“Kolkata shudhu shohor noye. Kolkata holo jibon bodh. (Kolkata is not just a city. It is a lifestyle.) It grows on you like a being.”
This is the dialogue by Suchishmita Roy, played by Roopa Ganguly that summarizes Aditi Roy’s directorial debut Abosheshey. The Bengali word Abosheshey literally translates to ‘finally’ in English. This film explores a mother’s wait for her child, the eternal bond between the life giver and the progeny, the matir-taan (the pull of one’s roots) and Kolkata as a city with its own heartbeat.
Partha and Suchishmita both have the same surname- Roy and share a child- Shomya. But their thought processes are vastly different. Partha, who exists only as a ghost figure never to be seen by the audience, is ready to leave his father and his city to earn riches in the States. Suchishmita, on the other hand, refuses to uproot herself from her city, friends and family to settle in a foreign land. As a result, Shomya grows up in the company of his father and step-mother never to know his mother. For him, San Francisco is home and Kolkata, only a name on his passport. After Suchishmita’s death, Shomya is forced to come to Kolkata to settle his birth mother’s affairs and finds himself in a city familiarly foreign to him.
This is the story of a son’s quest to know his mother and his city. Shomya discovers his mother from her letter to him, from the testimony of her neighbor and all those people who were dear to her. Suchishmita is the personification of Kolkata.
She is the quintessential mother figure who gives life and holds on to the memory of her boy for twenty years despite not having heard from him. She believes in the nabhir-taan (pull of the womb) and knows for a fact that her son will be back some day. Abosheshey (finally) he comes home only to discover his mother through other people.
Kolkata is an ailing city. It is often called the city of old people; a place where people come to retire. Roy has managed to make this sentiment of Bengalis towards Kolkata clear through the testimony of a random guy in the bar where Shomya drinks. This nameless character is a frustrated Bengali who knows that the city and the race have gone to the dogs. This man, a Bengali himself, claims to be from Bombay and condemns the Bengali race as a lazy group of people who only talk big and do nothing.
Suchishmita, much like Kolkata, survives on memory alone and a hope that her child will come back to her someday. She is a woman who is adept in the arts- she paints and sings Rabindra sangeet- and is stubborn to the point of insolence. In all her splendor, she is free thinking and a peculiar kind of modern. She embraces modernity at a surface level but remains traditional in her thought process.
Such is Kolkata. Any Bengali who sees this film will relate to it. When I finished watching it, I was left with a taste of nostalgia on my tongue. The familiar sight of Howrah Bridge, Princep Ghat, College Street and Gariahat filled me with longing. In the same breath, I felt suffocated. I knew I would never go back. I would only love my city from a distance.
The film is extremely slow. There were places I found myself yawning and wondering why the narrative was so lazy and haphazard. The answer is probably in understanding the essence of the movie. It talks about a city where everything is so slow and confused that even the rooster takes an afternoon nap. What better way to put that point across but to slow down the pace of the film.
There are some places in the film which are surreal in nature. The film reminded me of the work of Paulo Coelho called The Witch of Portobello. This has the same structure. Suchishmita is seen from the eyes of different characters. She is never given a chance to tell her own story. Such a narrative can be confusing for someone who is trying to make sense of her. But maybe that is the point of the story.
We never try to know people beyond the relationship they share with us. This story challenges that. After all, what can be more intriguing than a son getting to know his mother through the eyes of her cook?