Storytellers – be it in novels or on celluloid- have often dwelled upon the demands of the institution of marriage or the mere strict commitment and adherence to the seven vows of marriage. Rarely have films explored the intricacies of a marital relationship, that too, in a marriage where more than trust, understanding or love, it is inter-dependence that defines the conjugal bond. Bela Seshe is a Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy scripted and directed story of relationships that explores the niceties of an old couple and their married life, of their life-long companionship, of promises and expectations, and of course love.
Biswanath Mazumdar (Soumitra Chatterjee), married to Aarti (Swatilekha Chatterjee) for 49 years, gives an unpalatable shock to his son and daughter-in-law (Shankar and Indrani), three daughters (Rituparna, Aparajita and Monami) and their husbands (Sujoy, Kharaj and Anindya) by announcing his decision to divorce his wife, after nearly five decades of blissful togetherness. The shocked-beyond-words family goes into a tizzy with reactions ranging from hysteria, disbelief to laughs, and suspicion of Biswanath having an affair. Thereon begins an emotional re-discovery of the institution of marriage.
The narrative throws open several questions that are never addressed in a marital relationship- Is marriage merely meant for togetherness? How important is the physical relationship? Does having children and raising them fulfill the close liaison that marriage is supposed to nurture? Do couples need to work on their marriages for that everlasting conjugal bliss that evades most couples?
These and many delicate issues that remain understated in a relationship where each partner takes the other for granted are dealt with in this two-and-a-half-hour long film.
When questioned by his children, Biswanath does not mince words and makes it clear that he has been "unhappy" in his marriage, though he does not see any possibility of any wrong committed by Aarti. His well-thought-out decision also makes him send a notice to his domesticated wife, for whom her world begins and ends with her husband and their family. When the matter goes to the court, the judicious judge (Barun Chanda) refuses to accept the breakdown in such a long lasting marriage, and instead advices them to spend some quality time away from their daily life together. But Biswanath has a problem at hand: His wife has never been on a vacation without their children, and insists that this time around too, they all accompany them. While on their holiday, each one of them undergoes a catharsis that involves self-realisation and love emerging to find newer meanings in age-old associations.
Therein lies the essence of the film; communication in matrimony and how lack of it could lead to disastrous results. It also renders the one-sided love and affection in a relationship quite redundant, particularly as couples get more accustomed to having each other around rather than helping their ties evolve into deeper perceptive and thoughtful understanding. More importantly, that love can blossom or exist in its redefined form at any age-young or old- is what Bela Seshe reiterates.
But that is not to say that the film is without defects. The first half slides, many a times making the storyline slip into melodrama unnecessarily. Towards the end, the film that could have captured some really rare moments of joy, wounded pride, unstated love and indignation, goes the beaten track.
The multi-faceted love offering its myriad hues and shades could have been explored in a more mature and less predictable way. As a result, it fails to leave you with an enriching experience. Or help you re-look at old couples and their shared rapport, reciprocal alliance and mutual relevance with renewed interest.
Veteran Soumitra Chatterjee doesn’t even need to memorize lines, it seems- he can be so effortless. But the weariness has started showing at times, perhaps, due to the script letting him down. Swatilekha’s worn-out look complements his white-haired ripeness.