National award winning Bengali movie, Antaheen (which means an endless wait) came a year ago. About love, realisation and longing, life and fragmented relations looking for wholesome completeness, the aesthetics of Aniruddha Chowdhury’s film is sheer poetry,tragic most times and Shantanu Moitra’s music lyrical and haunting.
Urban Kolkata is beautifully captured by cinematographer Amit Mukopadhyaya in Café Coffee Day mugs, Chivas and Jasmine tea, long drapes and comfortable cushions, beautiful lampshades and window sills, potted glory and wind chimes, that kite longing for freedom at what cost, panoramic landscape, the rain kissed terrace gardens and sunlight dancing through painted glass, the shimmering city in the evening as seen from balconies. There are page 3 launches and parties and Star Ananda is a hep corporate place with writer Kunal Basu making a fleeting appearance. The symbolic telephone is the protagonist.
Young and feisty Brinda ( Radhika Apte, a surprising non-Bong Rahul Bose recommendation amidst teeming Bong actresses) is a Barkha Dutt in the making. She is a delight to watch, her eyes speak much more. She makes life miserable for VK Mehra, the Eldorado builder and also, no-nonsense upright IPS officer Abhik (Rahul Bose) who dismisses her need for bytes. Abhik is cynical about love and Brinda’s relationship with her boyfriend Sujoy is as good as over.
Abhik has an endearing financial consultant cousin, Ronnoda (Kalyan Ray) - his friend, philosopher and guide who dabbles in the stock market, enjoys a good drink and good books. He is divorced and not divorced. His reel and real wife Paro (Aparna Sen with that frumpy mushroom cut) works as the marketing head in Brinda’s office. They stay apart but can’t do without each other. Paro is an avid photographer- her Tibet trip ‘cost’ her father-in-law’s life and her marriage, and also, her love for photography. The Tibet trip is possibly her best work which remains to see the light of day, her Ronno does not even want to glance at them. Tells a lot about contemporary society which chooses to be progressive with the high-rises and imported liquor but won’t think twice to blame a wife’s work for an already-ill in-law or a house which needs order .
Brinda shares a sister-like camaraderie with her Parodi and is completely won over with her snigdha (graceful compusure). Unknown to each other, both Abhik and Brinda share soul space online, from cute sweet nothings to typical Mars-Venus takes on the comfort of being strangers and yet, the urge to know more. Their real-life encounters end in sour debates.
Abhik stays with his graceful spinster Pishimoni (Sharmila Tagore). So used to living a life of loneliness with her potted plants and dusting old books and her needlework, her Penelope-like waiting for that phone-call from that gentleman with that nice voice is heart wrenching. Her jasmine tea is a conversation opener from her reverie. She does become defiant that she is not lonely and it is a choice she has made. She does miss the telephone call.
VK is unscrupulous, his ever-depressed wife Mita Vashisht (phenomenal waste of an acting powerhouse) won’t forgive him for their daughter Anjali’s death in a car accident eight years ago. VK’s Eldorado project interview with Brinda revives memories of his daughter and Brinda is visibly disturbed.
Paro’s visit to Ronno’s brings a new turn in their relationship. Her Tibet pictures adorn his study. They love each other but as Paro says marriage is the ability to compromise and feel needed. Her birthday gift of a book by Rumi is telling. She wants to live life her own terms this time - she cleans her camera stuff with renewed vigour. She is planning to move to Bombay on work. Will Ronno be able to stop her? Ronno does not stop her. Paro feels pained he does not stop her. That letting go is tough. Some decisions in life need to be taken without anyone’s help and crutch.
Ronno’s birthday party brings Abhik and Brinda to some civil acquaintance. They begin exchanging SMSes and calls generally and also, around work. Something tells Brinda that her online special stranger and Abhik are one and the same person. She wants to meet him and their rendezvous is almost arranged
A working woman’s life in a big city is not easy. From not missing deadlines to remaining picture perfect calm despite the storm in your head about a dear colleague leaving, a sense of abandonment, letting go of a relationship which would not work then seeking solace in on online chat with a stranger. Oh yes, we love pampering ourselves, it could be staring long enough at the mirror while brushing our teeth or simply lazing in the rug with enough cushions thrown around or staring long enough at the computer screen waiting for that one special ping. Brought back memories of my Hyderabad times.
Brinda’s mom packs her a sandwich before her last edit job, for some ominous reason she touches her feet. It brought about a numbness of the number of times we say 'bye' our parents before leaving the house and that feeling of how paltry life could become - will they get to see you again? Brinda tells her mother not to stay up, she uncannily does. Brinda tells Abhik - she is a night bird, literally. Think of all those youngsters who go to work at unearthly hours and shifts and for those fortunate ones who have mothers at home who stay up, pray and worry for your safety.
Jangled remains of that red Maruti Swift and a cell-phone which would ring but not answer tell the ominous tale of Brinda’s Eldorado quest, no one comes back alive. VK’s wife suspects her husband’s involvement and he swears no - in fact he wanted their daughter to grow up like her. Abhik comes to her house and then, he realises the truth. It is poignant how he lives every moment of their online conversation again, the Frida Kahlo on the wall and that fluttering kite on the antenna live to tell the tragic tale of love and longing. So close, yet so far.
Paro leaves for Bombay, Ronno musters courage and calls her if he can come stay with her for a few days.
There is a recurrent scene of a white pyjama-kurta clad man sipping road-side chai on his Royal Enfield whom Abhik encounters while going to work. He waits for him everyday, that peace and calm on that man’s visage gives Abhik some security in his life. Today, the man drives away. Today, Abhik refuses to buy flowers. Today, he does not look at the laptop. That greyed out ‘offline’ status of someone dear on chat is almost autobiographical. It brought tears to my eyes and I was reminded of what a loved one told me a year ago when I left one workplace. Just like his Pishimoni (wish we had more of her in the film) who lost the telephone-gentleman, his greyed-out but no-longer-a-stranger chat friend won’t ping him anymore.
Antaheen left me numb, nothing extraordinary or larger-than-life. Beautiful nuanced acting, very restrained and a lot of heart warming moments. Rushing from work to chat with that special online friend-stranger tugged my heart. We have our own ways of coping with loneliness and longing for companionship. We live, we love and we also yearn a little more. Life is fast, work means 24/7 busy (?), take some time off, go spend some time with yourself, with your loved one(s), share that special something, it could be nothing concretely substantial but just be there to admire the raindrops pitter-patter on the window pane or watching that sunset together by the sea-side on occasions or your apartment balcony everyday.
I love you, special one.
P.S. Thank you, Korak for sharing this film with me.
P.S. Thank you, Korak for sharing this film with me.