Tears and the drama aside, the message survives

Prabhat Roy's award-winning Shwet Paatharer Thala is a tear-jerker, which nevertheless effectively preaches the lesson of family welfare.

 
By Sevanti Ninan
Published: Tuesday 15 June 1993

AT THE National Film Festival this year, the winner of the award for the best feature film on family welfare was a 150-minute, tear-jerker starring Aparna Sen. Directed by Prabhat Roy with gusto, the film has enough dramatic touches to guarantee box office popularity.

Shwet Paatharer Thala tells the story of Bandana, a young woman who learns the hard way that she can expect material happiness only as long as she is someone's wife. Bandana is smart, educated and no coward. Married to a Brahmin, she courageously asks her father-in-law why is he throwing his younger son, who marries a girl from a lower caste, out of the house? The father-in-law is not pleased with her query, but her husband and younger sisters-in-law admire her courage in standing up for her ideals.

But Bandana's life changes when her husband is killed in an accident. Widowhood reduces her to not only mandatory white clothing that greatly upsets her young son, but also to a boiled, vegetarian diet and a life of severe abstinence. Eventually, she walks out of her marital home to start life anew with support from her uncle who raised her. But many years later, her now grown-up son brings home to her her widowhood. He condemns her for wanting to respond to an artist who wants to marry her.

A flaw in an otherwise sensitive and progressive film is the cliched symbolism that Roy uses -- thunder and lightning to highlight a clash of wills and slow motion to underscore drama and tragedy, as when Bandana sees her husband's body in the hospital. However, the performances are natural and, as effective social communication, Shwet Paatharer Thala scores quite high.

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