‘Ghawre Bairey Aaj’ Shows an India Torn by Polarized Ideologies
Veteran actor and filmmaker Aparna Sen’s latest directorial, Ghawre Bairey Aaj (Home and the World Today), pierces the garb of progress, secularism, constitutional governance and liberal democracy to reveal the bare skeletons of abject poverty, injustice, extremism and religious fanaticism plaguing the Indian nation-state. Her film, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s classic novel Ghawre Bairey (Home and the World) dealing with the Swadeshi Movement, is set in the present times.
Stylistically, Sen’s cinematic text bears close resemblance to Tagore’s novel, where he employs the stream of consciousness mode of writing. In Ghawre Baire Aaj the voiceover, used to reveal the inner thoughts of the principal characters, is similar to the stream of consciousness. The plot remains the same as does the essence of the central characters. Their social identity has, nonetheless, changed considerably.
Tagore’s generous, philosophical landlord Nikhilesh (Anirban Bhattacharya) is the Oxford-educated publishing editor of an online news portal, India Online. The charming, sly and persuasive Swadeshi leader Sandip (Jisshu Sen Gupta) has given way to Sandy’ Jha. He is a History professor by profession and an aspiring Hindu nationalist leader. Bimala (Tuhina Das), on the other hand, has undergone monumental change. A Dalit girl born in a remote village of Bihar is taken up as a ‘project’ by Nikhilesh’s mother and she undergoes a massive transformation to the extent that she is christened as Brinda Choudhury (Tuhina Das). She is also financially independent, thanks to her job as a proofreader at an international publishing house.
Like Tagore’s text, Sen’s film too centres around the complex relationship between Brinda, Sandip and Nikhilesh. There are certain domestic scenes between Brinda and Nikhilesh that indeed tug at the heartstrings. The clandestine passion she later shares with the seductive Sandip is not entirely ineffective, but it does suffer from a weak execution. Nonetheless, it is with Sandip that we see Brinda stepping out of the colonial mansion at Maharani Bagh more often and experiencing the urban space of Delhi.
It is also Sandip’s firm political rhetoric that encourages her, perhaps for the first time, to engage in the public sphere. Does Brinda then fall into the group of common Indian people who, as Sandip insists, need conviction and concrete icons to put their faith in, rather than lofty, abstract ideals that Nikhilesh seems to hold?
Her journey from innocence to experience after Sandip’s betrayal emphasises the necessity of constantly reviewing the choices that we make in these troubled times when neither love nor friendship remains unadulterated and private.
Sandip cannot marry her because she is Dalit; ashamed and guilty of adultery, she begs for forgiveness to Nikhil and promises to leave as soon as possible. Within the remarkable frame of Brinda sitting on the floor of their bedroom, looking at Nikhil with guilt-ridden eyes, Aparna Sen reminds us of Bimala, the little Dalit girl from one of the poorest districts of Bihar, in a brief flashback.
Bimala may have become the Brahmanised Brinda Choudhury through marriage, but her Dalit identity still keeps her at the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. Her husband, despite his magnanimity or rather because of it still holds an enormous power over her. Merging the personal with the political, Ghawre Bairey Aaj becomes a fierce, directly political film that Indian cinema has rarely witnessed in this decade.
Bimala’s parents, we are told, were killed in a coal mine explosion. A flashback reveals the two men in their college days protesting the unfair erasure of a Ramanujan text on Indian epics from the syllabus. There is a dispute about a piece of land at Bastar on which the Hindu nationalists want to build a temple, whereas Nikhil and his team want that land for a hospital to aid the poverty-stricken people suffering from malnutrition, lack of treatment and often bearing the brunt of political violence. Even the physician Binoy Sen, who voluntarily serves at Bastar, seems to be a reference to Binayak Sen. The climax has a young Muslim boy named Junaid being pushed off a train by a group of Hindu boys because he could not chant the name of Ram properly.
And finally, Nikhilesh’s murder is a commentary on the assassination of free voices that the country has been witnessing for quite some time now. He is shot right at the doorstep of his house; it only emphasises that the politics of the outside world has already made an intrusion into the very inner space that we assume to be safe and private.
Cocooned inside the home and hearth, we can no longer avert our eyes from the gruesome incidents that are happening outside. Besides the explicit display of today’s socio-political affairs in the country, what makes Sen’s film relevant is the co-existence of the varying world-views in a democratic state.
The rather long dialogue between Sandip and Nikhil in the first half of the film, although tedious, is indeed necessary. It accentuates the need for a dialogue between different ideologies.
Despite political differences, Sandip and Nikhilesh have remained friends and do seem to harbour mutual affection. Sandip, who has arrived at right wing politics through the left politics and later Maoism, seems to have more conviction in his opinions. His personal journey from innocence to experience has made him realise the difference between what should be done and what needs to be done in a specific context. Nationalism for him means accepting the people of the nation the way they are.
When being told to do something to ensure the Muslim boy’s security, he contends that it is a world gone mad. His argument is indeed valid because, just as Junaid’s murder takes place, so does the murder of Hindu pilgrims at Amarnath. Sandip’s rhetoric and his proclaimed desh-bhakti would not have fallen flat if he had actually practiced what he preached.
Nikhilesh, on the other hand, is progressively burdened with the responsibility of practising what he preaches. Burdened with the privilege of his lineage and with his moderate, rational, liberal ideals, he exhausts himself by playing the role of a God-like human to the extent that he accepts his wife’s unfaithfulness as well as the betrayal of the childhood friend with almost unrealistic calmness. We see the faces of some of the poorest people of India through the lens of Nikhilesh’s camera, as he gets out of his ‘armchair’ and goes to experience, hands-on, the rural reality.
We see Nikhilesh and Sandip with plates full of unattended, half-eaten food in front of them at some fancy Delhi diner. Later, the photographs of skeletal, malnourished bodies belonging to the underbelly of India hold us down with their accusatory eyes.
Besides stunning visuals, Ghawre Bairey Aaj offers a polyphony of voices; some speak in refined English, some in Bengali, Hindi, various Bihari dialects or in a hybrid language made of Hindi-English-Bengali. It proves to be a wonderful microcosmic representation of the polyphonous country that we live in, and yet, we are told that Junaid has to die because he cannot ‘utter’ the name of Ram properly. The protest march at India gate after Junaid’s death redeems the film that, otherwise, seems to have sacrificed human emotions at the altar of intellectual discourse.
Piercing the darkness, the peace-loving common people raise their voice not to utter empty slogans but to sing songs such as, We Shall Overcome, Internationale, Ekla Cholo Re - songs that not only remind us of the meaningful, non-violent protest culture but also the universal desire to rise beyond communalism and balkanisation.
Sen’s film emerges victorious because it does not overstate the goodness of any specific political ideology, rather the only message that explicitly comes out is perhaps the need for an issue-based politics. In the exquisite final scene shot in black and white, Brinda faces the audience, bearing the child of one of the two men in her life. She is at last bereft of all colours - political, ideological, personal. Bereft of the two men who largely influenced the course of her life, she represents a more profound allegory, the allegory of the chronically troubled land of India, overwhelmed and shell-shocked at the violence, death and decay. Standing at the crossroads, she is yet to decide which road to take.
(Sushrita Acharjee is an MPhil Scholar at the Jadavpur University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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