Sudakshina seems to be elucidated with passion when she touches a saree. Although she has two wardrobes full of them, she goes to the measure of going deep inside the jungle in the dark only to go to a village to purchase more sarees and know the story of the helpless women who earn living by selling sarees at a loss. Almost every member of the family unintentionally shames her for her obsession with sarees, everyone except her mother-in-law who seems to find a special kind of pleasure in picking on the daughter-in-law for her slightest mistake. (There’s a reason why women tend to consider their mother-in-laws’ female Hitler.) There's a moment in the script when the mother-in-law asks her to cook a nice, rich, Bengali cuisine despite knowing that their domestic help had taken a day off, and being a homemaker Sudakshina needs to dedicate her time for her son who is preparing for his ICSE, the niece who needs to attend a social function and the husband who has an urgent meeting to attend.
Despite knowing these events the mother-in-law remains adamant about her demands and calls her son almost four times within work his office work hours to complain about the vindictive daughter-in-law who chose to cook something simple despite her demands.
It’s not as if Sudakshina doesn’t have emotional support. She has a father-in-law who finds excuses to support her decisions, she is the only person with whom Pala (the niece) shares her date story with Raj. Her husband Prateek is well-aware of the male friend she visits during her off-hours, and engagingly supports her for her decision, but there are days when he just can’t tolerate her obsession with sarees. He unintentionally ends up mocking her, and in a manner where the spouse feels it is within his rights to mock the wife because that’s what friends do. Sudakshina and Prateek share a comfortable husband-wife relationship, where they stand by each other as friends in public, and quarrel like siblings when no one is around.
In a different manner, this film explores deep-rooted feminism, where empowering women aren’t only about the latter going to the mall, or their decision to wear something apart from sarees even after marriage. But a woman’s fight for dignity, while softly adjusting with the deep-rooted patriarchy that comes from the mother-in-law.
No one in the family objects to Sudakshina’s decision to write a book on sarees or visit with a male friend every weekend. Her father-in-law firmly believes that a college gold-medalist, who had the skills of writing in Bengali shouldn’t confine herself within the walls of the drawing-room. The film subtly shows how women can be patriarchal while men too can be feminists without wearing a poster of it.
Sudakshinar Saree is a slow-paced film but it doesn’t bother you because it captures the essence of the lackadaisical life in Bengal and the women who make sarees in the remote areas of West Bengal. There’s no rush because hardly anyone is ready to invest themselves to know more about sarees, their history and the fact that the prestigious Thakur bari of Kolkata (family of Rabindranath Tagore) used to set fashion standards with their style.
Saree also stands as a matter of prestige, but in the 21st-century era where women are more comfortable wearing denim and top, this film highlights the importance of traditions, while focusing on modernity.
In many ways, Sudakshina reminds you of Satyajit Ray’s Charulata, the lonely home-maker who started developing feelings for her brother-in-law. Since Sudakshina is well-aware that she is in the company of loved ones, she doesn’t completely feel lonely, however, even when she is surrounded by her loved ones there are moments of isolation, a feeling which will immediately make you want to hug your mother for everything she did to make sure you are not hungry at home.
Before Sudhakshina became a mother, she was a gold-medalist, politically active, cigarette-loving writer, who never thought of becoming a home-maker. If you plan to watch this film with your mother in law you can rest assured that she will be making eye-contact time and time again, each time there’s a dialogue exchange with Sudakshina.
Sudhakshinar Saree is available on Zee5.