TW: Rape And Abuse
On a dewy humid day, a lonely but self-aware housewife breaks the fourth wall in narrating her dark tale of abuse and humiliation while immersing herself in her solitude as a means to escape her demons – which live with her. What follows is Tasher Ghawr, an intimate but uncomfortable tale on domestic violence that has been remorsefully common during the lockdown period. Sujata Sengupta, stunningly played by Swastika Mukherjee, in Tasher Ghawr, is the archetypal obedient wife in the contemporary ‘bhadrolok’ era, secretly battered and silenced by her domineering husband. And her story may seem at first to be nothing eye-catching, we are caught by surprise as to how normalised some of the darker realities have emerged out of the lockdown period.
In an otherwise mundane backdrop of just another ordinary day facing the indoors during the pandemic, Sudipto Roy’s Tasher Ghawr is a short feature that rests solely on the characterisation of Mukherjee’s drawn in monologue which is momentously elusive to the reality that unfolds within minutes of being taken into her world. You may not be able to tell the genre of Tasher Ghawr because neither can it be defined as a short story neither a registered feature film but its continuity qualifies it to be something more than just a cinematic documentary of a woman battling her caged existence in front of a forgiving but oblivious audience. She is melancholic and difficult to converse with when she is not the one initiating and her nagging husband constantly demanding breakfast makes for the irritable screen presence that justifies Sujata’s poignant ranting at times.
From a critical point of view, it does have a slow pace and sometimes you are distracted from the monotone of her daily chores because they are set in stone as routines we can all relate to. However Sujata’s unravelling agony catches us by surprise as she starts to cryptically inform the viewer of her struggles of mental health issues, domestic violence and her husband’s infidelity. Yet in all of it we find her reminiscence of her identity, her former self which was unhinged by norms or judgement. She smiles, wrestles with her kitchen rats and at times replaces her kindness to being devilish with her neighbours who want to chat with her. She does her chores tirelessly and is diligent to keeping order. She is imperfect, as the rest of us and while she goes on to make banal excuses to evade contact with the people around her, it is obvious that she has retracted from the world to build her own ‘tasher ghawr’– her house of cards that she promises to cherish but plots to blow apart gradually. It is predictable unfortunately but that doesn’t take away from the lifeless stares Sujata glares into even when we exactly know where the story of Tasher Ghawr is heading.
There is one distinctive theme throughout Tasher Ghawr, the mention of the different smells which Sujata memorises to cement her pain. The pungent smell of the pool of blood her mother-in-law laid in reconnects with the smell of her miscarriage; a scent unescapable and sort of permanently etched in Sujata’s life as she cradles on to her misgivings while finding dark humour in her present. A coping mechanism perhaps to stealthily catch a moment or two to relax in front of the TV or hauntingly echo recitals of songs she remembers word for word. Even as she talks passively on death, you don’t expect her to cringe on lifelessness but come to be uncomfortable with how she describes the damp earthen plant pots symbolising her murky, muddy circumstances.
Her detailed descriptions of the things around her, her furniture, her kitchen, her fridge and the impromptu sights and sounds that accompany on screen set a décor too familiar for an upper-middle class household. Not too long after the first few minutes we start taking notice of her bruises peeping through her well endowed blouse. And then we see how palpable her situation is, the dark circles under her eyes grow more life as if telling a different story more severe than the one Sujata makes out to be. And her body turns from being energetic to broody, slowly paralyzed to the dehumanising sexual abuse she is subjected to regularly (and we witness in a horrific scene of her husband raping her one night).
Tasher Ghawr, aside from being on the politics of gender and power but more on the trauma of womxnhood, is a sentiment very well known to Sujata as she steers her own boat for the audience to decide whether she is a victim, a survivor or stuck in the middle. It rings a little too much on the various grievances women have endured since the beginning of the pandemic that span across different ages and locations. Sujata is self-deprecating, pitiful and regretful of the mishaps in her life in a sarcastic manner but more to it we see a side to her towards the end where she emerges triumphant: maybe a cinematic trope commonly used for empowerment that has run its course in duly executing gendered autonomy. However Mukherjee’s conviction of a long-suffering wife in Tasher Ghawr is convincing and lingering and as we retreat back to our own lives, we see glimpses of the ordinariness of homemakers craft a cloud of their own: one that we have come to adore and grow protective over since lockdown has confined us into our walls.
While flawed, Tasher Ghawr is a sincere attempt at showcasing trauma through the eyes of a beguiled protagonist and the unapologetic realness that Sujata’s personhood stands for while we come across grabbing headlines of gender violence every day. But the sheer normalisation of it makes us numb to come to terms of this pandemic’s amplified adverse consequences. We cheer for Sujata as she smirks in anticipation of freedom and empathise with her plight. Her welcome was a nutshell of what was to follow, which could have been done more concisely to deduct some of the more redundant bits but whatever was on screen is an impactful way to reflect on survivors during this difficult period. But we gradually are drawn into Sujata’s world, her own sanctuary that has the disheartening presence of her violent husband. And with her, we grim to the countless attempts to find happiness, and at the end we are left wondering whether she finally corners an escape.
Sumona is a Kolkata native, currently living in Cape Town. She believes in intersectional feminism and humanism. She is an MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town where her research interests lie in social politics of citizenship, minority identity and human rights in the post-colonial paradigm in South Asia as well as international security and public policy. She has Bachelor of Social Science Honours degree in International Relations from UCT.