and you don’t feel a thing. Somewhere, the emotional connect is missing. You care for Suma because she’s on screen, but not really because the writing makes you feel for her. Many end up remaining one-note characters. Jaggu’s wife is a mighty interesting character — a double PhD who is tall but marries someone with an average job and shorter than her. You want to know more about her — surely, she is more than just an understanding, encouraging wife! Savithri is relegated to the background and does little but pray and pat her daughter’s head when she’s down. How did she react to all that life threw at her?
Raghu is a character with heft — he’s full of affection towards his sisters, but also loses his temper with Suma. When he yells at her in public, he knows enough to come back and apologise. He is able to handle it when his wife ticks him off for speaking rudely to his sister. But, his death too does not jolt you the way it should have, because the film is in a rush to move on. Some moments needed lingering.
Suma finds her redemption in pickle making. That for me is the story — the tale of a girl who became a successful businesswoman and went to London paying her fare. While her pickle-making skills are hinted at, you don’t see the sweat and toil that sees her transition from hand-delivered porcelain jars to homes and offices to bottles in store shelves. And so, that victory, while sweet, does not really touch you — like a mango pickle without tang.
Credit to Sindhu, though, for addressing the issue of domestic abuse through the sister Usha and her PhD husband, and not making a big deal of the divorce to follow.
Music by the hugely underrated Bindumalaini is precious, adding so much value while not intruding. The Bangalore Suprabatham song and the pickle song, in particular, linger. Cinematography is by Abhimanyu Sadanandan, and there’s a gentleness with which life moves — quite in keeping with the reputation India’s Silicon Valley had before the IT boom. The lovely costumes — half-saris, soft silks, printed silks — are by Inchara Suresh.
Eventually, the girls at home find something to do, other than become ‘just’ housewives. One rushes to her bank even on her wedding day. You can’t help but think of the numerous women who walked amid so many restrictions so that many of us could run today.