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Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha review: A heartwarming tale of loneliness, companionship, and zest for life

Release Date: 13 Aug 2019 / 49min

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Shriram Iyengar

Director Tanuja Chandra's documentary is a subjective yet wonderful portrait of two women exploring freedom in their twilight years.

In a world that is increasingly cynical about people, their motives, and the idea of freedom, Tanuja Chandra's Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha is a quiet and colourful portrait of two free, courageous and boisterous women. While it is a sweet and sentimental ode to Chandra's aunts, the documentary feels more like a subjective portrait than an objective exploration.

The story of aunty Sudha and aunty Radha, an octogenarian and a nonagenarian, respectively, living together in a secluded house near Vrindavan might sound like a depressing tale of loneliness. The reason it is not so is because of the two women. Each, having experienced her fair share of sorrows in life, has now turned to the other in the timeless bond of sisterhood.

They are not always happy. Like any sisters living in close quarters, they snipe at each other, gossip behind the other's back, even make indirect comments at the other through their domestic help. And yet, people flock around them for their kind hearts. From the cook to the caretaker to the watchman and the gardener, they all share a sense of belonging with their matrons. The women also respond by sharing their land with the landless, offering them a means of escaping the endless cycle of the class divide. By these means, an entire ecosystem of people is transformed into a family around these two lonely women.

Tanuja Chandra explores the characters, actions and desires of these two ladies through simple questions, without influencing their answers. Perhaps it was her relationship as a niece that helped them to open up so much. Therein lies the bias of the director to her subjects. And yet, one cannot grudge her that bias.

Technically, the film works on a simple but picturesque shooting style. Eeshit Narain's camera moves in close quarters to capture the emotion writ large on the wrinkles of the leading ladies while maintaining a safe distance as they go on about their daily lives. This immersive movement gives the audience the illusion of living with them.

The director uses this intimacy to paint a picture of two women experiencing their first brush with freedom in the twilight of their lives. From choosing the 'best' of clothes and food to the joy of caring for, planning and creating a garden, they come across as 20-somethings trying to play 'adults' in a changing world. Their joys, frustrations and even anxiety about death feel just as familiar to a millennial as they might to an 80-year-old. 

"She is only learning to be free now," says aunty Sudha in a heartwarming moment. In another moment, we see aunty Radha shop for kurtis with all the attitude of a fashionista at a Delhi mall. In these little moments, one aspires both to be around and to be them.  

Perhaps the most incisive moments of the film are their insights on death. "We all have to die. Does that mean we lay out a welcome mat and wait for it?" says Aunty Radha. While this might feel like a dark moment, in Tanuja Chandra's lovely documentary it becomes an emphasis of carpe diem (seize the day). While it might not be a great documentary enlightening you about the lives and habits of old women in India, it certainly warms your heart and reduces the cynicism every modern individual is blighted with. 

Aunty Sudha Aunty Radha was screened at the 21st Mumbai Film Festival on 22 October 2019. It will be screened at Mindscape: The Festival of Ideas in New Mumbai on 19 January 2020.


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MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

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