Mukherjeedar Bou (March 2019) a Bengali movie by debutant director Pritha Chakraborty recently premiered on television and grabbed more than just eyeballs. It grabbed sufficient intellectual space and opened up the conversation on women and identity politics—What are the sociological underpinnings of a woman’s identity? What are the psychological ramifications and how does a woman navigate through these waters?—are the moot questions the film seeks to answer.
The Sense Of Self
The film is largely about the sense of self that women acquire as they juggle through the various episodes and events of their lives. It is a feminist film and the language is suitably in place. The director seeks to empower the protagonists but uses a different tool. Not the tool of financial independence that so many media representations tout. Neither does the track allow room for a male agent to bring in change. The director adopts a very matured strategy. She attempts to consolidate and explain women’s experiences through the prism of sociology and psychology.
The film comments on the systematisation of patriarchy through the participation of women, where women as powerful matriarchal figures take forward the agenda of patriarchal dominance. Women and personal identity are the focal points of consideration. So the self becomes the key agent of change, identity expansion within the dominant patriarchal discourse as the primary focus, and the household as the spatial framework of operation. The latter is really the winning stroke of the film, since undoubtedly it is the family as a unit that begins the process of women’s gendered (and perchance) unequal identity formation.
The title in itself is pregnant with the psycho-social shadings of taking away individual identities of women when they get married and replacing it with the identity of the family that they now come to be a part of.
Mukherjeedar Bou, loosely translated as The Wife of Mr. Mukherjee, is an identity bestowed to any woman who marries within the Mukherjee household. So Shobharani, the aged matriarch is Mukherjeedar Bou while Aditi, her daughter-in-law is also Mukherjeedar Bou. The title in itself is pregnant with the psycho-social shadings of taking away individual identities of women when they get married and replacing it with the identity of the family that they now come to be a part of. However, do women really become part of their marital household? Do they ever belong? Can they ever claim any space as their own? For sometime the story board allows for such deliberations as Aditi and Shobharani fight a pitched battle even as Shobharani’s son and Aditi’s husband, Shaswat, seeks refuge in silence and a stance of impartiality.
The film explores relationships from the inside, the camera goes into spaces that are shut out to the public eye and captures the inner dynamics of domestic participants. However this is not a voyeuristic gaze. There is a sensitive eye that pans the lives of all those caught in the web of filial life. The relationships within the various members are explored with infinite patience and objectivity and the gendered nuances are held up to the gaze of the audience.
As new allies and friendships are forged inside the walls, the camera continues to track them without a sense of rush. It is within this tiny space that the women protagonists find a befitting expression of their identities. As friendships are forged in the domestic space, Aditi and Shobharani’s own identity, their struggles, their negotiations in the public space and their sense of empowerment reach a logical and idealistic conclusion.
The film deviates from other feminist films in its casting of a psychologist as a central character. Played to perfection by Rituparno Sengupta as Aratrika, it is through her that the women protagonists are able to understand the psycho-social underpinnings of their angst. Their animosity, rivalry, jealousies are not explained as ‘ typical exhibitions of women’; rather there is an attempt to theorise these and lend them some credible justification. Aratrika confronts Aditi and Shobharani, allows for cathartic expressions and transference. She seeks clarifications, works through their bitterness to help them reach a state of insight—both emotional and intellectual.
As Shobharani learns that real reason for her punitive and dominating personality, and refusal to find comfort in her daughter-in-law’s conjugal happiness and accomplishments stems from her own deprived childhood. She gradually begins to let go of her bitterness. She learns to pass down a way of life that she had never got but had yearned for. Aditi too learns about the older woman’s existential crisis and her marred childhood where even her mother had been an able ally of the patriarchal forces, for she had hidden little Shobharani’s red sari so that she could not dance in front of a packed audience and win their applause.
At the end of the sessions, the women learn to see themselves within the patriarchal framework and appraise its damaging consequences. That becomes the start of a sisterhood that inevitably loops in several others too. Like the neighbour Putul didi, who is the primary care giver of her mother-in-law and yet is alone in the battle to get recognition as a wife. Her husband cheats on her without a sense of remorse and her mother-in-law sees no need to reprimand her errant son.
Mukherjeedar Bou is about the loss of identity that women face when they marry. The change in name subsumes individual selves and is a precursor to squashed dreams and desires. Women come into their marital homes mostly starry eyed, but as domesticity weighs down on them, as they are forced to comprehend their unequal status, the stardust weans away. They live vicariously through the successes and achievements of their children. As the years roll in, the dominated and subjugated daughter-in-law becomes educated in the ways of patriarchy and it is through her that the system rolls on. Every Shobharani attempts to keep away her Aditi locked away in the same stifling atmosphere that she was brought into.
As friendships are forged in the domestic space, Aditi and Shobharani’s own identity, their struggles, their negotiations in the public space and their sense of empowerment reach a logical and idealistic conclusion.
Women and Displaced Persons
How different are they as communities?
Not much as the film makes you believe. Displaced persons encounter the same stress and strain of acculturation as married women. In their adoption of strategies they are strangely very similar. Efforts of integration and assimilation are never rewarded and both sets continue to suffer from a sense of marginalisation. Women do not have a psychological space that is their own.
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Socialisation norms set out that their parental home is not theirs, at best it is a temporary one. The marital home never offers them a sense of belongingness with the husband often threatening to throw out the woman if she works against his will. Marital rape often leaves a woman threatened within the home, forced to cohabit with the predator without a murmur of protest. Women and Displaced Persons…truly where are the differences?
The film also focuses on the taboos towards seeking psychiatric help. Women as a group as extremely vulnerable as a set to psychological problems of neuroses, and mood disorders like depression.
The final rushes of the film are predictable and yet cannot be dismissed as contrived. In fact, it seems like the perfect ending, justifying the title to its fullest. Shobharani gets her stage. It is Aditi who helps her get it. And in return for the favour, she gives back to Aditi her name…Aditi, an individual in her own right, bereft of the baggage of being “Mukherjeedar Bou”. Shobharani gifts to herself too her name and breaks open the doors of patriarchy and subversion.
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Women need to get acquainted with their own selves. They need to embrace their names to begin with. The sense of personal identity that is so unique to each woman needs to be protected so that her identity does not arise from a composite of relationships she lives up to.
Featured Image Source: Just Dial