Director: Mainak Bhaumik
Cast: Madhumita Sarcar, Aparajita Adhya, Saurav Das
Early on in Mainak Bhaumik’s Chini, a worried Chini (Madhumita Sarcar) climbs the steep stairs of her traditional house in North Kolkata with her boyfriend tailing her to meet her supposedly sick mother Mishti (Aparajita Adhya). As she bursts into the room, her eyes widen at her mother’s condition – she is groggily watching a mindless Bengali serial, gulping red wine with abandon while ordering the housemaid to refill her chakna (bar snacks) bowl. That’s how we are introduced to Chini’s mother, who once used to be a “quintessential Bengali mother.”
The film doesn’t waste time introducing its characters and the problem at hand – Mishti, who was once a god-fearing, overbearing and orthodox mother has inexplicably turned into a hip, alcohol-guzzling woman who dances around the house wearing ghungroos after her husband’s death. Chini, who has long walked out of her “hellish house” returns after years to look after her mother following a freak health scare, with her dutiful, loyal, boyfriend Sudip (Saurav Das) in tow. Even as she grapples to overcome past differences with her mother, including her failure to understand why her mother silently tolerated her violently abusive and alcoholic father, Chini is exasperated by the sudden change in her mother’s personality. However, the more time she spends with her mother, the more she starts to understand the person behind Mishti’s roles as a wife and mother.
The film hits the right notes in its portrayal of a complicated mother-daughter relationship. Mishti and Chini have a difficult relationship – bitter and “a horror story”, as Chini puts it. As they sit down together for a counselling session with a therapist, bickering like petty siblings, they are made to understand that the actual problem lies not with them, but with the looming presence of Chini’s father whose traumatic memories they can’t shake off and move on from. He has such a haunting influence in their lives that both of them have locked up years of repressed rage and channelled it in different ways – Mishti has literally locked his room since his death, while Chini refuses to talk about him, and develops a distrust towards normal parent-child relationships and a morbid fear of marriage. Both, however, have developed severe anger issues and frequently take it out on each other, a telling reminder of what they both endured from the man of the house. But the relationship is nuanced and complex. Chini, who has been hiding her pregnancy, is constantly ridiculed by her mother for her demanding work commitments. But just when she thinks her mother is incapable of understanding her dedication to her work, Mishti advises her to put her career first before proceeding with the pregnancy.
Adhya effortlessly slips into the role of an overbearing mother-turned-cool mom, perhaps because she has been stereotyped in several films as a traditional, loud middle-class Bengali housewife and mother, who can silence her wayward children with a single stern gaze. But in Chini, her act doesn’t feel repetitive. Even as a cool mom, she slips back into her old self while scolding her daughter and asserts her position in Chini’s life and the house. Her transformation into a different person is fun to watch- as she goes on a date with a pretentious NRI, hilariously puts her snooty sister-in-law in place and announces that she will dance solo at her niece’s wedding, flies a kite and watches it soar with child-like glee, and attentively learns how to use Facebook from Chini’s boyfriend. She is stone cold when Chini forces her to enter her husband’s room and eventually puts all his belongings ablaze, but breaks down loudly, allowing herself to finally grieve not the person, but the pain he had inflicted on her.
The editing is patchy and the sudden cuts feel confusing and jarring. The tearjerker climax was predictable from the very beginning. A rather dramatic scene – where Mishti barges into Chini’s office and gives her boss a piece of her mind – is not only silly but feels like a forced attempt to give Mishti the badge of a ‘good mother’.
Bhaumik’s film continues a rich tradition of movies based mother-daughter relationships in Bengali cinema, including Aparna Sen’s Unishe April (1994) and Rituparno Ghosh’s Titli (2002).
The Chini review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.