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Priestess Solemnising Weddings Sans Kanyadaan, Have You Seen This? A List Of Bengali Women-Centric Films

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Women-Centric Bengali Films: From a priestess solemnising weddings without Kanyadaan (Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti) to a widow rescuing a black marketer (Bisorjon) contemporary Bengali films whether in India or Bangladesh have come a long way.

Yes, there is no denying that Satyajit Rai led this change many decades ago with films like Mahanagar but it is also true that we still have movies with women playing furniture roles. However, the presentation of empowering female characters in Bengali films is what fascinates me the most.

So, here are 5 of my favourite empowering female characters from recent Bengali films:

1. Shabari (Brahma Janen Gopon Kommoti)

Shabari (Ritabhari Chakraborty) is a Professor of Sanskrit. Her father was a priest. She shares his interest loves reading and reinterpreting the scriptures, carrying out ceremonies, rituals and weddings. Being a woman, she faces several challenges as not everyone readily accepts a priestess. Alongside, she also spreads awareness on menstrual hygiene with the help of her team of students. No wonder, they have to go through a series of ups and downs for the same as no one is comfortable holding ‘period conversations’ openly.

Shabari’s marriage is an unconventional and progressive ceremony. Her family refuses to perform the kanyadan ritual because they do not believe in “donating” their daughter. At the end of the ceremony, she removes a little amount of vermillion from her head and puts it on her husband’s forehead a mark of equality in their relationship. Her husband Bikramaditya (Soham Majumdar) goes against his family to be by her side whenever she is wronged.

Shabari also teaches us why we should get rid of the age-old custom of women being denied to offer prayers during menstruation. By the end of the movie, everyone who rejected her beliefs because come forward to support her and shed off their conservative mindset.

2. Rumi (Switzerland)

Rumi (Rukmini Maitra) is a Geography teacher by profession. She lives with her husband, Shibu (Abir Chatterjee) and their children. Coming from a middle-class family, she is unable to fulfil her desire to visit Switzerland.  When Rumi visits her paternal home with her family, Shibu is insulted constantly because of his financial status. Unable to bear it, he spontaneously announces that they have planned a trip to Switzerland.

The rest of the movie talks about the struggles of Rumi and Shibu to arrange money for their trip. Besides teaching at the school, Rumi also decides to give private tuitions. In a scene, we find her dealing sternly with a child’s father who behaves inappropriately with her instead of getting scared of him. The couple goes through difficulties and dilemmas throughout but not for a moment do they give up on each other or their dream. What makes Rumi an empowering woman is her hard work, resilience, dedication and fearlessness. Even when Shibu gets caught by the police, Rumi stands by him and ensures that he is out of jail.

Shibu and Rumi set couple goals by complementing each other. Unlike entitled males, Shibu gets his children ready for school and even does the household chores along with Rumi. It is also endearing to see how they play the ‘unconventional parents’ by sharing drinks and speaking their hearts out to each other. This proves that contrary to the popular belief having children does not bring an end to a couple’s personal life.

3. Ira (Crisscross)

Crisscross introduces us to not one but five empowering female characters, each dealing with their own set of challenges. But above all, it is a story of love, friendship and women supporting women. This movie is a fine example of independent women uplifting each other.

Ira (Mimi Chakraborty) is a journalist and is determined to prosper in her career. Sometimes she even spends the entire night in her office working. Ira’s story is the story of every woman trying to balance between love and career. She lives with her boyfriend Archi (Arjun Chakrabarty) and pays all bills. Archi, on the other hand, cooks for her and makes sure that she does not go hungry amidst her busy schedule.

She spends a whole day looking for “success stories” of women in new age Kolkata. But does not succeed. At the end of the day, she meets Rupa (Sohini Sarkar), who wants to end her life. She has cancer and has only a few months left to live. Moreover, she wants to escape her unhappy marriage. Ira rushes to help her and decides not to leave her alone, given the circumstances.

The movie ends on a happy note with the women’s problems finally resolving and Ira agreeing to marry  Archi even if she has to lose her job.

4. Sudipa (Praktan)

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) is a conservative architect. She falls in love with Ujjan (Prosenjit Chatterjee), a tourist guide. Once the two get married, Sudipa realises Ujjan is nothing but a male chauvinist who believes in dominating and suppressing women. Sudipa’s financial success makes him insecure. She deals with emotional abuse and sexual inequality but does everything she can to keep her relationship with Ujjan working. Despite going through a miscarriage because of Ujjan’s conservative family rituals, she gives her marriage a second chance. It is only when she realises that their marriage is beyond repair, she decides to walk out.

Sudipa is one of contemporary Bengali cinema’s most empowered female characters because she becomes a voice for the women stuck in toxic marriages. She inspires them to make the right choice and stand up for themselves whenever needed.

5. Padma (Bisorjon)

Padma (Jaya Ahsan) is a young Bangladeshi widow living with her father-in-law. She saves Naseer Ali (Abir Chatterjee), an Indian associated with the black market trade whom she finds lying senseless on a riverbank. She introduces him as her cousin brother to avoid any sort of speculation. Unlike other women mentioned above, Padma is not an urban career-driven woman. She lives a simple life and earns a meagre salary by sewing. It is with this money she nurses Naseer back to health and manages other expenses. Naseer offers to provide her with financial assistance but she rejects it as all she expected from him was respect and not money.

Padma gradually transforms from a stereotypical widow into a woman challenging the patriarchal norms. One night, she comes home wearing a printed saree, as opposed to the traditional white one. Naseer is shocked to learn that she has popped in sleeping pills and is not in her senses. She reveals that she has made arrangements for him to cross the border safely. In return, she will be marrying the old zamindar, Ganesh (Kaushik Ganguly).

The viewers sympathise with the protagonists because they have no option other than parting ways despite being in love. But there’s no doubt about the fact that Padma is one of those empowering female characters who believe in sacrifice over selfishness.

Do let us know which are your favourite ones.

The views expressed are the author’s own.