Thought-provoking tale of a woman’s lot in life

A scene from the movie. Pic, youtube grab

THIS is a thoughtful film on a woman’s given place in a patriarchal society, even in this 21st century.

A film in Bengali, Sutopar Thikana (Her Own Address) is independent film-maker Proshoon Rahman’s screen adaptation of his own book titled, Ishhorer Ichhe Nei Boley. The director had worked with the late Tareque Masud, another Bangladeshi independent film director, producer, screenwriter and lyricist. His film, Matir Moina (The Clay Bird, 2002), became Bangladesh’s first film to compete for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Sutopar Thikana is the first feature film to have received a government grant in Bangladesh, telling everyone that women’s rights must mean a lot for the country. It should for society in general. Fittingly, the movie premiered in Bangladesh on May 8, last year in conjunction with Mother’s Day.

The story is basically about Sutopar (brilliantly portrayed by Aparna Ghosh) and the different stages in her life — from child to wife to mother to old lady. But is there not more to being a woman than a man’s responsibility? asks the film ever so subtly.

From a carefree childhood, Sutopar (her nickname) is literally dragged from her friends when she has reached the age of marriage. A suitable groom has been found, and his male relatives grill Sutopar on her name, her education, and her obedience. The latter is shown when she is asked to walk barefoot over some water thrown over the muddy ground. She looks beautiful in an apple-green sari and they are no oblivious to her beauty, asking her to let down her plaited hair. It can be seen as quite demeaning.

But she does it all, passes with flying colours, and is sent off on a boat to her husband’s house. It seems all a whirlwind for the teenager who sobs as she leaves her mother’s arms.

Sutopar has to learn how to be a housewife, taking care of her in-laws, cooking, cleaning and other chores around the house. Her husband (Jayanta Chatterjee) gets his own place in the city, and Sutopar sets up home there happily. A son arrives, and she is now a good mother. Her husband dies suddenly, and surviving on his pension proves impossible. Plus, she has to vacate the place within three months.

Her brother comes to her aid, and she and her son stays with him and his family for 12 years. The grown-up son (played by Shahadat Hossain) sets up his own business, using his late father’s property. All Sutopar has left is a place next to her late husband’s burial plot, if she dies before his brother.

The filial son does well, and gets his own place, moving his mother in with him and soon his wife.

As Sutopar goes from house to house, her trusty suitcase follows, taking up pride of place in a corner of the room, wherever she is.

One day, the mother of Sutopar’s daughter-in-law turns up and decides to stay. As she has to share the room with Sutopar, she tells her to move back to her brother’s place.

That seems to be Sutopar’s turning point in her well-tended situation. Her brother’s wife had made no bones about having to put up with the relatives for so long, so going back there is a hard thing to do.

Sutopar leaves her son’s apartment, trusty suitcase in hand, and boards a train.

This is her attempt to break her cycle of dependency.

Why did she never get a job and support her son, you wonders. I think she was never made or taught to think out of that box. From time immemorial in most societies, the patriarchal society has always made their woman dependent on the men.

Here’s a film to show what today’s woman goes through when she has no other means to call her own. Modern women will call Sutopar old-fashioned, but then modern women also take literacy for girls for granted.

Sutopar Thikana could be a clarion call for women to get their own address, if they can, or end up like a nomad as shown in this film.

Kudos to actress Aparna who has transformed herself from stage to stage in Sutopar’s life with great ease. The change is not just in appearance but even in her voice. Known for her work in television and theatre, this is her fifth screen appearance.

Cinematographer Bayezid Kamal has captured scenes of ordinary lives in this movie, rather than it being shot in a studio. From cooking over a charcoal fire, to using an auto rickshaw to green grass swaying in a field, the scenes are evocative of a pleasant, simple life, as reflected in the central character of Sutopar.

According to the production notes, Samina Chowdhury performs six songs composed by Kumar Bishwajit.

Both dialogue and songs are well subtitled, giving cinema-goers the chance of understanding exactly what Sutopar is going through. One song, Chotle Cholte, sung by Kumar, is about how Sutopar has to follow the vagaries of her life to survive.

Sutopar Thikana  is showing at four GSC cinemas — Mid Valley, Pavilion, 1 Utama in Petaling Jaya and Gurney Plaza in Penang.

** This review appeared in The Malaysian Reserve

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