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The Indian screenwriter and documentary director Rohena Gera makes her fiction feature debut with this thoughtful and heartfelt drama she has written and directed, showing here at Cannes in the Critics’ Week sidebar. It’s a love story that slides a bit towards sentimentality and photo-love unreality in its final act, away from the strongly and plausibly rooted situation we had started out with – but the performances are likable and persuasive enough, particularly the female lead.
Tillotama Shome (whose screen credits include Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding) plays Ratka, a young woman from a remote village who has come to Mumbai to be the live-in maid to a wealthy newly married couple in their handsome apartment. She has been allowed this relative freedom because she is a widow – her husband died shortly after their wedding. But something is very wrong. She is briskly informed by her employer that she will have to take up residency earlier than expected because the honeymoon isn’t happening. Then the supposed groom arrives on his own: the young, handsome and depressed Ashwin, played by Vivek Gomber. There has evidently been a monumental row, the marriage is off and now Ratka’s job is looking after this highly attractive and eligible young man. They will effectively be living together.
After a tricky start, incorrectly cooking a mutton curry (as a vegan, she has no aptitude for the dish), Ratka soon smoothly becomes the perfect maid to someone she calls “Sir”. She is good at screening calls from his formidable and sorrowing mother; she tactfully suggests keeping all the unopened wedding presents in her tiny room so they don’t upset him. The gift pile in her personal space is an ever-present symbol of his catastrophic choices in love and dangerously unmarried status.
Inevitably, Ashwin feels closer to Ratka than anyone. He gives her time off to learn the tailoring business, her ultimate dream, and he admires her courage and drive – so different from the spoilt princesses that his family and acquaintances are still trying to set him up with. And perhaps he also glumly senses that he too is spoilt. He has supposedly been a writer of “magazine articles” and “blog posts” in New York, but we never see him write a word, just indolently sit around watching TV. Soon a line is going to be crossed.
This is, in many ways, a classical domestic drama about character, situation and social class. There are many pleasingly subtle touches. Ratka wears bangles on her wrists in Mumbai as a symbol of big-city fashion, but thoughtfully removes them on the bus when she heads home. The situation between Ratka and Ashwin begins to thaw when he sees her dancing in the street during a festival and they have to ride up in the elevator afterwards, the atmosphere pulsing with social and sexual tension.
The problem is asymmetry. Ratka’s character is drawn more strongly and convincingly than Ashwin’s; he sometimes looks like a figure from a Bollywood comedy, whereas there is real depth, poignancy and strength to Shome’s character. Both the lovers and the film-maker face the dilemma of whether to consummate this forbidden desire, and Gera finesses it as far as she can. But it is a resolution that involves an implausible turnaround for a minor character who had seemed obnoxious but becomes considerate. Still, this is is a delicately observed and attractive drama with some great Mumbai cityscapes and an excellent performance from Shome.
Source: The Guardian
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