Teen Bhubaner Pare is the story of Montu (formal name: Subir) (Soumitra Chatterjee) and Saroshi (Tanuja), who live on the same street but represent opposite sides of the tracks. His family is struggling, especially his next closest brother, and when not at his factory job dada Montu spends most of his time gambling, drinking, and loafing around the street with his similarly unoccupied friends (featuring the always excellent Robi Ghosh).
|Is this THE Olympia/Olypub?|
|Soumitra and Robi Ghosh: my favorite filmi odd couple.|
I love films that depict the risks of marrying someone you hardly know, especially when the couple becomes isolated with no family support from either side. Saroshi and Montu have jobs but little else to help them in their new life together: she doesn't seem to have friends, she won't let him see his, and there is shockingly little evidence of mutual affection and respect within the couple. Both of them are foolish, if romantically hopeful, in the idea that Montu will change so drastically in order to live up to Saroshi's dream for him. She demands new ways of spending his time, new overall focus of his energies, a new career path, even new basic interests.
Montu is the much more interesting and resonant character. He exists in a more nuanced reality, demonstrating thoughtfulness and emotions at a variety of scales about a variety of type of situations. He stomps off in a huff a few times, but he also has smiles creeping in during little tender moments (or his attempts at tender moments, anyway). He relaxes more. He sets his books aside and lounges, claiming space and an attitude of leisure that she not only does not allow herself but also disapproves of. And because Saroshi is cruel about his friends, not even caring that one eventually goes to jail and another is in the hospital, Montu gets to be the righteous one, explaining how society has done this to them, has put them in darkness with no love and only pain, and that people there drink to escape. Her response is "Stop lecturing me," which would be a valid complaint except that she has done little other than lecture him for their whole marriage (and scolded him for the majority of their acquaintance before that). I love that Montu actually says to her that she's like the Pygmalion story, not knowing what to do once her little created doll has a life of its own. Yet Saroshi, or life with Saroshi, has definitely changed him. It's a little bit like she's killing independent George: the man who danced in the street in the opening of the film is slowly disappearing.
Why does Montu's improvement matter to Saroshi so much? Is it because she broke ties with her family in marrying him and thus this is now all she has and she is compelled to prove them wrong? We never see her out in society, enjoying the perks of a partner with a better job. Does her determination to "fix" him stem from her identity as a teacher, as though a Montu with an advanced degree is a personal triumph of her own skills (a motivation explored in Hurano Sur)? If Saroshi were a more fully written character, we might know what Montu means to her, but all we get is her disapproval. (As always, this could be a fault in the subtitles, but we certainly see little on Tanuja's face other than displeasure.)
Another reason that the relatively flat character of Saroshi is disappointing is that the film puts so much of its emotional energy on just the lead couple, leaving only Montu as a relatable person. Although there are at least ten other named characters, they simply move across the central action of the film, providing new information or a new scenario for Saroshi and Montu to react against. Their world is very cozy or very suffocating, depending on how you look at it. They don't "collaborate" in life with anyone other than each other, and they do a very poor job of that. For example, when Montu becomes an instructor, he has a student with a wealthy and influential father who offers Montu some sort of government job that serves the country and will make his name and fame, but Montu refuses. That is too big a position and too big a change for the version of him we know in this story. This is a story about individuals, not the greater good. Interestingly, Saroshi balks when Montu talks about wanting kids—even the most socially acceptable (required, even) of things seems like a distraction from her plan and must be shunned.
I've seen this movie twice and I'm still not sure whether Montu is fully satisfied with the changes in his life. He has made huge progress and risen into a different class while keeping his thoughtful nature intact, still showing flashes of his former feistiness and love of questioning. His wife is proud of him and he has made an informed, comfortable decision about his career. But on the other hand, his family is in tatters and he seems not to relate anymore to his old friends, offering them sympathy and help rather than his affection or time.
|Necessarily Bengali professor's office. I love that in Calcutta's films of this era, it's the man who gets the makeover and that it puts him in, rather than removes, glasses.|