Fractured Families: The joint-family, the couple’s space and the emerging self in Bengali Cinema
THEME/DESCRIPTION: This paper traces the shift in familial relations – from the traditional structure of the joint/extended family, to the couple’s space/conjugal ties, and finally the inward search for the self/individual – as depicted in Bengali cinema. Since India’s independence and traumatic partition in 1947, Bengali films in particular were concerned with the dissipation of community life and the trials and tribulations of the joint-family system that was rapidly giving way to the nuclear family, which had at its core the private space, romantic love and marital relations between heterosexual couples. Furthermore, the break-up of the extended family often became a painful metaphor for the literal truncation of the Indian subcontinent and the start of the nation-building era. However, in subsequent decades, particularly from the 1990s onwards, Bengali cinema has consistently revisited this site of fragmentation, and has called into question not only the patriarchal reins of the joint-family system, but also the very notion of marriage itself, since the choices made by the modern empowered woman, the demands of a stressful city-life, and the opportunities provided by education, have necessitated a search for the self and a consolidation of the individual, which resists social and communal subordination. By closely analyzing relevant excerpts from four critically acclaimed Bengali films – Shakha Proshakha (“The Branches of the Tree”; Satyajit Ray, 1990), Utsab (“The Festival”; Rituparno Ghosh, 2000), Paromitar Ek Din (“One Day of Paromita’s” – English title “House of Memories”; Aparna Sen, 2000) and Anuranan (“Resonance”; Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, 2006)– this paper will map the fragmentation and changing concerns of the family as well as examine the tussle between a patriarchal nostalgia for the past and realist confrontation of the present. While Ray’s film probes into familial relations across four generations that heightens in anxiety during a picnic, Ghosh’s film unravels over the duration of four days, when a large family returns to their ancestral home to celebrate Durga Puja (festival for the goddess Durga). Alternatively, Sen’s poignant narrative explores the bond between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law despite divorcing the former’s son; while Roy Chowdhury’s film, set against the backdrop of a quaint hill-station explores the complex relationship between two married couples. The paper will draw attention to the multiple contradictions that arise in these four films: what is the position of the modern woman and the lonely widow in a joint-family? Is the broadminded hero also the proverbial emasculated Bengali man? Does the break down of marital trust spawn the seeds of a lifelong friendship? What challenges in Bengal’s socio-cultural landscape, since the 1990s, provoke filmmakers to reassess the function/dysfunction of the family?
LIST OF FILMS: 1). Shakha Proshakha (“The Branches of the Tree”; Satyajit Ray, 1990)
2). Utsab (“The Festival”; Rituparno Ghosh, 2000)
3). Paromitar Ek Din (“One Day of Paromita’s” – English title “House of Memories”; Aparna Sen, 2000)
4). Anuranan (“Resonance”; Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, 2006)