Recently, while spewing venom on the insensitivity with which the Indian media and the society in general deals with sexual harassment/ rape cases, i was made to wonder why most men hesitate to get married to a rape victim. Is it just because of them losing their virginity? After all, the rape victims are never to be blamed for it. Also the concept of a virgin bride has lost much of its significance. On sharing my query with fellow MAM authors on our group on a mobile messaging app, one of them explained that it is about the stigma attached to the whole issue. Our deeply conservative and rotten society doesn’t allow the victim and her family to move on with life very easily. Being cinephiles to the core, we try to find our answers in cinema. So another MAM author recommended Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan to me as it tackles exactly the same issue i was grappling with. I was not much exposed to the acclaimed Rituparno Ghosh’s cinema and so i immediately followed up on the recommendation. As the end credits of the extra-ordinary film rolled, much of the doubts in my mind were answered.
Dahan(Crossfire), adapted from a novel of the same name, throws the spotlight on the moralities of the educated middle class of Calcutta of the 90s through a sexual harassment incident and a chain of events that get linked to it. In the film, Romita is molested and almost kidnapped on the streets of Calcutta. Her husband Palash, who is accompanying her, is also brutally assaulted by the men rendering him unconscious. Romita’s scream for help are ignored by others on the street except for a strong-willed school teacher Jhinuk who helps Romita escape from the clutch of the attackers. The film then goes on to explore that how despite the press hailing Jhinuk as a heroine and her identifying of the attackers, both the ladies face opposition from their families in their resolve to seek justice due to societal pressure and moral fickleness.
Dahan maintains a starkly realistic texture in its drama. It mostly steps away from melodrama despite handling a sensational subject unlike earlier efforts in Indian cinema like Santoshi’s Damini. The dialogues too are conversational and help us in identifying with the characters. The film expertly lays bare the insensitivity with which the Indian society makes it difficult for Romita to seek justice. It subtly shows how even Jhinuk’s fiance and Romita’s husband Palash are manipulated and pressurised in their workplaces into discouraging the ladies from seeking justice. Despite touching many other themes like the fallibility of ideals and their practicality, social stigma and male chauvinism amongst others, the clarity of thought in the film remains intact.
It is rare to see such well-etched and lovely women characters in an Indian film. Be it the resolved and uncompromising Jhinuk who is ready to risk her marriage for her ideals or the confused, submissive and caught-between-two-worlds Romita or even the fiance of one of the perpetrators of the crime who now doesn’t wish to marry a male chauvinist. The performances too by Indrani Haldar as Jhinuk and Rituparno Sengupta as Romita are topnotch. Ghosh successfully manages to evoke empathy in our minds for all his women. But the male characters in Dahan on the other hand are quite uni-dimensional, an even more rare feature in an Indian film.
The subtlety ensures that points made in the film are not forcefully driven across. However, the scene where Palash violates his wife on the bed and the courtroom scenes could have done with more restrain.
Very impressively the sexuality in the film too has a matter-of-factness and maturity to it, case in point being the scene where Jhinuk’s fiance Tunir tries his best to convince his darling of not persisting with her resolve to pursue the case, but not before planting a few kisses on her lips.
Dahan could very well have ended on a feminist note, but here again the film pleasantly surprises you by subtly convincing us that in the end each individual can depend only on one’s ownself and nobody else.
Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan is thus a highly recommended piece of cinema as it is not only a very well made and engaging drama that tackles a sensitive subject with maturity and subtlety, but also convincingly puts across rather pertinent ideas.