In Sickness and in Health
TLR Rating: 8 1/2 Reels.
Bengali cinema has emerged strongly after the amazing works of Rituparno Ghosh like ‘Hirer Angti’, ‘Unishe April’, ‘Dahan’ etc. His works are always drifted from the mainstream common themes and rather focused on cinematic appeal, aesthetic devices and understanding of human nature. His direction bled for women, children, senior citizens and victims of sexual assaults. His works have been the evidence for this. He is one among the very few directors who have the excellent power of storytelling in the simplest but most powerful form. Rituparno exemplified his work in all aspects such as vision, grammar, courage and gravity. He was not only a great filmmaker but also the editor of film magazine named ‘Anondolok’, chat show host of ‘Ghosh and Company’ and the director of TV serial ‘Ganer Opare’. ‘Asukh’ is one of his ‘too-serious-to-be-taken-seriously’ movies and one of his finest works.
The lead character of the movie is, Debashree Roy as Rohini and her father Soumitra Chatterjee as Sudhamoy. The other characters are Gouri Ghosh as Rohini’s Mother(Geeta), Silajit Majumdar as Aniruddha, Rita Koiarl, Shankar Chakraborty and Arpita Pal (Mrittika). “While Unishe April explored the mother-daughter relationship, ‘Asukh’ is about the father-daughter relationship,” said Ghosh in an interview. But the audience finds even more. ‘Unishe April’ kept on ringing in the minds of people whenever we recall Rituparno Ghosh and most likely ‘Asukh’ is its emotional sequel.
From the starting scene Rituparno draws all the attention and empathy of his viewers towards Rohini. Rohini is found discussing with a person who is slowly revealed as her ex-boyfriend and asks if he remembered her. Although he says yes, she doesn’t believe him and instead asks for the medicine box and takes 3 to 5 sleeping pills. Even after Aniruddha forbids her, she takes them all, saying that it should not affect him. The reason for this bitterness is revealed. Aniruddha had left her for another girl named Mrittika. Rohini was a famous film star and her love for her man was unblemished. She had brought Mrittika into the industry, and suffered Caesar’s wounds when Aniruddha started an affair with her. When Mrittika and Aniruddha started coming close, Rohini had confronted Aniruddha several times to tell the truth but he always tried to hide the fact and that had hurt her more. While she was facing such turbulent times in her life and wanted to be all alone, she comes to know that her mother is hospitalized with high fever.
Unaware of the deteriorating relationship among Aniruddha and Rohini, her father often asks help from him despite Rohini showing irritation. Neither she is able to vent out her emotions as she knows her father is also going through tough times, nor is she able to digest the fact that Aniruddha is called off and on. She tries to avoid him, as we see couple of times, she lies to avoid him and even does not pick up any call assuming it to be Aniruddha. On the other hand, on seeing a difference in Rohini’s behavior her father is upset; he even finds her taking frequent sleeping pills and is worried about her. Ghosh neatly brings in the father-daughter relationship –he shows how the father worries about his daughter even after she has grown up. There is a scene in the movie which shows that, when there is a power cut, her father doesn’t allow her daughter to move, going himself to fetch the torch to light up the place, similarly like a father showing light of right path to their children. He didn’t think that he himself can be hurt, but only thought to protect his child from the darkness just like a shield. There are some more scenes where Ghosh brilliantly brought out the pure love of a Father for his daughter. In contrast, he also shows that even though her father is unwilling to take her money, he still has to depend on her, and this constantly bothers him, which is seen when he expresses his views to his wife that they are depending on her money completely.
The film also shows how a husband loves his wife; he is not only worried about her but also sad at the same time that she is far from him and suffering from pain. Despite being old himself, he never missed to go to the hospital one single day, buying all the medicines and other necessary itinerary. Due to her daughter’s fame, when he was allowed to stay longer during visiting hours, the happiness in his face explained his love for his wife. Even Rohini quotes several times that even after she got betrayal and disappointment from her relation, she keeps consoling herself when she sees her parents; their relationship makes her feel that love has not vanished from the society, it’s still present. But destiny plays it role and we are unable to predict the future. The same Rohini who thought of her parent’s relation as pure, started doubting her father after her mother is attacked by fever again after the discharge from the hospital. They thought of taking second opinion and the doctor suggested for HIV test as he think this may be due to lack of immunity. The hatred was installed in her mind after getting betrayed by Aniruddha and she was unable to think rationally. She started thinking for the worst, repeatedly asking her father if the needles used were sterilized and on getting same answer from him every time (that he himself bought the disposable injections every time), her mind was shrouded in doubt that her father was the only source for her mother’s illness. Ghosh, may be for the first time, brought in to the Bengali cinemas the awareness for AIDS and at the same time dealt with fear and anxiety in a sensitive manner. The rude behavior of the daughter brings a distance between them but still father’s love for her daughter did not diminish. Like ‘Unishe April’, where the anxiety to know the relationship status of Mithu remains till the end, the anxiety is held up using the blood test result and unlike ‘Unishe April’ here it is revealed that her mother is not suffering from AIDS. At the end, Rohini realizes her mistake; she realizes that everything is in one’s mind, and people themselves can control that. She vents out all her sorrow to her father, when he comes to know that Aniruddha has left her. Her father consoles her but asks is she the person who said in an interview that there is no more love and trust left in the society. She says nothing but begs pardon from her father. The film ends with the scene showing that the father hugs her daughter consoling her when she vents out her fear and sorrow, and what can be a better scene than this for ending – a father protecting his child from all the evils of the world.
The film also brought out Geeta’s character nicely, even though she had a very small part, but she is the lady of the home, who thinks for all. She is worried for both her daughter and at the same time for her husband. She says many a time that there is no need to spend money on her treatment as she knows Rohini is the only earning person and this may add burden to her. Also at the same time she calls her daughter and asks her to be polite to her father. Being an old person, he too is working a lot, taking care of his wife and also himself, and added to that if Rohini mistreats him, he may become ill. This shows how a mother has to take care of the family all alone. Even though she is sick and hospitalized, her only concern is her family.
The film shows a strong connection of Rohini and her mother with Tagore’s poetry. A couple of times both are seen reciting his poems. Rohini tells her mother when she was in hospital that she will send the ‘Gitobitan’ for her, so that she can read poems and pass her time. Ghosh himself said that his inspiration for the movie was the poem, ‘Chhotto amaar meye’, from the ‘Hariye Jawa’ anthology, seen reciting by both the mother and daughter in the hospital. Rohini is shown as Tagore fan; she has a large portrait of Tagore in her bedroom and also many of his paintings hanging in her apartment. Ghosh films are always rich with the literary content.
The film won National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Bengali. Also the film won the FIPRESCI Prize with a special mention at the Bombay International Film Festival. His excellent narration in the movie has attracted the crowd since ages. Asukh is also one such movie, portraying the relationship of a young film star with her father. Both Debashree Roy and Soumitra Chatterjee have excelled in their roles. If you are looking for humane family documentaries, ‘Asukh’ is the film for you.
The author is a software engineer at Infosys and spends her spare time in watching movies and reading novels. She loves to analyze the literature behind the movies.