Set in rural/semi urban Bengal, just away from Kolkata, Bariwali is a film that showcases life of women in a traditional Bengali family.
This write attempts to draw the attention of the reader to the choice of characters, in the background of the main story. It tries to understand, how sensitively and carefully, Rituparno Ghosh, the director of the film, chose his characters to speak of a deeper reality that lies beneath the upper layer of the story board itself.
The protagonist is nameless, just known as bariwali, the land lady. She lives alone in a massive house, on the outskirts of Kolkata, with two other human beings, Proshonno da and Maloti. Proshonno da, is single, rather elderly, with features that can be called feminine. He is the perfect aid that a woman needs for all the work which generally is managed by men. He is older than bariwali and is her paid help, and lives in the house. Maloti, is on the other hand is young, sprightly and active, both at home and romantically, since she has a boyfriend. She is also a paid help in the house.
Juxtapose, these two against the land lady, and what you will find is a woman, holding power over two workers in her house, but as the film develops, you see that actually, they are the people who have more power than her.
Carefully chosen by Rituparno Ghosh to put a point across, neither Proshonno da, nor Maloti will have any sexual, romantic intrusion into her life, because, Proshonno da, although well past his youth, is not a virile man, masculine and sex motivated. Indeed, in his quiet way, with his slight body, thin and exuding feminine gestures, the bariwali, is fuller and far stronger in appearance than him. Nor will Maloti, too young, playful and happy go lucky, be a challenge to preserving the bariwali’s sexuality, because, she may have to grow older to understand the deeper implications of this trajectory, and in any case she is engaged to her masculine, possessive boyfriend, with whom she is exploring her sexuality in the hide.
The barrenness of the life of bariwali, only comes to light though, when a film company hires the lower portion of her house to shoot their film. Dipankar, the director of the film, seems to come closest to her desires, when, interacting with him, on a daily basis; she is hounded by her own desires that have been asleep in her mind too long. It is revealed that she was at one time, about to be married, when a death in the family, caused her marriage to be cancelled, leaving her, unfulfilled. But is Dipankar going to fulfill her emotional, romantic needs? Hitched between, being desired by two women, one, the land lady herself, whose expression of her interest in him shows in subtle ways, the heroin of his the film, Rupa Ganguly is more blatant, the director is more concerned with his, film that the emotions of either women.
Bariwali is not going to benefit from the overture she has made. She will remain the nameless land lady, addressed only as Didi, elder sister. Indeed, she will have to remain in the cage of non-expression, silenced, because there is neither outlet, nor a shore where she can anchor her emotions on.
The wonderful choice of characters, in her personal life, Proshonno da and Maloti, while aiding her daily needs, accentuate the boundaries within which she lives, on the top floor of a massive house, where the light falls, only if she sits out in the verandah. Bariwali is living in the cage of her own making, as she lives the traditional life, not having seen or been with any other. Her sexuality will not be challenged by either of these, for one, is too gentle and too benign, the other, too young and exploring elsewhere.
Women’s sexuality are guarded, preserved, even if they are not productive in the normative sense, of the term, that being able to bear child. The shackles of tradition along with how they are placed in the environment in which they live, only strengthens the reality further.
Rituparno Ghosh, is known to bring out the layers of hypocrisy ailing the middle-class in the most refined and sometimes blatant way.
For those with finer taste, and a weak heart, Bariwali, will settle best in the stomach, the burps coming up gently to shake them up, for there is no getting away from the fact of the human chain of boundary, not only created by men, but preserved by women as well.
Cast: Chironjeet, Kiron Kher, Rupa Ganguly