Mumbai, 26 Nov 2019 9:00 IST
Filmmaker Kislay’s debut feature turns the spotlight on an elderly woman trying to figure out what to do with her life after her husband's death.
There haven't been those many films that seek to examine an older Indian woman who wants to live life anew after the death of her husband.
Living in Allahabad, before the city's infamous name change, Mrs Sharma (Mohini Sharma) resides with son Virendra (Harish Khanna), an announcer with All India Radio, his wife and their two children.
Mrs Sharma's husband has died, and living on the floor above her family, she finally begins to take small steps towards her own freedom before she is rudely curtailed by her loved ones and society's gossipmongers.
Filmmaker Kislay, in his first feature, introduces us to Mrs Sharma as mourners are gathered around her, and she makes an escape to the bathroom in her grief. She still can’t escape the loud whispers of those gathered, who wonder what will happen to her.
Indeed, what will? She begins to live the humdrum life expected of a widow, including morning exercises in the park with the rest of the retired folks and dinners with the family at home.
But that doesn’t excite her any more. Instead, she sneaks off to the local mall to enjoy a simple ice-cream after telling everyone she has to go to the temple. Another time, she goes down by the riverside for a moment away from the din and makes an unexpected friend, Sughandi (Trimala Adhikari), who works in the local beauty parlour.
But each time Mrs Sharma aims to be free, she is spotted by someone from the community who knows her, who passes by innocuously saying, “Aunty, what are you doing?”, effectively ruining her experience. Her family and society judge her for her associations and friendships.
Along with Sughandi, Mrs Sharma begins taking embroidery classes with a Muslim tailor Ali (Mohammed Iqbal) and aids him when he has a run-in with local Hindu goons. Those around her view her new friendships with suspicious eyes.
Mrs Sharma's son Virendra and daughter-in-law Sonia (Sadhna Singh) believe she is being used for money. They gather with the so-called elders from the community to discuss her as a problem that must be handled. Virendra and Sonia, meanwhile, are dealing with their own internal struggles.
Kislay pointedly shares some of their lowest moments — Virendra struggles as a consultant at his radio job and looks for appreciation from an insensitive boss, while Sonia is stuck in the vortex of home, chores, and family. The first-time filmmaker makes an interesting choice to show us photos of the cast in various stages of their lives, in conjunction with the characters. It both opens and closes them up to us.
The film derives its title from the off-hand but sweet answer given to people by Mrs Sharma when she is asked about new decisions in life. “Bas aise hee [Just like that],” she replies. Then it strikes you that she needs permission to live her own life. Her son is aghast that she has even dared to open a bank account of her own. How did she find the bank?
Aise Hee brings up many other battles, internal and social, on the screen, sometimes with humour, other times with stark reality. Mrs. Sharma’s son and grandson (Shivam Sharma) assert their dominance with the women in their lives, sometimes in a dangerous manner. The friendly tailor realizes that by helping out Mrs Sharma, he is jeopardizing his own livelihood. The film gives us a glimpse of the lingering communal tensions in the state.
The final shot of Mrs Sharma shows her as lonely as she was when we met her at the beginning of the film. Mohini Sharma gives a delightful but meaningful performance as an older woman who just wants to be herself. Even if it means indulging in self-care once in a while.
The rest of the cast back her up well, especially Khanna and Adhikari, who bring out the two different sides of Mrs Sharma — repressed parent and carefree friend. Kislay and cinematographer Saumyananda Sahi mix up the way the story and the characters are presented, sometimes showing the action from afar, even at key moments.
Aise Hee, which had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in September, has many layers that can be unveiled upon a second viewing. Kislay’s film gives us so much to think about, that even a simple act of independence can cause so many ripples.
Aise Hee was screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 24 October.
Related topicsMAMI Mumbai Film Festival Busan International Film Festival Dharamshala International Film Festival
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