It was a coincidence that while director Aparna Sen was making her latest film Goynar Baksho her native India was having a national conversation about the role of women in society.
Sen had first become interested in adapting Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s story of the same name shortly after reading it in the early 1990s, but budgetary and creative concerns held up the creation of the film for nearly two decades.
Goynar Baksho follows three generations of women in a wealthy Bengali family whose fates reflect the evolving history of the country around them.
The heart of the film revolves around the elderly Pishima. Married at the age of 11 and widowed shortly afterwards, Pishima is both embittered by the constrained hand she was dealt and deeply resentful of the extended family who is forced to support her.
Catty and sarcastic, Pishima knows that her only source of power and wealth is the jewelry box she keeps hidden away in her room that contains her wedding jewels. But Pishima is insistent that she controls her wealth to the very end. You could even say she controls it beyond the very end, as she comes back as a ghost to haunt her family.
The ghost Pishima manages to pass the jewels onto her subservient housewife niece Somlata, whose confidence is deeply affected by the fact that she stammers. This unexpected wealth changes her life primarily for the better. Aparna Sen cast her own daughter Konkona Sen Sharma as the shy, hesitant Somlata and Sharma shines in the role. The film’s best scenes involve the inter-generational conversations between Somlata and Pishima as they each try to navigate through life.
The film does have a glaring weakness however– and that’s the last story line involving Somlata’s college-age daughter. I have to admit that I tuned out most of this portion of the film, just because it was so uninteresting, especially when compared to how compelling the other story lines were.
Speaking to reporters on the red carpet before the New York Indian Film Festival screening of the movie, Sen said that she hoped that audience members would leave the theater thinking about the evolving state of women in India’s history.
“I hope that they’ll laugh too,” she said.
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.