Article Bengali

Women are always ahead of the times, mindset towards them needs to change: Ritabhari Chakraborty

Actress Ritabhari Chakraborty plays Shabari in Aritra Mukherjee’s directorial debut Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti, which attempts to break various taboos associated with women participating in certain rituals and taking up certain tasks.

Ritabhari Chakraborty in Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti

Roushni Sarkar

Actress Ritabhari Chakraborty is essaying the lead character, Shabari, in Aritra Mukherjee’s directorial debut Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti, slated for release on 6 March, ahead of International Women’s Day (8 March). Shabari is a woman priest, a professor in Sanskrit college, and a homemaker with the ability to multitask. The film attempts to break various taboos associated with women participating in certain rituals and taking up certain tasks.

At the launch of the film's trailer on 10 February, Chakraborty spoke at length about the film, which also features Soham Majumder as her husband Vikramaditya, Subhasish Mukherjee, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Manasi Sinha, Soma Chakraborty and others.

Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti is the first film featuring a lady priest as the protagonist. Chakraborty said, “The duty of a priest is to set up a connection with god and it is unfair that only males from an apparently high caste get to do the job. Not only women but also males from other castes cannot perform the rituals. Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti speaks against all this discrimination. It only requires one to have a pure mind to perform the rituals, since we are all born with a pure body.”

In the trailer, Shabari can be seen correcting the mantra being chanted by a priest at her own wedding. Chakraborty said that besides chanting the mantras correctly, her character does not take away the offerings made to god, a practice widely associated with Brahmin priests and mocked in the film. “How can a priest who is greedy and refuses to perform rituals without a huge fee, or is primarily focused on looting people, set up the connection with god?” the actress remarked. Shabari questions the role of priests in society and begins by breaking age-old traditions.

Chakraborty said her biggest challenge was to get into the skin of a priest. “I am doing big talk here, and then if I cannot really project myself as a priest in the film, then all the talk will be wasted," she said frankly. "I had to memorize the Sanskrit mantras, learn the steps of the rituals, and understand their meanings and interpret them to the couples I married off in the film to be accepted by the audience.”

The actress is now confident that she can also perform the wedding rituals in reality as well, but said she would love to see more women come into the field, like Nandini Bhowmick, a real-life woman priest, whom she got acquainted with.

Ritabhari Chakraborty

While her character is obviously fictional, Chakraborty thinks her core values match with Shabari's. “I was waiting for a script in Bengali cinema that would literally make me jump out of my sofa to do it," she said. "That really happened with Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti. I heard just a one-liner and agreed to do the film, without asking about the rest of the cast.”

In the film, Shabari is married into a family that performs several outdated rituals and is deeply conservative. She not only breaks away from these traditions and starts performing priestly rituals but also fights against many other stigma. “For example, menstruation is still a hush-hush matter in our society, which is a part of women’s daily life," the actress said. "Also, curse words are always associated with demeaning women. Have you ever heard of any curse associated with baba [father] or bhai [brother]? It is simply because women are objectified in our society.” These ideas are, unfortunately, deep-rooted and hence one film might not bring about a lot of change, but it is a step towards making the change, Chakraborty asserted.

“I think women are always ahead of the time, it is the mindset towards them that needs to change,” she said. “We hail the country as Mother India, the earth is considered Mother Earth, our native language is mother-tongue but when it comes to giving respect to women in general, the problems begin.”

The film has also addressed the issue of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala, where women of a menstruating age were barred entry until the Supreme Court lifted the ban last year, and the anecdote of Maa Sarada cooking food offerings for the goddess Kali during her menstrual cycle has also been mentioned. “I don’t expect that people will accept all the changes overnight, but at least a dialogue can be initiated," said Chakraborty. "Forget lady priests, all women face challenges daily just because they are women. Hence, I think the woman audience will be able to relate with the story.”

But she said Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti is also an entertaining family drama. “I think it is important to address serious issues in a light-hearted manner to have maximum reach," she explained. "If we can’t reach the families through the film, we won’t be able spread awareness."