There are two stars of the first scene of Mrs. Scooter, the sublime and emotionally turbulent new film by Shiladitya Moulik that screened at the New York Indian Film Festival last Friday. The first is the shiny new scooter that’s been recently acquired by Bhushan, a hard-working young clerk. The second is Aashima, Bhushan’s dazzlingly young wife, who happened to come into his life the same day his treasured scooter did.
With his marriage, it seems like things are finally looking up for Bhushan, a man with no family to speak of except for his doting, gossipy landlady Sheila. Viewing these early scenes, a viewer with no knowledge of the film’s plot would be forgiven for thinking that Mrs. Scooter would be about the struggles (yet ultimate triumphs) of India’s growing middle class.
Alas, that’s not what this film about.
Bhushan and Aashima’s idyllic life as newlyweds is shattered just 24 hours after their marriage after the young groom is killed in a mysterious accident that also leads to the disappearance of the scooter. The scenes in which Aashima learns of her husband’s death are among the film’s most powerful, all the more so because not a single word is spoken when Aashima learns the terrible news. Instead, the viewer sees Aashima silently process her grief as the director alternatively cuts to an old fashioned typewriter as a police official types out the official report on the accident that caused Bhushan’s death.
Like her husband, Aashima was an orphan, and throughout his screenplay the director Moulik lets us know just how unprotected she is as a friendless widow and just how brutal it can be to an Indian woman who is completely alone in the world. While the goodhearted landlady Sheila comes to embrace Aashima as a younger sister of sorts, she can’t protect her from everything- and certainly not from the leering, dangerous men Aashima seems to encounter everywhere she goes.
Watching Mrs. Scooter was, overall, pretty depressing. Aashima’s world was extremely claustrophobic and it was nearly impossible for me as a viewer to think of a solution that would lead her to a happy and safe life. There was also a timelessness to her choices that was just sad. When Sheila takes it upon herself to teach Aashima a trade so that she can earn some money, she shows her how to make pickle, which means the smart, young widow is consigned to spend her days stirring pots of vegetables and spicy chilis- as generations of Indian widows did before her.
There were glimmers of happiness throughout the film though, and towards the end the viewer does begin to believe that a happy ending is on Aashima’s horizon. I don’t think I’d be spoiling anything when I reveal that the young widow eventually does leave the home she shared with her husband. But even though everyone watching is earnestly hoping that she’ll end up happy, the audience quickly realizes that her future is so tied up with her past that happiness as we know it might be impossible. Instead, like Aashima, all you can do is hope for the best and eventually head home, all the while fervently wishing that everything will be ok.