Now this writer has always been a Sen fan, having enjoyed all her films from 36 Chowringhee Lane to Paromitar Ek Din to Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, but despite the expectations came away mighty impressed.
Rashmoni, widowed tragically at the age of 12, comes to live with her brothers in their family home. Now, silver-haired and short-tempered, Rashmoni (Moushmi Chatterjee, delightfully wicked) clings possessively to her jewellery box that holds her stree-dhan (dowry). The bahus (her nephews' wives) eye the box longingly, but the matriarch is one up on them.
And when Rashmoni dies quite suddenly, she comes back as a ghost to make sure no one lays a hand on her beloved box. She finds the perfect ally to see this through— the shy, stammering newly-wed Somlata (Konkona Sen Sharma, masterful as always) who walks with her eyes lowered and steps hesitant.
Adapted from a story by Shirsendu Mukhopadhyay, the film traces India’s history through the lives of the protagonists. From the ‘40s, to post-Independence India, to the Bangladesh Liberation War, we see history through the three generations of our characters – Rashmoni, Somlata and Chaitali (Somlata’s daughter, played by Srabanti Chatterjee).
We also notice the changes in society as seen through the characters. The time in ’49 when a man is desperately trying to buckle his suspenders, complaining that the British have gone but have left behind their clothing. From a time when a woman’s life started and ended with marriage, to Chaitali questioning as she rides back on her scooter, why marriage should be the only goal of a person’s life. The state of widows, no matter how young, forced to lead sub-human lives is heart-breaking.
The women are decidedly the wise ones in the family, but often derided as being foolish by the men. From Somlata who gently guides her husband and helps him start a business, to her practical and straight-talking mother-in-law, to Pashima who is forward-thinking and a rebel with a great sense of humour.
Indeed, the film’s highlight is the sweet-sour equation between Rashmoni and Somlata. As a foul-mouthed ghost who mostly admonishes Somlata, she also softens and asks her about love-making, and outrageously encouraging her to have an extra-marital affair. The hilarious altercations between these two, leads to an unlikely friendship— between a ghost and a timid daughter-in-law, between two generations of women bound by a box.
The male characters are interestingly moulded as well. Consider the two elderly patriarchs of the family. The two brothers are fighting a court case for their ancestral home, but often play chess together and prefer traveling together to the court to save money.
Among all the seriousness, there’s always a dollop of fun around. From the Dr.Seuss-style opening credits to the humour brought in by Rashmoni’s mischievous ghost.
Interestingly, the three generations of women are not just bound by the box—there are other connections too, like Chaitali’s freedom-fighter beau has a connection with Rashmoni’s lover, and is coincidentally holed up in a home that once belonged to her mother’s admirer, Rafique.
And as you enjoy the story and connecting the dots, the cinematography, art direction and musical score fill up the senses. The second half does tend to drag a bit, but that’s nitpicking in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film.
Go ahead, enjoy this deliciously quaint story full of humour and heart— the story of a Goynar Baksho and the three generations of women who held it.
Rating: Four stars