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Switzerland Review: Middle-class Aspirations Turn Too Ambitious, With No Sight of the Swiss Alps

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Director: Sauvik Kundu

Cast: Abir Chatterjee, Rukmini Maitra, Ambarish Bhattacharya, Alokananda Roy Mukherjea, Biswanath Basu

In Switzerland, Sauvik Kundu’s directorial debut, everybody is nice. And those who are not, will become nice by the time the movie ends – the arrogant aunt, the neighbour’s son and the law-abiding police officer.

The premise is simple – nice guy Shibu (Abir Chatterjee), a devoted husband and father, leads a mundane but content life as a salesperson at a car showroom in Kolkata. His nice wife Rumi (Rukmini Maitra) is a geography teacher at a school and a loving mother of two nice, young girls – Diya and Riya. Although Rumi’s nice parents are rich (which is established by showing her parents living in a palatial house by the Ganges in Chandannagar and her father riding a chauffeur-driven Audi), Rumi leads an ordinary, middle-class life in a small apartment but has no complaints with the life she chose. During an uncomfortable lunch at Rumi’s parent’s house, when Shibu is pushed to the edge by the taunts of her snobbish aunt; he blurts out that he is taking his family to Switzerland for a vacation. The rest of the film is about how Shibu goes on a quest to realise this seemingly impossible dream.

The film is drab and laden with pointless subplots – an elderly couple who live next door to Shibu and Rumi, who are indebted, literally and figuratively, to Shibu for the time and attention he showers on them as they continue to get snubbed by their only son living abroad. And a track about Rumi’s aunt (Alokananda Roy Mukherjea), who disapproves of Rumi for going against the family and marrying Shibu. She is the flag bearer of tradition in the family and looks for opportunities to remind Shibu that he is poor. Since she is one of the very few unpleasant characters in the film, we are told why she behaves the way she does – a sad soul who was forced to give up her dreams of becoming a dancer, married off young and soon widowed. Towards the end, expectedly, she and her haughty son turn nice.

The most disappointing part of the film is the depiction of a middle-class Bengali families and their aspirations. Bengalis are known for their love for travel and their affinity for DiPuDa- Digha, Puri, Darjeeling. While there’s nothing wrong in a middle-class couple saving every penny for a much-awaited, once-in-a-lifetime foreign trip, it becomes upsetting when the film looks down upon Bengalis’ favourite, affordable travel destinations and projects a foreign trip as the be-all and end-all of an average middle-class person. It is as though the director sees middle-class Bengalis from the perspective of Rumi’s aunt.

Rumi is an unsettling contradiction – she is both a headstrong, modern, financially independent woman, and is also petty, miserly wife who snitches money off her husband’s wallet. This is especially unsettling since we are told that she chose love over money when she married Shibu.

Maitra, still early into her career, struggles under the weight of Rumi’s character. She looks far too young to be a mother of an eight-year-old child, too glamorous to be a school teacher and middle-class wife.

Chatterjee, as Shibu, is perhaps the only positive in the film. A brilliant performer, you feel for him when he is being bullied by Rumi’s aunt and her son for not being able to afford a trip in three years. Your heart goes out to him when he is in a dilemma over whether to donate his hard-earned Rs 1 lakh to his elderly neighbour at a moment of crisis. When he is locked up by the police for gambling, Rumi rushes to the police station and pleads with the officer-in-charge to let him go. Shibu weeps silently and watches helplessly from behind the bars as his wife grovels for his freedom.

In an otherwise shoddily executed film, what works is the layered characterisation of Shibu and Rumi. Just when you start judging Shibu for being egoistical and stubborn, you realise he is embarking on a difficult financial journey only to fulfil his wife’s only dream. When Shibu visits his impoverished college friend to extract money that he had loaned many moons ago, he returns home empty-handed when he realises that his friend needs it more than he does. To help make more money, Shibu starts driving a cab after office hours, but keeps it a secret from Rumi. When his father-in-law accidentally finds out, he does not judge his over-ambitious son-in-law, neither does he patronisingly offer to lend him money, he simply shares a cup of tea and advises Shibu to come clean to Rumi.

Rumi stands by her husband’s ambition of holidaying at the Swiss Alps. She fires the domestic help and takes up tuition classes to help fund their vacation. She knows Shibu hates her aunt but is too polite to say it out loud, so she gives him a free hand of talking back at her. A loyal and proud wife, she quietly rebels against her snooty aunt and does not visit her parents for an entire year, when the taunts against her husband become thorny. When a distraught Shibu calls her to ask whether to give away money to the elderly neighbour, she agrees but cannot hide her disappointment later.

Shibu, the movie tells us, is already paying instalments for loans taken to fund his house and car, which is why he cannot take another loan for the Switzerland trip. He, therefore, suggests that the family give up on expensive food items like ilish (Hilsa fish), chingri (prawn) and mutton for a year. In the end, perhaps what Shibu and Rumi needed was a financial adviser. That might have saved them from all the unnecessary drama and allowed them to enjoy an ilish or two.

****

The Switzerland 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.

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