How marvellously coincidental that just as I am finishing up E.M. Forster’s masterpiece about anticolonialism in A Passage to India, director-writer Rohena Gera’s début feature—a love story between a wealthy, cosmopolitan man and his “from the village” servant—should next turn up on my viewing list. In the former, the British are the oppressors, in the latter it is societal hierarchy that does its utmost to completely destroy two already shattered lives.
For some, the pace will seem as slow as global progress on climate change or getting along with each other. And yet that is how so many “real” love stories play out: step by step, one crisis or ecstasy at a time with long pauses in-between.
Of course, it falls to the couple to carry the film, making it a virtual two-hander albeit with a few supporting roles to add variety and assist the narrative’s back-story.
As Ratna, the maid of “Sir” who would much rather be a fashion designer, Tillotama Shome expertly balances the display of stoic servitude with a few moments of letting down the hair (the Ganesh dance is a joy) and deeply personal feelings. The best of those coming atop the roof of her employer’s building where, although alone, the rest of Mumbai can be seen and heard. This visual metaphor reinforces the themes of inner solitude even amongst millions of other souls. Widowed after just two months of marriage, Ratna’s only hope of escaping the small-minded stigma of losing her husband—as if his illness was her fault—is to embrace the metropolis and become a modern woman. Step one is to defy tradition and wear bangles!
Vivek Gomber also turns in a credible performance as Ashwin, whose devotion to family brought him back from New York City where he was just beginning to find his way in the world as a writer. Now he works overseeing the construction of multi-floored buildings instead of multi-chapter novels. His wedding never got off the ground, learning of his intended’s voracious appetite for men other than himself just a day before their vows were to have been made.
Over the course of the film, the romance takes its time to heat up, but when it finally does flicker into life it doesn’t seem able to be anything more than a one-kiss wonder. For how could Ashwin’s circle ever deign to admit a servant into the exalted mix. Once again, the opinions (perceived or real) of others threaten to quash sincere feelings and potential happiness of the smitten couple.
A special treat from the musical side of things (original score by Pierre Aviat) comes from the incredible artistry of flautist Rishab Prasanna who, effortlessly it seems, delivers his tones and frequent “bends” in a manner that is at one with the singularity of the troubled lovers as they search for the path to become united.
Do see it all and be in no rush. Then you might realize just how powerful the utterance of a given name can be. JWR