ANTARMAHAL (Rituparno Ghosh, 2005)

The apotheosis of male arrogance: it never even occurs to Bhubaneswar Chowdhury that the biological problem could be his. In late Victorian India, he is a Bengal zamindar—a wealthy landowner and feudal lord—who has taken a second, young wife because his wife of twelve years has failed to give him a child, specifically, a male heir. For Jashomati, sex with Chowdhury, hard and unfeeling, is always unwanted, disgusting. In anticipation of Durga Puja, an annual celebration of the Hindu goddess of female creativity, a form of Devi, shortly before her association with India’s movement of independence from Britain, Chowdhury commissions a young Hindustani sculptor, Brijbhushan, to create out of clay a spectacular rendering of Durga on which will appear the face of Queen Victoria, for which he has secured official permission, and which promises to outdo whatever his chief regional rival might come up with. Brijbhushan, a living image of sexual prowess, needs money because his wife is pregnant; his sleeping in the raw, uncovered, has shaken up the mansion. He will himself prove, ironically, a force for creation/destruction, and he will disappear. Jashomati’s suicide will preserve the ambiguity of her apparent pregnancy.
     From Bengal author Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s story “Protima,” writer-director Rituparno Ghosh has fashioned another superlative film, visually expressive of a presumptuous, inwardly drawn way of life on the verge of decay. Bandyopadhyay also wrote Jalsaghar, the novel upon which Satyajit Ray based a somewhat similar film (The Music Room, 1958) set some thirty years later. Unlike Ray’s black-and-white film, Ghosh’s is in rich though fading color.
     Jackie Shroff is excellent as the distasteful Chowdhury, who sadistically relishes Jashomati’s felinophobia targeting his orange cat, which he eventually has killed to inflict further cruelty on Jashomati.
     Throughout, touches of red and orange denote sexuality.


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