The film’s director Kislay tells TNM why it was important to set the story in Allahabad, which towards the end of the movie has its name changed to Prayagraj.

Aise Hee tells the story of an old womans discovery of the little joys of life
Flix IFFK Monday, December 16, 2019 - 16:15

When the condolences and small recollections become too many, Mrs Sharma walks into the toilet and turns the tap on to mute the voices. Her husband of more than 50 years has just passed away, and on her face is an obvious lot of exhaustion.

Mrs Sharma is the protagonist of new director Kislay’s film Aise Hee / Just Like That, a phrase you will hear her use often as the movie proceeds. The beautifully made film was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala last week.

Kislay, an editing graduate from the Pune Film Institute, had thought of making it a short film at first, consisting of a series of events. But when he went home to Allahabad, he knew he had to set it there, a city where so much was changing. His mate from the FTII, Shwetaabh, became his producer.

Mohini Sharma, an actor from Kashmir and based in Mumbai, became Mrs Sharma for the film. A woman who finds a new kind of freedom in the void left behind by her husband. She begins to find joy in what seems like the most ordinary little acts, like buying roses for the house or eating ice-cream at a mall. Actions one might take for granted, but not easy for a 70-something newly-widowed woman in Allahabad.

“The idea was to initially focus on Mrs Sharma and her slow realisation of things. Not that she’s doing things with a lot of thought. She does it, she enjoys it, and she thinks ‘ok, I will do it’. It takes time,” says Kislay, in an interview with TNM.

“Her life was built around the daily rituals of her husband. When he dies, she first feels empty. Then she realises you can do certain things (to stop feeling empty). It starts with her rearranging the table, opening up the windows (the domestic help’s remark that the late Mr Sharma always had it closed becomes an easy metaphor), just being free in her clothes. She can be just in a petticoat and blouse when no one is there. Then she begins to go out and do things she wants, becomes confident,” the director explains.

Mrs Sharma lives on top of a two-floor house, while her son and family live below. Their characters are just as significant as Mrs Sharma. There’s the son, a man struggling with his All India Radio job, unable to buy an air conditioner for the house. His wife is another Mrs Sharma, a middle-aged woman whose life is reduced to taking care of the domestic affairs of the family and who is taken for granted throughout the film.

“I had at first thought it could be the story of Mrs Sharmas, one living up and the other down. In some sense, the younger Mrs Sharma represents the kind of life the older woman had before,” Kislay says.

He uses a series of photographs to represent a quick retelling of the earlier lives of his characters. Younger Mrs Sharma – Sonia – had been studious, won awards, used to have fun and laugh freely, you see from the photos which end with her wedding day. Life had not been the same since.

“Those are mostly real photographs, earlier ones of the actors who play the roles,” Kislay says.


Kislay

There is also a third generation – Sonia’s teenage kids. Kislay shows the fine layers of patriarchy that’s been handed down through the generations with the help of these characters.

Old Mrs Sharma is not even identified by her first name, another detail you tend to overlook, because she was living in the shadow of the late Mr Sharma. You’d think her family would be pleased to see her smile again, find new meaning and joys in life, by little acts such as watching the calm river, or learning embroidery, or simply getting a facial. But each of these acts give rise to gossip and the family feels ashamed, not protective. The son is offended when Mrs Sharma decides to buy an air conditioner for herself by applying a loan, all by herself. He is not ready to believe she’s done it all herself.

“It is the tailor that’s putting these ideas into your head,” he tells her angrily.

The tailor is an old Muslim man, kindly and friendly towards Mrs Sharma. They have their lighter moments as both of them sew on different machines. His niece also befriends Mrs Sharma. A third friendship is formed with a young woman who works in a parlour.

“I don’t know about Kerala but in north India, working in a parlour is looked at in a particular way. Even Mrs Sharma is a little judgemental. She has her flaws too. Just because she’s doing these new things does not mean all her biases and prejudices from before have disappeared,” Kislay says.

Mrs Sharma does seem accepting of others, not appearing to care for their religion or class. She goes out of her way to help the parlour woman, but then at one point also becomes rude to her.

You side with her for the most part, but Kislay doesn’t intend to create an all-nice protagonist for you to identify with. “You identify with them and when you go back home, things are still the same. It is important to present other perspectives and the complexities of a single person,” he says.

It is for this reason Kislay set the film in Allahabad, which towards the end of the movie has its name changed to Prayagraj. He subtly puts in the background that Hindutva forces are imposing their ways.

Kislay wanted to find where it all starts from. Perhaps it starts from family where a younger brother suddenly becomes controlling of his elder sister, snatches her phone and dictates how she should live her life; where a son shouts at his mother for simply trying to enjoy life; where someone beats up an old man in the middle of the night because that’s what they have been doing to the old people in their family.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.