As I emerged from the movie hall with my mother after watching Praktan, I heard her muttering, “What was Rituparna Sengupta (Sudipa in the film) thinking?
I was annoyed, more so because it came from my mom, who has always believed women should fly.
“Who do you think I am like?” I asked. “The independent, non-conformist career-minded Sudipa or the home-maker Malini (played by Aparajita Addhy)?”
“Of course, you are like Sudipa,” my mom said without batting an eyelid.
“Then why did you make the comment?” I persisted.
“It’s just that she is such a nag. And Ujaan (Prosenjit in the film) is such a chauvinist. The relationship was a recipe for disaster.”
My mother had just summed up the crux of the film in the most simple way possible. Praktan is a film based on the relationship between two flawed, egotistical people, both of whom believe they are always right.
It’s just by chance that Rituparna is shown to be a woman with a mind of her own who smokes, wears modern attire, is an architect and has financial independence.
Wouldn’t we have hated Ujaan as much had the roles been reversed?
Had his first wife been Malini, a homemaker and he had checked her messages, told her to take his permission before travelling to her parents’ home, had been frugal with his time with her and had told her to leave on a holiday without him and had not turned up as promised, would we have hated him any less?
Sudipa could have been the second wife, the independent, career woman who could have been equally diplomatic, keeping the mom-in-law happy by letting her take the decisions, making the customary phone calls to keep the family in the loop about her whereabouts and at the same time not demanding any time from her husband, but remaining immersed in her own career, then would that have been more acceptable?
Praktan is a film that mirrors reality to a great extent and sometimes reality is regressive. Ujaan tells Sudipa that if his mother never had a problem with the rules in the house, why was she making a hue and cry about it?
In this one liner the filmmakers very clearly show how most Indian men react to independence and women.
Most Indian men grow up seeing their mothers do something and believing that is right. Indian men, who have moms with a career, are often used to seeing them coming home cooking and cleaning and doing the double shift. So for them, independence comes with the superhuman qualities of doing the balancing act and at the same time conforming to the social norms set aside for women.
There is a scene where after her miscarriage, Sudipa stays up and cries while Ujaan is blissfully asleep. That scene reminded me so much of my friend who had a very difficult pregnancy followed by an operation after the delivery. While she grappled with the pain from her stitches and a constantly crying newborn at night, her husband would simply keep sleeping, not stirring for once. She told me she felt so angry then, that she sometimes thought of walking out of the marriage.
Relationships transform as couples move from courtship to marriage, yet another reality that was shown in Praktan. Sudipa actually had no clue that the suave, smiling, knowledgeable heritage tour guide Ujaan could actually become such a perpetually angry and dominating man as soon his ego was bruised, his belief in his capabilities challenged.
The skirmishes over her paying for their holiday to Kashmir to the misunderstanding over the tags left in the clothes that she gifts him (he thinks it’s to show him the price, while she thinks it would help if there is any need to exchange) or her dream of having a home of her own, very realistically portray the unseen battles that often crop up in a marriage.
In order for a marriage to work there has to be an effort from both sides. While spending time together is a prerogative for a good marriage, but if you don’t understand each other nothing actually comes out of trips to Kashmir or coffee shops.
For instance Sudipa has little understanding of Ujaan’s pride in his work. The scene where she walks in with the news of her own promotion and fails to see the clippings from the newspapers that have featured him, very subtly shows Sudipa’s obsession with herself.
Throughout the film Sudipa keeps blaming Ujaan for prioritizing his career but she also, to some extent, fails to understand his attachment to his family, profession, friends (he does not turn up at a holiday with Sudipa because his friend lost his mother.)
For me Praktan is less about how a career woman is being portrayed. It’s more about two people not making any effort to understand each other, something Malini probably tried to do and Ujaan probably made the extra effort the second time. The reason, most often, second marriages are successful.
No matter how hard Malini tries to prove to Sudipa that she has found bliss with Ujaan and doesn’t mind if he is there for her only a single day in the year, that their marriage is not flawless is clear from a single dialogue from their daughter Uditaa who says: “When mom gets angry at dad saying I can’t take this anymore, he gives her a chocolate and a kiss to make up with her.”
So the fights that were an integral part of his first marriage continue in his second, but this time he makes an effort to bring peace, something he had not done before.
It will also be wrong to look at Malini’s character as a regressive one because she gave up her career post-childbirth, adjusted in an extended family and most importantly, “supposedly” adjusted with Ujaan. If we are doing that we are once again categorizing women with our perceptions.
She is a woman who has pushed Ujaan to start his own business and appreciates him for not asking any details about her past relationship as she has not dug into his.
In fact, as shown in the film, the daughter has played a vital role in transforming Ujaan into a more mellowed and loving man. And why am I not surprised? I have seen the most self-obsessed men becoming doting fathers. And I have also seen men refusing to go home after work because they hated their house stinking of soiled nappies and hated the baby getting all the attention from the wife. I have also seen men choosing not to have children and being perfectly happy with the choice.
It depends on a filmmaker what reality he wants to show. In Praktan they chose to show the first one.
One might wonder why Sudipa was so bothered about Ujaan when she had herself found a worthy life partner and especially after all the pain Ujaan had inflicted her with.
People in failed relationships usually look for closure, a re-inforcement that jumping off the sinking ship was the only way out. Sudipa probably looked for closure too. She started off hating Malini, but as the journey progressed, she couldn’t help but like her over-boisterous persona. She looked at life more simply, a quality that Sudipa appreciated.
In my interpretation, meeting Ujaan was not closure for Sudipa, meeting Malini was.
Praktan is not a film with the most flawless script, but it is a film that holds its own with the most flawed characters.