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Goynar Baksho: Aparna Sen’s Tale of Generational Empowerment of Women

Aparna Sen's transcendental movie with Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's brilliant story brings to life 3 generations of Bengali women and society's evolution around them.

Aparna Sen’s transcendental movie with Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s brilliant story brings to life 3 generations of Bengali women and society’s evolution around them.

Over the years, content related to women empowerment have been thrown around like confetti. While some truly gave catharsis, most of it was mere tokenism in the name of storytelling. Under such circumstances,  a filmmaker like Aparna Sen choosing to tell a story about women is probably the best thing possible. Starting from the wonderful surrealistic story by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay to the sensitive treatment of the subject matter, this movie makes for some powerful commentary. Here are few things which deserve to be mentioned.

A pivotal macguffin: goynar baksho

More often than not, a macguffin, is introduced to streamline the plot of a story. But it becomes irrelevant slowly. The Goynar Baksho on the other hand is aided in the story which this movie wishes to tell. Women have been connected to their jewelleries from time immemorial. For some, it becomes a status symbol, a way of understanding one’s worth. Because sadly that is how expendable women were in our society. To Pishima(Moushumi Chatterjee) , a young widow (at the age of 11), this jewellery box meant the world. These gold jewelleries allowed her to not be ostracised from her maternal house, for who cares about widows anyway?

Somlata(Konkona Sen Sharma) didn’t belong to a rich zamindar family like Pishima. Coming from a relatively modest household, she had to hear a lot about her lower class and caste. However it was her entrepreneurial fervour (aided by the jewellery box) which saved this zamindar family from being completely bankrupt.

On the other hand, Somlata’s daughter Rashmoni(Srabanti Chatterjee) was empowered enough to be politically involved and use this inherited wealth for similar purposes.

Proper representation of Bengal

The film mostly spans around Somlata’s life after she comes to her in-laws house. The year is 1950. Partition has happened recently. The wounds are still livid. It’s oozing of infected pus, but still Bengalis find a way to live by. So does their aristocracy. Despite having lost all their wealth and land during the Partition and all the male members of the family being unemployed, they refuse to work.

They prefer using their ancestral money but not work once to lift themselves up from their financial crisis. When Somlata tries to open a saree shop, everyone zeroes in on her. The convenience of misogyny is portrayed without being preachy. The silent resilience of Somlata is allowed to glow from a corner. The jilted ego of the zamindar Bangals, the nostalgia for delicious hilsa, the necessity of living under the same roof despite having writhing schisms within the family members: all of this is shown and shown beautifully.

The subtle feminist undertone

Horror movies with a woman in the helm of it is a known premise. A bloodthirsty daayan lurches around places to avenge for their wrong doings. While those stories have their heart in the right place, they end up pandering to our thrills more than making us conscious. Aparna Sen’s witty comedy is a class apart from that. Her women are well realised characters. They falter, they bitch, they cuss: yet none of that feels unreal.

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It is natural that a woman widowed at the age of 11 will cuss when her opportunistic brothers subjugate her and not allow her the same sexual desires they have. Somlata’s understated demeanour, her stammer and being resilient is also understandable for her poor background. Rashmoni’s steadfastness, affair with college sweetheart/senior Benu, eagerness to know about politics also is natural for the erstwhile condition.

All these women, across three generations, have empowered each other. They have proven to me that, for women to get justice, we don’t need to take revenge. We simply need to acknowledge each other and celebrate womanhood.

Non-vilification of men

Goynar Baksho is a story about women. At the centre of it all, we see how gradually a self aware woman’s crusade to exercise her sexual desire passes on to her future generations, which in turn emboldens them. However to show that, men aren’t villifed unnecessarily.

Yes of course men are privileged brats. They love to hold on to their snobbery because it benefits them. Though they are laden with flaws, they aren’t evils. These are people we know. This is the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle patriarchy we have seen. Hence, it’s believable.

The female gaze

If it wasn’t handled by someone as nuanced as Aparna Sen, lot of details in this movie might have been sensationalised. Being a feminist herself, she approaches her characters with empathy. Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s source material was undoubtedly brilliant. But Aparna Sen made it transcendental and beautifully cinematic.

Hence, Goynar Baksho does what most “feminist” films can’t: make you feel content and invincible.

Image courtesy – Youtube

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