By Arpita Mallick
About love isn’t a movie as much about love as it is about all the despites and besides. Archana Phadke shot this documentary over a span of three years and managed to capture the intricacies of a joint family, two marriages, a wedding and a death. It is not a rosy picture and one can go out on a limb and say a rather dysfunctional and stained one. However, it intimately captures how close-knitted families have been living in harmony, laughter and a kindred spirit for ages, and that’s on love.
The documentary revolves around the three generations of the Phadke family that live together in their ancestral home in downtown Mumbai. It depicts the marriage of her grandparents and parents and captures the drama and tension around her younger brother Rohan’s wedding. The topic of her own marriage is picked up as easily as she dismisses it. What Archana wanted to explore and underline with respect to the title is; how love is stored in the tiny gaps of these conversations.
A Family Affair
Family dynamics in India are a somewhat complicated arrangement, with cultural norms often influencing living arrangements. It’s very typical for younger generations to take care of their parents, especially if one passes away and the other is left alone. Add marriage into the mix - women often are customarily obliged to move into their husband’s home after marriage, which means that there are already now two generations in one home. If that couple has kids, then there’s three. This dynamic isn’t rigid and has changed over the years with increasing urbanisation in India and many young people moving into populous city areas. But data from India's National Sample Survey (NSS) shows that around 80% of elderly widows and widowers live with their children.
So Archana’s look inward into her own family affair in one household is well reflected and understood by us as the audience. Three generations of marriages and relationships haven’t been portrayed in a more real, gutting and heart-warming manner than this. The men of the family are condescending, demanding and self-absorbed. Their marriages are vessels of luxury for them while the women who are utterly kind and compassionate, in contrast, feel dutiful and weary. Yet they take it with a smile on their face and a pinch of salt.
Archana’s father is a blatant testament to the ingrained patriarchal mindset that runs in the family. He nit-picks on trivial matters and his wife, Maneesha, is the kindest member of the family, who welcomes criticism politely. In one scene, Atul (the father) is seen complaining about folder sizes and in another, he is seen losing his temper due to a minor spelling mistake. Both these incidents leave Maneesha a victim in hysteria. She cries then hysterically breaks into laughter and mentions how she feels that her brain stops working around Atul; a powerful comment on their relationship. At a point, Maneesha even wonders how she has tolerated Atul for 30 years and looks forward to 20 more. Although their relationship is far from ideal, they are accustomed to each other. They find joy and laughter in little things. The couple is seen happily dancing and sharing jokes and they admit that they find happiness in each other's joy. When Archana’s brother Rohan asks her why she doesn’t want to get married, she says she doesn't want to end up like her mother.
Archana’s grandfather Madhav is an old debilitated man with a typical oppressive and patriarchal outlook towards things which is profoundly exhibited in his casual conversations with his frail wife, Neela. Madhav is constantly bickering about one way or the other and Neela is seen spending most of her day looking after his health and meals. He is also frequently spotted passing slurs and sexual remarks at his wife in a casual tone which portrays the lack of respect he has despite her taking care of him. Madhav proudly speaks of his mother and the life she offered him while giving zero credit to his wife who he is dependent on for his survival. However, this does not seem to nettle Neela as she has made peace with this behaviour. Madhav continues to be immature and finicky about his needs while Neela turns a cheek and minds her own business. To quote Shakespeare “Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion; sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Madhav passes away in the midst of all this, and the mourning period is calmer and more composed rather than grief-ridden.
The women of the family, although repressed in one way or the other, are the generous backbones of it. Both the grandmother and mother enjoy their solitude and moments of respite, Maneesha in the mornings when there is no one to nudge and pick her brain except her own thoughts, and Neela, the grandmother, on the balcony of the house.
Maneesha is also an unpublished writer and has a monologue on the story she is writing which quintessentially depicts how she feels unseen and dismissed in the family. Being the protagonist of her story, she wishes she could meet someone, another woman, transcending time and space, to only have a conversation. To relate, to express and to befriend.
Archana’s sister Sagarika pronouncedly shows the stark difference in opinions that comes along with generation gaps. She too, like her sister, wishes to move out of her parent’s home and live independently without the desperate need of a husband. Both sisters have their minds set on their individualistic needs and happiness that is separated from family traditions while relishing their small epithets and moments with them. Their aversion to traditional marriages stems from the years of mild despotism towards their mother and grandmother that they have witnessed all these years although it doesn’t affect their love and kindness towards their family.
The story beautifully captures the mundane gestures and habits that families function along. It is tough to believe the veracity of stories that are captured on a reel, however, this one is honest and real from the very first second. Archana has delicately strung together the intimacies and truths of marriages and makes one ponder deeply over relationships. The movie, although brutally candid, finds cues to make one laugh out loud. With parts equally adorable, odd, awkward, uncomfortable and warm, it encapsulates the true essence of what a family looks like.
About the author
Arpita Mallick works part-time in a corporate role and is a full-time admirer of essays written by women. She tries to poignantly articulate her feelings on being a single dog mom, the absurdities of human emotions and anxieties that follow her to new cities. Apart from questioning her convictions on feminism and finding her feet in the world, when she’s done self-scrutinizing she freelances as a content writer and music journalist. You can find her on Instagram @_arpitamallick_