‘The protagonist’s marital transition from a happy life to one full of chaos is subliminally mirrored by the city’s own transition from a welcoming and warm place to an oppressive one,’ writes Kameswari Padmanabhan.
‘The Good Wife’ is a 17-minute-long short film produced by Red Polka Productions with actor/producer Anshulika Kapoor as its lead and directed by photographer turned director Prataya Saha. The film packages a mixture of drama and suspense, with the music and cityscapes setting the tone for the film. Anshulika Kapoor plays the dutiful wife whose world shatters over the course of a day when she discovers that all is not what it seems in her marriage.
Inspired by stories he heard while growing up about discrimination meted out to women, the director has dealt with the subjects of divorce and women’s subjugation delicately. As a viewer, I was left with a deeper understanding of how difficult it is for women to find their voice.
The film, through its narrative of a ‘traditional’ marriage, strives to shed light on the pressures and difficulties faced by women in a toxic environment fueled by patriarchy. The protagonist’s marital transition from a happy life to one full of chaos is subliminally mirrored by the city’s own transition from a welcoming and warm place to an oppressive one.
The city itself serves as an ever-present character. Set in Kolkata, back when it was called Calcutta, the viewer gets a wonderful idea of the city's culture during early 90s (kudos to the team for its research) as well as to its pervasive traditionalism. But I did feel a little disoriented with having authentic characters on the one hand and the usage of Hindi, rather than perhaps the more expressive Bengali, on the other. But this is a minor point, and that shouldn’t detract from the tone set by Calcutta, brought out through artful direction and editing.
The director captures the lead actor’s pathos through each carefully curated scene, especially the interactions that bring out the wife’s subservience and deference to the husband in all matters. Even though the movie meanders in places, leaving one with pointless distractions, one’s attention is nevertheless fixed on the central story. This is achieved through the moving background score, the excellent lighting, and the considerable ease and panache with which Anshulika brings out the wife’s devotions and pains.
There is a scene I particularly loved; the devotion of the dutiful wife is beautifully brought out when she braves the curfew in her city on a sultry day to procure the ingredients for her husband’s favorite dish. The stark contrast between this positivity towards her marriage in the beginning to the shattering of her world has been well achieved and must be given due credit. Where the movie falters a little, is the squeezing in of a scene which takes the viewer away from the nail-biting rise to the moment of crisis. With only 17 minutes to tell a story, every character needs to be of purpose and as a viewer, a scene involving a domestic argument between the wife and the maid (who looked quite modern for her part) felt a tad bit unnecessary.
And finally, for me, the film came together with the monologue at the end. The lighting, the minimal makeup, the direction, all did justice to not only the story but also to the ‘rawness’ of emotions needed there. The rapport between the actor and director comes across strongest here, with each ‘committing to the moment’. And although, the climax felt formulaic, the treatment given to it was interesting and held one’s attention.
It was fitting that the film, made over a period of eleven months, premiered in Bengaluru at the hallowed halls of Suchitra Film Society. The film’s appeal is obvious, and it is easy to see why it swept awards across the world, including best film in the Women Empowerment category at the Ayodhya Film festival, the audience choice award at the Tagore International film festival, The Best suspense thriller at the Alternative Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and quite a few awards at The Vipra International Film festival at Kochi.
While the film handles a subject which is never unimportant, that of women’s subjugation in the household, it plays with the idea of taking back one’s power against patriarchal tenets of society, and that piques my curiosity much more.
Kameswari Padmanabhan is a doctor and loves reading books written by strong female authors. She has recently discovered a love for history and John Oliver.