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Gaheen Hriday: A Powerful Film by Agnidev Chatterjee

August 6, 2018 | By

Are all adulterous relationships about love, or are they about the physical desire? If the latter, then how and when does love enter into the relationship? Gaheen Hriday is a film that makes the audience think about man-woman relationships in the contemporary, urban world and in adultery, Shoma A Chatterji finds out.

Gaheen Hriday

Among all the films he has directed till now, Agnidev Chatterjee’s Gaheen Hriday is perhaps the most mature and mellow of them all. Agnidev has explored adultery in its many manifestations, mostly with the woman as the adulteress, but in films like Charulata 2000, they often seemed rather pretentious and eager to please a niche audience hungry for taboo subjects like adultery and for sex scenes. Suchitra Bhattacharya’s writings were very popular and she had a wide span of admirers and fans both men and women though most of her fiction – short stories and novels – were powerful statements against patriarchy in all its manifested forms.

Perhaps for this very reason, filmmakers in Bengal rushed to turn some of her novels into films. Examples are aplenty –  Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan, Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy’s Ichchhe who also made Aleekh Sukh and Ramdhanu,  Tolly Lights directed by Arjun Chakraborty and Urmi Chakraborty’s Hemanter Pakhi. All these stories, except Ramdhanu, place the woman at the centre of all relationship conflicts in different ways, touching on how a molestation of a young housewife impacts on her marriage and her in-laws (Dahan), or, a son trapped in the near crazy obsession of his mother (Ichchhe), or, how in Aleekh Sukh the wife of a very successful doctor points out his guilt of having his patient die because he is more obsessed with accumulating his real wealth than in curing his patient and so on.

Sohini in an intimate moment with her lover Anupam

The marginalisation of the woman grows subtly and slowly through each novel, unfolding layer by layer, like the skins of an onion to reveal the gross injustice in balancing the power plays that sustain between men and women. She does not necessarily paint her women in lily-white pure colours or her men in black. But the interactions that play out over the narrative text repeatedly point out how the very structure of patriarchal families is built to fashion the male as the superior being and the female as the inferior one of the ‘other.’ Agnidev Chatterjee’s Gaheen Hriday is no different.

Gaheen Hriday deals with how patriarchy reduces a housewife’s conscious and wilful relationship with another man and forces her to submit to responsibility towards her marital family over her personal choice.  The film, shot in Black and White, brings out the intensity and the drama inherent in the core of the triangular relationship. It opens with Sohini (Rituparna Sengupta) having a tryst with lover Anupam (Koushik Sen) who is a divorcee with a daughter who lives with his Canadian ex-wife in the US. He lives alone in the same apartment with an older brother and his wife and treats them with great disdain because he considers them his inferior. They try to please him every which way and even condone his adulterous relationship with his boyhood friend’s wife but he keeps his distance. Why, no one knows.

Sohini with her husband Bhaskar

Sohini’s husband Bhaskar (Debshankar Haldar) is a very good-natured husband who loves his wife and son. But for some mysterious reason, Sohini finds his company dull and boring and is always excited to keep her trysts with Anupam. She holds a job and her mother-in-law (Sohag Sen), a widow who draws a regular pension, for some strange reason, is scared stiff of her. Why? The script remains silent. Tired of carrying on a relationship outside marriage and also, ridden by feelings of guilt for playing this double-game, Anupam and Sohini decide to tie the knot. The script refuses to touch upon what will happen to the small boy that Sohini and Bhaskar have. Will she take him with her? Or will she leave him behind with his father?

The script makes it very easy for Anupam as he is already divorced. But not for Sohini who finds it extremely difficult to tell Bhaskar about her decision. She keeps postponing it day after day and a patient Anupam persuades her to take the step. Fate intervenes the very day Sohini has decided to tell the unsuspecting Bhaskar about her decision to leave him. Bhaskar is diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer. He literally clutches to his wife who is desperate to prove that she is a dutiful wife by looking after every need of his including the other members of the family. Is this a desperation rising from her deep sense of guilt? Or, is it because guilt is something a woman is conditioned to feeling from the time the little girl begins to walk and talk? Or, does she hope that Bhaskar will die and let her free to exercise her choice of beginning a new life with Anupam?

Agnidev treats the entire cinematographic space with the subtlety it demands, cutting out needless melodrama even where there is scope for some. The acting by all the three major actors, alongside Sohag Sen, and the extended family comprising of Shankar Chakraborty and Locket Chatterjee is very good. The relatives are aware of what is going on but cannot say anything up front because social etiquette recognizes gossip but not confrontation. The cinematography by Agnidev himself is captivating specially because he chose to shoot the entire film in monochrome but a little bit of restraint on the frequent use of very tight close-ups would have perhaps invested the frames with more perspective that the film demands. Shantanu Mukherjee’s editing passes muster while Shubhayu’s music shows restraint.

Agnidev has used the Kabuki style of Japanese drama captured in colour as a repeated metaphor in the film. But for those who know little or nothing about Kabuki, this fails to make any sense though the three masked characters in the drama are clearly made up to resemble Sohini, Bhaskar and Anupam.

The Japanese ‘Kabuki’ enactment of the three characters

The intimate scenes of love-making between Anupam and Sohini appear quite awkward in terms of the framing of the scenes and the placing of the camera but one has no clue whether this was done by designed intent to focus on the awkwardness of the relationship itself – an adulterous one. Rituparna’s author-backed role tends to sidetrack the conflicts within Bhaskar and Anupam. Her attempts at shaking off Bhaskar when he tries to cuddle her and caress her and touch her with love are expressed with credibility as is Debshankar’s expression of naïve innocence that shows he bears no suspicion about his wife are also stirring.

The synopsis clearly states that Sohini realises that her real love was for her husband Bhaskar but the film tells a different story. Following Bhaskar’s death, we find Sohini going through her chores mechanically, as if she is a doll with a key that turns to make her move, and she finds that after all, it is loyalty to her responsibilities that override her desire to write a fresh chapter in her life. The almost amicable parting between Anupam and Sohini seems too pat and unrealistic.

Any adulterous relationship for a woman, as long as it lasts, is a tightrope walk between agony and ecstasy. On the one hand, the woman feels physically liberated through the fulfilment of her sexual fantasies. On the other, there is this ever-present trauma of being found out, the guilt arising out of the furtive encounters and the growing failure to fit neatly into the mould she has deliberately broken out of. Most adulterous affairs eventually die naturally because for most women, feelings of guilt override the excitement and the thrill the affair itself brings. The question that continues to haunt us forever is – are all adulterous relationships about love? Or are they about sex? If they are about sex, then how and when does love enter into the relationship?

Gaheen Hriday

Rituparna Sengupta as Sohini contemplates her life and that of women in general

Psychiatrist of Lokmanya Tilak Hospital, Mumbai, Dr Mahesh Gandhi opined, “In the dictionary of psychology however, adultery is neither a sin nor a sacred act. It is more a matter of the body than of the heart. It is first and last, a satisfaction of the sexual urge. Sexual fidelity is not the same as love. An adulterer may be as genuinely in love with his/her spouse as is his counterpart”. Sex seems to play a predominant role in every such relationship which means that the relationship will peter out when the charisma of clandestine sex wears off. In the end that probably remains is what Sigmund Freud famously theorised in his paper ‘On Narcissism’– the fundamental difference in love experiences between a man and a woman. Freud insists that a woman tends to be ‘narcissistic’ and consumed with herself as opposed to the man for whom the deep-seated maternal love is transferred to an adult sexual partner.

Do not give Gaheen Hriday a miss. It is a watch-worthy film that gives you much to think about man-woman relationships in the contemporary, urban world.

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Creative Writing

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Dr. Shoma A Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. Her focus of interest lies in Indian cinema, human rights, media, gender and child rights. She has authored 24 books mainly on Indian cinema and on gender and has been jury at several film festivals in India and abroad. She has won two National Awards - for Best Film Critic in 1991 and for Best Book on cinema in 2002. She has also won four fellowships over the past 10 years.
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