Two stories, mirroring each other. Or does one story lead into another? Weaving together two disparate Bengali short stories (Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Dibyendu Palit), Shyamaprasad presents Oru Njayarazhcha that delves into the dilemmas surrounding affairs, so human. The film won the Kerala State Award for director last year and is currently running in theatres.
Suja Iyer and Ajith Thomas have managed to tear two days away from their respective partners for a clandestine meeting. At a secluded beach resort, they behave like a newly-wed couple, still exploring each other with lust and love. But Suja is cautious, consumed by guilt but unwilling to let go off this daringly secretive affair. Ajith seems less concerned about the morality of this union, though strangely he keeps bringing her husband into the conversation. We get tiny revelations about their past—that they were in neighbouring apartments, and how Ajith was always attracted towards her—but nothing really about the circumstances behind the affair. Rest are assumptions—about a globetrotting husband who perhaps neglected her but nothing again about Ajith’s wife, strangely.
While in parallel, at another home, a similar but a denser relationship is at crossroads. Sujatha is in her mid-40s, beautiful, and looks younger than her age, as her husband admits tonelessly. She lives in a large spacious home, with an elaborate garden lovingly tended to by her husband, and two teenage children. But in that space, she is treated with indifference, especially the daughter who can’t stand the sight of her. Sujatha has been in a relationship with a married man for years, a relationship that also leads to this man’s wife’s suicide. It’s an affair that has ironically stood the test of time, and her marriage by all accounts has been over for a long time. Her husband, Hari seems to be in his 50s, with greying hair that frames a face more calm than happy.
It’s easier to put a rewind button in our heads and visualise this marriage that disintegrated gradually. Again, it’s left to the viewers to assume the timeline of this affair—maybe she was in her early 30s, with two toddlers, when this affair started. When Sujatha talks to Devan about stepping out without the prying eyes on her, it’s clear that the period of discretion has been over for a while. Hari gives the impression of having accepted the affair too quickly, without dwelling deeper into the deception story. Maybe they fought endlessly, threatened to walk out and eventually chose to stay for the sake of their children’s future, we never know. At the dining table, she sits at the far end, even as the children and husband huddle together in an animated conversation about history. Just as if they suddenly realise her presence, they throw her a smile or a line. Sujatha has turned irrelevant in that house; she is more tolerated than accepted and she accepts it with a grateful smile.
Directed and written by Shyamaprasad, inspired from two Bengali short stories, which have been made into a single narrative, Oru Njayarazhcha is his most unassuming work till date, with a short film tone, frames stark and ordinary and actors fresh and raw. Typically, the filmmaker is keener to explore the rough edges, the mindspace of the characters than make them feel court-martialed. Each of the characters is aware of the deep mess they are in, especially the moral intricacies. And importantly, the women aren’t put on trial as is with most films with a similar narrative, where the man is let go with a frail apology, while the woman is damned for life. It’s about men and women, caught in situations of their own doing, eager to find their own inner peace in that chaos, vouch for their own rights and wrongs and they still don’t want to put the clock back in time. Sujatha is more fatigued than guilty—of balancing two unequal relationships for a long time and finding solace in none. Her conversation with Hari before she steps out to meet her lover is a fragmented bit about extracting a not-guilty validation certificate from him, than remorse. It’s his coldness she is unable to handle, his calmness infuriates her. That only makes her think less of herself.
Strangely unlike the younger couple, who are still in the throes of a passionate affair, here the thrill has waned, both the marriage and affair have diluted into a space of comfort and familiarity. So, in effect Sujatha is balancing two marriages, that sadly add nothing to her peace of mind. With Devan, perhaps there is more intimacy unlike Hari who looks dispassionately at Sujatha as she comes out of the bathroom dressed in a towel. Devan’s son is still a bone of contention between them, it’s the only time she feels stressed and culpable, for snatching the mother away from him. There are half-hearted attempts to address the loneliness of the child, where he is finally handed over to his aunt. At various instances we wonder at how the guilt didn’t overpower the couple to stop the affair, especially after the suicide of Devan’s wife.
In Suja and Ajith’s case, the complexities have only begun, and the future of this liaison is uncertain as Ajith feels more lust than love for her. He comes across as a selfish lover, who is more bothered about his own blinding desire, overpowering her with his feral love-making whenever she shows a reluctance. But somewhere we get the uneasy feeling that it's interlinked—these two narratives, Sujatha can be Suja’s mirror to a future if the latter’s affair holds steady, therefore the rhyming of the names cannot be too much of a coincidence.
While the new actors (Sally Varma, Murali Chand and Megha Thomas) show promise, they still fall short of making it truly nuanced. But then the ingrained complexity and humanness of the narrative makes it easier to sail through, prompting for a self-reflection, like it has been in the case of most of Shyamaprasad’s films.
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