I wanted to write this blog last week to coincide with the birthday of Rituparno Ghosh (August 31st), an accomplished director of Bengali Cinema; but it also happened to be Krishna Jayanthi, the day Lord Krishna was born. So Krishna took precedence and the story about Ghosh’s movie is appearing this week.
The Tamil film music was going through a bad patch in the seventies and people started listening to Hindi film music. Ilayaraaja, entered the industry in 1974 and slowly gave a fresh breath of air to Tamil film music and made the listeners to come back to listening to Tamil beats. It was his first major contribution. Something similar can be said of Rituparno Ghosh. The Bengali film industry was going through a torrid time in the late eighties with masala remakes of Tamil and Hindi films ruling Tollygunge and Rituparno Ghosh injected new life to Bengali films and went on the become the greatest director of his generation.
In the nineties you often found Rituparno Ghosh’s name mentioned in the newspapers. He was winning a national or international award on a regular basis. When I first saw his name in print, I was drawn to the name more than the person. The name sounded so sweet and it just struck in my mind.
Rituparno’s first movie ‘Hirer Angti’ took some time to get released but it was his second movie Unishe April, which brought him international recognition; the movie went on to win the best film and the best actress award from Government of India.
I am not able to recollect when or where I watched Unishe April. I was travelling to Calcutta regularly those days for work and might have seen it there or probably watched it on TV, when Doordarshan used to telecast good feature films at late nights. What makes the movie so special is the handling of the story by the director and the brilliant acting from Aparna Sen and Debashree Roy.
Dr. Aditi Sen, (Debashree Roy) has just returned home from Medical college. She is withdrawn from her mother Sarojini (Aparna Sen), who is a classical danseuse. The daughter was brought up by the father as the mother used to spend most of her time in her profession and passion. The flashback shows the demise of Aditi’s father, Sarojini’s commitment to her profession for dance and how her increasing success and fame causes tension with her husband. After the death of her husband, Sarojini sends her daughter to a boarding school which only widens the rift between them.
This fateful day, 19th April, (Unishe April) also happens to be the death anniversary of her father and she reminisces her younger days spent with him. Her mother was teaching dance to a group of students which irritates the daughter. The news breaks out that Sarojini has just won a national award and the press and media starts arriving at the house for interviews.
Aditi realizes that her mother has forgotten the day’s significance and refuses to participate in the celebrations of the latest award. To add to her agony, her boyfriend Sudip calls her to inform that he is breaking their relationship as his mother has just found out that Aditi’s mother is a dancer and they don’t want a dancer’s daughter in the family.
Heartbroken, she rushes her room and bursts into tears. Her mother comes down in her dancing costume for the photo shoot oblivious to what’s happening around her. She soon leaves for the airport with her friend.
Aditi spends time with her Bela who brought her up when she was a child and learns that her mother is suffering from severe knee pain. Her sorrow leads her to contemplating suicide, she asks Bela to get her lot of sleeping pills and she packs Bela off.
Sarojini returns from airport as her flight is cancelled. They cook some late dinner together with some caustic conversation in between. While tidying Aditi’s room, Sarojini sees a lot of sleeping pills on the table, panics and knocks the bathroom door furiously where Aditi has gone to change into nightdress. They get into arguments and frustrations both have gone through over the years and the bottled-up emotions come out pouring. While Aditi lets her mom know how she was deprived of her love throughout her life, Sarojini comes out with her own frustrations, how her successes led Aditi’s father to move away from her. They talk till the crows start cawing at dawn.
The phone rings, Aditi finds out it’s for her mom, goes to check if she is awake. They get into the conversation again, both end up crying and then break into laughter. The phone this time rings for Aditi, her mother answers the call and informs her that the call is from Sudip. When Aditi refuses to answer Sarojini asks her to speak to Sudip and find out what he has to say.
Unishe April, is a simple story narrated brilliantly. I have not seen a movie where mother/daughter relationship is portrayed better than this. Aparna Sen (director of 36 Chowringhee Lane) and Debashree Roy have produced exceptional performances. The movie is shot entirely indoors. There are just two scenes filmed outside, one, when Aditi is standing at the door of the train to see if Sudip is coming to see her off and the second when her mom and her friend leave for the airport in an Ambassador car. It’s amazing to see how the director could keep everyone engrossed in the movie. The dialogues are short and very crisp. The music is good, photography OK, acting and direction are of exceptional quality.
The film must have been shot with a shoestring budget and total costume would have cost less than a suit worn in any of the Hindi films’ marriage scenes. There are no song sequences shot in snow-capped mountains in Switzerland; for that matter there are no songs in the movie.
The movie brings all the characters to life and there is no melodrama. Sarojini does not apologize to her daughter for what had happened over the years, but only explains what led to the marital discard and how she struggled to find a balance.
When the movie is coming to an end, you desperately hope that the mother and daughter have completely patched up and will live happily hereafter. The director hints at reconciliation but does not go beyond that.
Rituparno Ghosh, a great admirer of Satyajit Ray died very young just like Bengali films’ one of the most illustrious directors Ritwik Ghatak; both died when they were just 50 years old. In his death India had lost one of its greatest story-teller in celluloid.
If you are interested in watching good Bengali film and want to have a 101 of Bengali Cinema you can start with Unishe April before graduating to Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. You can watch in Amazon Prime Video, but the subtitling is very bad. Or you can watch in YouTube with clear subtitles.
- The famous Indian Cricketer Sandeep Patil’s fans would remember his debut movie Khabi Ajnabi Thé and he was paired with Debashree Roy; the movie is more remembered for the gossip about Patil and Roy’s offscreen romance. The movie, I think, was an utter flop.
- Debashree Roy is a successful politician now and is elected second time as MLA for West Bengal Assembly in 2016.
- Debashree Roy has also acted in at least one Tamil Movie, Manayvi Ready (Wife is ready) released in 1987