'Tora's Husband': Rima Das's refreshing, impactful neo-realist drama
  • Release Date: 22/09/2023
  • Cast: Abhijit Das, Tarali Kalita Das, Bhuman Bhargav Das, Purbanchali Das
  • Director: Rima Das

One has to admit that Rima Das has successfully cracked the formula for creating beautiful, effective, and impactful Axomia neo-realistic dramas that are nearly as revolutionary for Axomia and Indian Cinema as the neorealistic film movement was for Italian cinema. Das’s films have not only shown filmmakers across the country how effectively common problems of everyday human existence can be lyrically presented in films of exceptional beauty and insight but also how to utilise the resources (tangible and intangible) at one’s disposal to create disarming and impactful art.

Apparently, Das makes films about people, places, and issues that she knows all too well, and hence, she is able to breathe life into her characters and story like no one else could. That’s because these are her stories. These are her experiences, and most importantly, these stories have been her life for a considerable amount of time. I might be reading too much into her films or may even be completely wrong, but her films have always felt very personal to me. This has led me to believe that these stories of hers have almost invariably gestated in her mind from her own experiences, which must have significantly impacted her life at different junctures. Hence, she navigates her way through these stories, expertly guiding her audiences through the various emotions and drama as we immerse ourselves in her films.

Rima Das’s cinema has not only impacted the cinematic landscape of Assam but has also inspired numerous budding directors whose works bear testimony to Das’s cinema’s influence on their modus operandi and approach to stories, characters and filmmaking. At least one director among them has started using her formula even better than she does.

Tora’s Husband‘ is a quintessential Rima Das film, and one must have an appreciation for the ordinary and a willingness to find beauty in life’s less dramatic moments to fully enjoy this film. The story centres around Abhay, also known as Jaan (played by Abhijit Das), a man who was doing well in life until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Ever since he has been struggling to make ends meet. He used to have a thriving business that has floundered since the first lockdown. His once-sweet romance with his wife has also been affected as the pressure to provide for the family has led Jaan to drown himself in alcohol every night. Despite his resourcefulness, he still finds himself alone at every turn.

His wife, Tora (played by Tarali Kalita Das), recognises him as a wonderful human being but can’t cope with his alcoholism and his absence during crucial moments when she is vulnerable or in need of his presence. As the film unfolds, we witness the emotional and sociocultural challenges this couple faces as they confront the realities of life. Will the family find happiness in the end? Will they have to endure tragedies? How else will the pandemic impact their lives apart from the obvious financial strain? Rima Das endeavours to answer these questions through her two-hour-long documentation of this couple’s life as they grapple with their respective predicaments with little support from each other.

The performances have always been a strong point in Rima Das’s films, and it’s no different here. The film, titled ‘Tora’s Husband,’ makes it clear that a significant portion of the film’s heavy lifting falls on Abhijit Das’s shoulders, and he handles it with great finesse. He appears so natural and intriguing in his role that it’s hard not to be completely captivated by his performance. The character’s writing also appears to be particularly well-crafted, with clear choices made regarding certain traits he portrays. These traits not only make the character well-rounded but also introduce an element of unpredictability that enhances the character’s appeal.

Abhijit possesses a timeless quality that allows him to seamlessly blend into the film’s landscape. However, when the camera focuses on him, it reveals his theatrical range and a wide array of emotions, adding depth and charisma to his performance. A filmmaker friend of mine, Manas Sagra, once shared that the key to extracting exceptional performances from less seasoned actors is to assign them roles that align with their real-life experiences and allow them to build character traits from their own realities. This not only makes the performances realistic and impactful but also provides actors with cues for their theatrics and mannerisms. While I can’t be certain, it seems to have been the case here.

Abhijit’s stellar performance deserves as much appreciation as Rima Das does for eliciting such an honest and heartwarming performance from him.

Tarali Kalita Das, portraying the role of Tora, is equally brilliant. Many, especially men, will find her constant nagging about Abhay’s shortcomings and alcoholism somewhat irksome. Her character doesn’t even receive support from her peers in the film, who suggest that she may be overreacting about Abhay’s alcoholism. Abhay himself points out that she was the one who initiated hostilities with her mother-in-law, who has since not returned home. However, one dialogue of hers in the film changed the way I felt about the character and reminded me of the importance of our words in our relationships, especially with our spouses.

When a woman decides to marry and merge her life with her partner’s, she holds onto every word and promise that he might have made, even in the heat of a romantic moment. The man, burdened by the struggles of existence, might forget to honour those words and promises sometimes. However, those words form the foundation of a woman’s existence and partnership with her husband, underlining the depth of their relationship and serving as the bedrock of their marriage. While it’s easy to sympathise with the man, it’s crucial to understand the woman and her desires.

Tarali Kalita Das masterfully portrays this inherent duality in her character, Tora. She skillfully reveals the two facets of Tora when she’s in her husband’s care and during moments when she feels neglected. This not only significantly enhanced the character for me but also earned my admiration for Tarali Kalita Das as an actor. Once again, Rima Das deserves credit for eliciting that performance from her and guiding her on how not to go overboard with her theatrics, as it could have been easy to do so.

I was utterly mesmerised by the cinematography in ‘Tora’s Husband’. It is undeniably a breathtakingly beautiful film. What’s even more heartening to note is that most of the film captures visuals and settings from our day-to-day lives. As a film enthusiast, it was enlightening to see and understand how the angles we use to view certain things can dramatically alter not only our perspective of those things but also their inherent beauty in a specific context. This is precisely the case with human emotions, and the same principle can be applied to how we perceive things and the world around us.

The use of natural light and the interplay of shadows were evident, bearing the trademark of Rima Das’s cinematography. The colour correction deserves special mention as everything felt incredibly close to reality yet elevated, giving it that old-school cinematic feel that adds a touch of dreaminess to it all. However, I was surprised by the aspect ratio and felt that the film would have been better served by adopting the usual cinematic aspect ratios of 2.35:1, 2.39:1, or 2.4:1.

So, is ‘Tora’s Husband’ flawless? No, absolutely not. The film could have been shorter by 10-15 minutes, as it did drag a bit toward the end of the first half. The story lacked compelling elements and needed more twists, heightened emotions, and drama to sustain the audience’s interest throughout its 2-hour runtime. The stakes for the different characters could have been raised and emphasised.

The reason for giving the child artists as much screen time as they received was incomprehensible to me since they didn’t contribute significantly to the overall story or drama. Instead, Tora’s character could have been developed further, and considering the kind of performance that Tarali Kalita Das delivered, it would have greatly benefited the film. The film could have benefited from an earthy background score, sparingly used to accentuate key moments. Something like a ‘Babu Doi’ would have immensely helped enhance the emotions in certain scenes.

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Having said all that, I still enjoyed ‘Tora’s Husband’ immensely. It was a welcome change of pace and served as a reminder of a time that took away much more from me than I ever knew I had to give. The culmination of the film (which I won’t spoil here) left a sweet taste in my mouth and filled me with hope in a very particular way that only an effective film can. For all these reasons and more, I urge my readers to give this film a chance. Don’t expect to be entertained and swept off your feet every minute with swashbuckling action or intrigue. Approach it with the right expectations, and chances are you will be sufficiently rewarded for your effort

Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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