Director, Writer: Shantanu Ganesh Rode
Cast: Sayali Sanjeev, Suvrat Joshi
There certainly is a place in our time — poisoned by irony, preferring heroism as violent over heroism as valium — for a cinema of sincerity and kindness, one that refuses to create villains in order to garland heroes. It is in this place that Goshta Eka Paithanichi, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Marathi, finds itself swimming rather tenderly. A film with no villains; a film which could have very easily been about villains.
The story, like its title ‘Tale Of A Paithani’, is so simple, you would think it more novella-like than novel-like, wondering how they wove a complete two-hour film out of it. Indrayani (Sayali Sanjeev), a poor tailor, is given a Paithani sari by one of her rich patrons, to stitch and do fall beading for. The sari costs Rs. 1.25 lakh and has the texture of clouds. A softness that is aspirational as much as it is poetic. A status symbol as much as an aesthetic reprieve. Handmade in looms, warped and wefted over months, the labour behind the sari is given a passing glance in the film; labour whose wretchedness is softly haloed, made beady-eyed, of poor artisans losing their sight and taking months to craft what only the rich can wear.
One night, on the insistence of her injured husband, Sujit (Suvrit Joshi), Indrayani wears the sari and when her son throws a ball in a fit of juvenile rage, oil spills onto the sari, staining it. Unable to fix this stain — including using flour, powder, soda, cotton, bread — Indrani decides to buy the same Paithani and replace it. The money causes a tailspin in the family’s finances, but Sujit is the kind of husband who is always chin up, who yields to demands, who refuses regret. As the sari was made by hand, there are only three copies of it, and Indrayani goes in pursuit of those Paithani saris hoping one of their owners would be willing to part with it — from Yewale to Pune to Sangli and even the Konkan. The bus connects her, taking her places. There is a brief scratch to her safety, but it is swept under the rug of a film that is insistent on giving Indrayani the arc of power, on giving the world it is set in the sheen of protective love. For the most part, she is a woman arcing her way through public, with full confidence that nothing ill will befall her. The people she comes across — women, old men — are always willing to push her towards honesty, kindness, and a fond (even radical) love for life.
Yet for the most part, the film continues the patronising tradition of seeing the poor as simple, honest and kind. There is a scene towards the end where the rich test the honesty of the poor — and the poor pass this trial, thereby reinforcing their moral credentials. That to be poor is to not have money, a car, or property, but to have one’s respect intact. The film has taken a coping mechanism and mistaken it for a culture.
You can raise your eyebrows, arguing that this isn’t about a tradition of seeing the poor as virtuous as much as a film that refuses to tincture anyone with villainy. It is a kind, sincere — perhaps, even over-sincere — portrait of people without any trace of double meaning or smirking wit or seething rage. Indrayani’s poverty is, thus, never allowed to look or feel grisly, never allowed to emanate a desperation, never allowed to leak into meltdowns. That she keeps travelling in buses for days, unplanned days, and yet seems to have a change of ironed saris isn’t given narrative space to explain. That is just how it is. A world that is kind to its poor, as the poor are kind to the rest. Even the rich woman whose Paithani was ruined and for whom Indrayani marches through Maharashtra, is characterised as stern, never mean-spirited. This is not a film that finds meaning in blaming or catharsis through confrontation. Indrayani could have easily blamed her husband for insisting on her wearing the sari. Or the child for the tantrum and flung ball. Yet, no fingers get pointed. Because that would involve a movie that treats humans with the viscous tropes of human dramas and spotlighting the failings of a human. The beauty and limitation of Goshta Eka Paithanichi is in its resistance to this as it lulls quietly into the distance.