Where Are The Films About Elderly?

 At one point  R Balki planned  an autumnal  love story with Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi  on the lines  of The Bridges Of Madison County about two  aging people  discovering love  long after  the  permissible  age.Balki abandoned the  idea for later. But then Sridevi left us before Balki could get down  to  making the  film about love when  mortality seems  a threat.

 Hindi cinema  shies away from  making films on the elderly. No market, they say. It takes an artiste  with vision and stature  to  break the glass ceiling and peep into the  world  of  the aged.

In  that simple  and  lucid   Bengali film Shonar Pahar  that understated  actor-turned-director  Parambrata Chattopadhyay does a brilliant job of bringing to us  a film that is so  heartwarming and gentle  it is almost feels like we’re floating effortlessly in the air.  The pulls and pressures  of life never weight down the storytelling.

 Shonar Pahar is  that view from the highest peak of  the mountain where every emotion seems to acquire the clarity of a dream seen early in the morning.Set in Kolkata the film essentially scoops the bond between a cantankerous  lonely embittered and yet dignified  woman and a 7-year old boy whose wisdom pervades the film in unfiltered showers  of  splendor and sublimity.

Tanuja  who makes a  comeback in Shonar Pahar is one  of those super-talented septuagenarians of  Indian cinema who are sitting at home wondering why no roles are written  for them in  our cinema. The  one good thing about legenadry actresses  Meena Kumari,  Nargis,Madhubala,  Geeta Bali, Smita Patil and Tanuja’s  elder sister Nutan dying  young is that they were spared the ignominy  of being neglected by a  youth-obsessed  film industry.

Tanuja on Shonar Pahar  is  the perfect fit as Upama, a woman who retains her  sense  of pride and dignity in spite of being abandoned  by her son .Into Upama’s lonely  existence –she has only a  bustling  sanctimonious  maid for company—hiphops  in  the 7-year old wise little orphan Bitlu(newcomer Srijato Bandhopadyay) who is  everything the old abandoned woman thinks she  doesn’t need at this stage of  her life. Precocious, inquisitive, restless and affectionate , Bitlu effortlessly fills  that emotional vacuum in Upama’s life.

 The scenes building the bonding between these two unlikely  friends-their shared lunch at a luxury hotel is a treat– is  done up in life’s most precious colours. We don’t feel  any manipulative hands  behind  the volume of  contagious emotions created  between the two unlikely friends.Their joyous togetherness, their shared time together when the  old  woman reads self-written stories to the attentive  responsive  child and the way the child effortlessly takes  over the  authoritarian matriarch’s life…are all  put forward with  a gently  persuasive  nudge that tilts us completely  in favour  the film’s  simple  uncluttered narrative  fluidity.

Watching Tanuja  back on the screen after so long made me  very melancholic. Her  tightly-controlled emotional  ownership of  her character is  exemplary. She brings so much gravitas and  simmering discontent  to the surface without allowing the inherently-schmaltzy theme to bubble over with emotions.

There  is so much that Parambrata Chattopadhyay says about  autumnal betrayals and  disappointments , about old age,  loneliness, ungrateful children  and difficult parents …that  there is  only  applause and praise to be apportioned to the  film.

Then there is the legendary 83-year  old  Soumitra Chatterjee who makes a sporting guest appearance as  Tanuja’s old admirer.There  is history  in their reunion.Shonar Pahar  could easily have become weighed down by its ideas on  the disintegrating quality of  urban existence. Instead  the film celebrates the spirit  of solitude , finds  laughter and warmth in  the  cold climate  of  contemporary  self absorption .

Thank God  Tanuja  got at least  one final opportunity  to  prove her mettle. Her legendary seniors  and  contemporaries like WaheedaRehman, Asha  Parekh, Raakhee Gulzar , Hema Malini ,  Jaya Bachchan  and Sharmila Tagore are sitting at home waiting  for  the roles. Even the autumnal male actors are sailing in  the same boat.  Only Amitabh Bachchan and  to some  extent  Shabana Azmi are getting the work they deserve. The rest , in peace.

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