Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya is a short film that I didn’t know I needed until I watched it, maybe because of how it attempts to soothe my angst against the Ramayana and its many chauvinistic details, one of them being about Ahalya. To understand the beauty of Ahalya, you must first understand the context of it, which lies in the Hindu mythological tale of Ramayana which has a segment dedicated to her.
Ahalya, created by Brahma, was the most beautiful woman to exist and was married to a much older sage Gautama. The story follows how Indra seduced her with treachery by disguising as her husband, leading to Gautama cursing her to become stone. There are several narratives of the same story with varying details but the gist remains that Ahalya was cursed for infidelity by her husband, while the blame was greater on Indra who tricked her into it. The myth basically states that women are a greater offender when it comes to adultery, rather than men, therefore subjecting women to even more prejudice.
Now coming to Sujoy Ghosh’s short, we have Radhika Apte as Ahalya, Soumitra Chatterjee as Goutam and Tota Roy Chowdhury as Inspector Indra Sen aka Indra. With the reference of the mythology, you now know that each of them represent the character from the original story of Ahalya. Sujoy Ghosh presents the same segment from the epic with a modern twist and alternative ending, therefore giving it a fresh feminist perspective, instead of the original patriarchal and sexist one. The primary plot remains the same and I won’t ruin the mystery to a great extent for you ( caution; don’t read if you are adamant on discovering for yourself ) even if it’s quite obvious once you know the reference, so, without any spoilers, let me attempt to explain to you why Ahalya is such a significant short because it almost tries to redeem the age-old scriptures of being utterly misogynistic. In the simplest terms; the central difference is that in Ghosh’s Ahalya, Goutam isn’t the human manifestation of toxic masculinity but a schemer who conspires with his wife Ahalya (not a demure wife, but a seducing schemer herself) to condemn those who give in to sexual temptations without heeding to moral responsibilities. Ahalya is the perfect feminist twist that our classics need in the 21st century, because times may have changed, but the sins haven’t and nor have the sinners, so then it’s upon us that we change the solutions.
Also, I’ll leave it upon you to discover what becomes of Indra in this modern twist, because if you haven’t guessed it till now then there are chances that you might see Ahalya as a suspense thriller, something it aims to be too.
Ahalya also utilises visual symbolism and imagery quite effectively: for instance, in the beginning, we observe all characters wearing white and even the setting is of a lighter tone, however as and when we near the end, the setting gets darker and darker, and as the mystery is revealed when both Radhika Apte and Soumitra Da are seen in black — a riveting metaphor.
Lastly, there’s a moment in Ahalya that is just so beautiful, partly because of Soumitra Da’s effortlessness, and partly because of Ghosh’s detailed screenplay. While explaining Indra something in the context of Ramayana, we see Goutam ask Indra if he has read Ramayana, and Indra says he knows the “the basic storyline”. This particular moment is so striking because that is the case with most us “millennials” today — we know the gist of Ramayana, which when seen with these words seem quite amusing considering that Ramayana is one of the most novel Hindu epics with almost 24,000 verses, thus, to say that you know the ‘basic storyline’ is quite reductionist.
All in all, Ahalya is pretty simple when it comes to the suspense and not the least bit intriguing, but what makes it remarkable is how beautifully Sujoy Ghosh turns the tables. In his version of the story, the seducer is quite starkly a seductress, and not a man — the reins are in the women’s hand, something that is quite thought-provoking, considering how often when it comes sexual temptations, it is the men who are more weak and malleable to the sight of a seducing woman, than the other way around. Ghosh uses Ahalya’s oozing sexuality, not as a besmirching trait but as an empowering one. To conclude, Ahalya is redemptive, revolutionary, and extremely relevant.
If you all have read up till here, here’s the link to Ghosh’s short film Ahalya for you to quickly watch and reflect upon.
Takshi Mehta is a student, mainly studying psychology, literature, and history. She has a blog on socio-cultural issues, and cinema and another one primarily for the LGBTQ+ community to share their stories. Her pronouns are she/her. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Featured Image Source: Filmfare