Unbidden, I discovered that my eyes had become moist, a drop or two had slowly meandered down my cheek.
The two hour, twelve minute long movie had struck a chord with me. I had just finished watching the bengali movie ‘Belaseshe’. Belaseshe in bengali means ‘in the autumn of one’s life’. I had read about the movie few months back, but it had slipped my mind. When I was talking to a friend a few days back, I happened to ask him for a good bengali movie to watch. When he mentioned Belaseshe, I decided I must watch it before it slips my mind again.
The protagonists of the movie are not your usual suspects. There is no tall, dark, handsome actor trying to woo a young lass, rather an aged married couple who have entered the twilight era of their lives. Their three daughters and one son are settled and (un)happily married. One of the reasons which made me look forward to the movie was Soumitra Chatterjee, a doyen amongst the Bengali minefield of talented actors. He endeared me when he sweetly sang ‘ami chini go, chini go’ to placate his sister-in-law in the movie Charulata, and he still endears me in his current roles of the sweet dadu (grandpa), disseminating all his wisdom. Playing the patriarch of the family in the movie, he collects all his family members on the day of doshomi (10th day of the Durga Puja festival) to make an important announcement. He announces his decision to divorce his wife Arati of 50 years, and sternly also tells everyone that he is not answerable to anyone and he expects all to respect his decision.
As much as the whole family and the wife is caught off-guard, such a scenario in a mainstream movie is rather uncommon as well; a movie revolving around an aged couple and the husband wanting to divorce his wife for seemingly no reason. The children rally around their mother, seething at the injustice, whereas the wife who is initially unable to accept it, acquiesces to her husband’s decision, citing that she will do whatever makes her husband happy. When the judge asks the couple when was the last time they touched each other lovingly or went out on a walk together, the couple cannot remember any such delicate or intimate moments. Hence, the judge asks the couple to go away on a trip alone, to try and rediscover each other, before granting them a divorce.
I am not going to go into the details of the acting expertise or the narrative of the movie, but rather the important emotions and takeaways that the movie elicits. We see the couple going on walks and finally getting a chance to talk in the privacy of their bedroom. If the husband was preoccupied with his work, the wife had gotten caught in her domestic duties and chores. The husband tells her that during their first anniversary he waited with her gift the whole night, yet she never came. To which she retorts that his father was extremely ill, how could she have left him alone, without any support? And I have probably seen this many times in my own family, seen the ladies in my house sacrificing their own personal desires for others. I don’t know whether it is out of duty or out of love, but when the man is working outside and the woman has to take care of the household duties, many a times one has to make a choice, or rather the choice is already made, for both the man and the woman.
The husband keeps on reiterating how the marriage for him has become a habit, lamenting that did they ever love each other? express their love for each other? This is one time when my heart got caught, the wife tells him that when he leaves his wet towel after a bath, she uses the same and imbibes his smell and everyday she ensures she eats her husband’s leftover. It came to me how it is in these subtle gestures, the unseen ones, the modest ones, which touch your heart. My parents have never explicitly been romantic, often my mom laments that dad is the most unromantic man ever. But when I talked to my mom last time, she recounted how dad had unexpectedly returned home from a business tour last week, without telling her the date and time. Even though mom sounded annoyed, I know she was happy, these little surprises made her day. After I moved to the Netherlands, my mom has to spend a lot of time on her own, this little surprise even if insignificant, is a signal of my dad’s desire to make her happy, to add an element of fun. Or when my mom always goes through my dad’s clothes, realising that he needs new underclothes and buys them, also since my father never seems to remember his size. If this is not love, I don’t know what is then.
Amusingly, after so many years, in the movie the husband recounts how he had bought a particular variety of fish since he desired to eat his wife’s special preparation of it. But as fate would have it, some relatives came that day and the wife ended up cooking the fish for them. The husband berates her for cooking the fish for them and not him!! worse still, not even leaving a single piece for him haha! The husband remarks that he recounted all his complaints, but what about her? Does she not have any? Poignantly the wife remarks, ‘raag obhimaan kore, sanshkaar kora jaye?’, i.e. you cannot build a life out of resentment and ego.
I cannot pin-point exactly why the movie touched me so much. Maybe it sharply underlined the relationships in my life, or maybe how we as a generation lack patience on working hard on any kind of relationship, be it romantic, filial or friendship. It made me reflect on the relationships around me, especially my parents and my uncles and aunts. I could see they had worked hard, I could also now realise the points of struggle in their lives. When initially my parents and I had moved to Delhi, my dad had to travel a lot, which left my mother and I on our own a lot. I was too young to understand how my parents might have coped with this distance, but I can imagine it was not too easy. If anything it made me jot down points, if I am to marry in the future, I dare say, staying married would be a continuous effort. And hence a decision to be carefully undertaken.
In the movie the husband asks the wife, does she know how many life insurances they have? Can she open a bank account? Does she know how much money is there in their bank account? The wife responds then that does he know where the mustard seeds are kept in the kitchen? Perhaps importantly I realised that when living together, you handle and manage things in a balanced way. If the husband managed the finances, the wife managed the household. Both equally important, and both being an expert in their area. Mixing the two could likely confuse things. Funnily enough, the husband never is able to find his shoes unless his wife brings it to them, reminding me of how my dad is always unable to locate something until my mom looks for it! The husband however stays firm, decides that he still wants a divorce, wants to roam the world, be free and also make his wife independent.
Few weeks later, we see the wife has learnt how much money is there in the bank accounts and now teaches young girls stitching. The husband then saunters in, apologetic, realising that his wife was an important habit, albeit an indispensable one. He did not like drinking tea without her, he now wanted to roam the world with her, and for the love of God he could still not find his own shoes. If he had succeeded in his endeavour to make his wife independent, he realised that he could not be independent without his wife. It reminded me how my mom often jokes that if she dies before my father, my father will shout at the sky asking my mom where his things are kept. And as I thought of it, in the next sentence the wife prays to God that she hopes that her husband dies before her, since he was incapable of being on his own. No wonder it left my crying, because if this was not love then what was?
It also made me think of my own mother, we so often devalue their work, the little gestures they do. I remember during school time she would wait for me to return from school so we could have lunch together. If anything I realised love is not in the big gestures, expensive gifts or flattery, it was when I cried about my heartbreak to my mother and she heard me patiently. It is when my father decides to surprise my mother every time by returning home unexpectedly.