Even before we could begin to learn to process grief, the pandemic demanded we learn of the several ways one could lose their loved ones.. other than in death. In her latest feature, Tora’s Husband, filmmaker Rima Das (also the writer, producer, editor, and cinematographer) paints a delicate and layered image of a family crumbling under the weight of what the pandemic left behind.
Tora’s Husband (Assamese)
Director: Rima Das
Cast: Tarali Kalita Das, Abhijit Das, Bhuman Bhargav Das, and Purbanchali Das
Runtime: 135 minutes
Storyline: A father struggles to keep his small-town business afloat after the pandemic as his wife grows worried due to his alcoholism
Tora (Tarali Kalita Das) a loving housewife, witnesses the withering away of her husband, Jaan (Abhijit Das), a simple but flawed man. Rima lets the camera be a static witness to show how the global calamity has changed life in Chhaygaon, Assam, along with that of Jaan. She captures the air of a town getting back to its feet after a lockdown, with prevailing tension with the distribution of rations, statutory warnings over speakers, ambulances whirring past, and the paranoia over COVID-19 tests and isolation centres.
For Jaan, his Snow White restaurant and bakery isn’t doing enough business to keep his employees happy, payments owed to him are deferred, he’s answerable to the people he owes money to, and a nagging headache adds to the woes. But Jaan is the jaan of Chhaygaon; so even when he struggles to carry the weight of it all, he still clears the unattended carcass of a dog from the road, tends to the lonely and deprived, ensures all his customers are treated kindly, and juggles all his duties, including that of being a father to Manu (Purbanchali Das) and Bhargav (Bhuman Bhargav Das).
But with the everyday anxieties only adding to his worsening state of affairs, Jaan begins to end his days with a drink in his hand, often passing out in his car, and this turn to alcoholism becomes a growing trouble that takes Tora’s husband away from her.
Rima’s writing, blocking, and picturisation of the scenes, as always, make you pause and reflect on the ease with which she weaves such profound, larger-than-life ideas. In Tora’s Husband, it’s this ballooning feeling of something missing; somewhere after the scenes that introduce us to this family, we begin to notice this growing feeling even when life seems to go on as usual. And the disappearance of Piku, one of the family’s two dogs, is quite symbolic. Their younger son Bhargav’s distress with Piku’s disappearance is yet another problem for Jaan to solve.
Deftly through details, subtle and loud, we are also told how Tora is struggling to cope with all this. On one hand, channelling the helplessness towards her everyday duties, we see her take refuge in the little joys of raising her children but something as common as soap left on a dish conveys way more about her mental state.
Tora’s Husband, in comparison to Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing, is busier (the urban setting is one of the reasons), seems more frantic in reaching places, is more dialogue-driven, and the storytelling is quite dramatic with a certain elevation in the pitch; it is the most ‘mainstream’ film Rima has made. For instance, there’s a scene staged straight out of a television soap where Jaan overhears Tora complaining about his drinking problem. In a way, Rima’s departure from the usual in a film shot over two years during the pandemic is quite symbolic of the effects of the pandemic.
As always, the visual storyteller in Rima is at her best and we are shown this family with gleeful images, of the kids playing with action figures in puddles of rain, quite in contrast to the melancholy of the desolate open fields that Jaan sometimes stares at and loses himself in thoughts. The visual imagery and where Rima finds her characters also evoke a certain duality, like how there’s calmness in death or stillness in chaos, and how life can seem louder in an open meadow and quieter in the middle of a bustling street.
Rima’s control over her narration faces a setback only when you wish to move past the needless meandering to tell a point already conveyed — about Jaan’s struggle to let go of his footballer past, an arc that becomes redundant post the brilliant scene that has Jaan show his yesteryear pictures as a footballer to his son.
After the arresting Village Rockstars (about a young girl with big dreams) and Bulbul Can Sing (about teenagers with a million epiphanies), Rima Das brings her most ambitious effort with Tora’s Husband to find meaning in the chaos, and it is done so with such profound writing and picturisation. It’s a film you wish to submit yourself to, one that doesn’t leave you for hours, one that compels you to revisit for its effortlessness, and as always, a Rima Das film that makes you feel one with yourself and those around you.
Tora’s Husband is currently running in theatres in Assam. The film releases in theatres in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad on September 29