How is a home made? Does it have to be through the patience and tolerance of
the woman of the family forced to give up her avocation since the husband does
not like it? She neither harasses nor ill-treats anyone - in fact, within the
four walls of the home, hers is the silenced harassment and the constant, though
not conscious, and therefore more cruel, ill treatment. Is it only through the
quiet endurance of this that she can be an ideal wife? Does her very existence
crumble like a pack of cards if the lord and master cannot forgive her that one
moment of weakness?
Such very pertinent issues which have been haunting womanhood from the days of
Ahilya and Sita are re-addressed very sensitively in "Astitva", another feather
in the Manjrekar cap. The film opens up very many feminist issues, but never is
there an attempt to assert any issue loudly and aggressively. The debate comes
alive through a real experience.
Shrikant Pandit (Sachin Khedekar) is a successful entrepreneur. On the home front
he is equally lucky. His wife Aditi (Tabu) adores him and lovingly tolerates all
his tantrums despite his having very little time for her, and his adultery. Aniket,
the son, looks up to his father, too.
One fine afternoon, during a lunch that he hosts to introduce Revati (Namrata
Shirodkar), the future daughter-in-law, to Ravi, his buddy of a lifetime, Aditi
gets a letter which declares that Malhar (Mohnish Behl), Aditi's music teacher
long back, will make her the sole owner of his entire wealth.
The hangover past, bells start ringing Shrikant's memory. He goes back to the
diaries that he's meticulously written. The seed of suspicion is sown, and he
confronts Aditi. And she owns up to his accusation, and confesses about how, on
a rainy night ages back when Shrikant was away, she committed a sin with Malhar.
Instead of consoling the woman who is shattered enough to have to confess to such
a thing, he slaps her hard.
The next day there's a trial during which, despite protests from Ravi and his
wife, who too had tolerated an MCP before finding a soul mate in Ravi, Shrikant
makes Aditi tell everybody how she dishonored his faith. Aniket too, on knowing
the truth, considers his mother a "bloody bitch". Where does Aditi go from here?
An unforgiving Shrikant wants her to stay back to guard his secret from the prying
world. Then Revati refuses to marry Aniket, and all hell is let loose. But what
about the shattered dreams of Aditi whose big fault was her honesty? Neither the
husband who she kept loving despite his ambitious workaholism, his dalliances
with other women and his inability to father a child, nor the son, are ready to
accept her. For them, she is like every other thing in the home for which she
cares. The solution to her dilemma is her modern bahu who understands her plight
and decides to stand by her.
It is the unusual story that makes this bold film a unique analysis of the marital
relationship. Manjrekar's critique of the selfish system that reduces a woman
to a mere giver is quite understated. But his film as usual raises very important
issues. Tabu's performance, sure to fetch her a National Award or two, adds to
the poignancy of a woman's search for a self which was hidden under a defining
relationship which deserts her due to her honesty.
Equally impressive is Sachin Khedekar who convincingly portrays the husband who
takes his wife for granted and never bothers to look into his heart. Namrata acts
out her small role of a modern girl passionate about her ability to prove her
excellence in her chosen field, who can understand and empathize with the pain
of the older woman.
The narration is an unusual take-off on the beaten track of the flashback technique.
The director is ably helped by the music that defines the shifting relationships.
With clear shades of a three-act play, the film is worth a watch because, in our
days of designer babies, it addresses a mindset that needs the real change.