Anubrato Bhalo Aacho? The Caregiver’s Tragedy
Partho Sen’s Anubrato Bhalo Aacho is more about the loneliness and the growing sense of alienation and distancing the caregivers suffer from and less about the clinical and psychological aspects of their trauma.
What happens when someone’s spouse suffers from a terminal illness, constantly vacillating between life and death not knowing when the final exit point will come or whether it will come at all? The ‘healthy’ spouse is suddenly placed in the position of a 24/7 caregiver, watching helplessly as his/her life reduces itself to the void of a hospital waiting room, before, during and after visiting hours, slowly allowing his/her life to slip away as the dying spouse lies supine on the hospital bed, tubes sticking every which way of/from the body.
Anubrato Bhalo Aacho? (Are you okay, Anubrato?) is perhaps the first Indian film to explore in depth, the trauma of a close family member of a terminal patient whose life overnight is reduced to becoming a caregiver. Anubrato (Rittik Chakraborty) is a man in his fifties spending hours in the waiting room with his wife Neeta (Debolina Dutta) when the film opens. Neeta is dying of cancer. But is she really dying? Will she die? Or will she keep swinging between different phases of living and dying every moment of the day? No one knows, least of all Anubrato who tries to keep a brave and smiling face each time he steps into his wife’s cabin, watching her hairline revealing a growing bald pate, the bindi on the forehead winking back at him like a sad consolation prize. His footsteps spell out his weariness as he climbs the flight of stairs to his empty flat, not noticing what he eats, when he eats and why.
His next door neighbour, Lahiri (Kharaj Mukherjee), tries to befriend him but Anubrato is irritated at first because the barking of Lahiri’s dog irritates him till one day, responding to the older man’s invitation to step in, Anubrato discovers that Lahiri’s dog is long dead and he has recorded the dog’s bark as a token of his memory for one, and to rid himself of loneliness for another. One wall is choc-a-bloc with photographs of the dog. Anubrato begins to spend his evenings drinking and dining with this strange man whose freakish exterior – glares worn all the time, ear-phones stuck to his ears, wearing colourful shirts and shorts hides the tender heart of a lonely man who lives only through the recorded barking of his dead dog. This is one beautiful characterisation and even better portrayal by Kharaj that underscores that one need not have to be a caregiver in order to be lonely and sad.
Anubrato, like Jaya (Swastika Mukherjee), the fifty-ish woman he befriends in the nursing home are suffering from what is known as ‘vicarious trauma’, a term that describes the cumulative transformative effect on the helper resulting from working with survivors of traumatic life events or terminal ailments The symptoms can appear much like those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also encompass changes in frame of reference, identity, a sense of safety, ability to trust, self-esteem, intimacy, and a sense of control.
After a long interval, Bengali cinema is witness to an actor’s ability to carry and entire film, a very dark one without any point of relief, on his strong shoulders. The actor is Rittik who is completely in command not only of his character but in a manner of speaking, of the entire film. His surrealistic illusions about beautiful moments spent with his wife are shot almost entirely against the backdrop of a beach with the waves receding away. Once, he is shaken from his daydream when seated on a bench beside Neeta on the beach, he discovers that her mouth and nose are covered with an oxygen mask. Haldar captures his loneliness by framing his small figure against the vastness of the sea and the horizon that movingly yet subtly emphasises his loneliness and his vulnerability as a human being trapped in a no-exit situation written into his destiny.
Debolina as his wife Neeta actually lives the role of a terminal patient who tries to console her husband to begin with but then just gives up on life and everything that goes with it. Her close sense of observation coming out of having lived life together for 20 years is expressed when she asks her husband where from he got the colourful shirt he was wearing as he did not wear colours. The coloured shirt is a metaphor of the colour of slight romance that has stepped into his life unannounced. He goes back to white soon after. Another moving scene is when Anubrato steps into Jaya’s husband’s cabin to take a closer look not at the man per se, but to gauge how long it might take him to die.
The surrealistic moments are captured like faded colours of a water colour panting by DOP Soumik Haldar. Swastika as Jaya has been given a slightly aged look with the usual dark lines deepening every day as it would for a wife whose husband is terminally ill. Her performance, especially towards the end when she refuses to aknowledge Anubrato as a close friend in need is touching. The scenes inside the hospital are live because they have actually been shot live at a nursing home in Uluberia.
What enriches these scenes along with the rather depressing ambience of the film is the sound design for one and the music for another. The mental topsy-turvy trauma Anubrato suffers from is presented through the disturbing sound of a fly buzzing around his head wherever he is, all the time while one warms up to the shock that there is no fly and the sound and the buzzing is the product of his depressed imagination. When he befriends Jaya and gets close to her, the buzz disappears to reenter his life once again when she has left. The jarring sound of the life-support system Neeta is breathing through, the sudden moments of her collapse from time to time, are embellished with the routine sound that is part of an intensive care unit for a terminal patient.
Mayukh Bhaumik’s music design is unparalleled in its poetic beauty, echoing the low-lying waves of the sea, or, some strains and notes floating across the landscape. It is extremely subtle, not once dominating the visuals or the incidents or the characters. It is a prize-worthy music design Bhaumik seems to have confronted almost like a challenge. Bravo Mayukh for your control over your composition which is not easy to work out in the early stages of one’s career.
Partho Sen’s Anubrato Bhalo Aacho is more about the loneliness and the growing sense of alienation and distancing the caregivers suffer from and less about the clinical and psychological aspects of their trauma. There is no cure for this, medically or in terms of counselling. Quite naturally, though both Jaya and Anubrato are elderly, they drift close to each other, bonded by their similar experiences. They begin to eat out at restaurants, spend time together, and even kiss and hug and embrace with touching delicacy unhindered by age or sex. There are times when Anubrato wishes Neeta dead so that he could get on with his life, and love perhaps?
Jaya’s daughter and son-in-law arrive from the US to take them away for a brief respite from the illness. Anubrato watches Jaya’s husband (Sujan Mukherjee) being wheeled out of his cabin by his daughter, improving a lot and preparing for a sojourn abroad with wife Jaya. Jaya walks out, looks at Anubrato but refuses to speak to him or acknowledge him and slowly walks away from his life. Anubrato is left to deal with his wife’s grief, his lost bonding with Jaya and finally, his infinite sense of loneliness, of wanting to belong but not really belonging anyway. Anubrato Bhalo Aachho is a not-to-be-missed film. Very good work by Partho Sen.
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