By the time Abohoman got a DVD release in Delhi, it had been conferred the National Award for Best Actress (Ananya Chatterjee) and Best Director (Rituparno Ghosh’s second win after 2000’s Utsab). Like most other films by this director, it’s a wordy, elegant look at the troubled relationships of people who speak in modulated voices and are too cultured to throw things. It’s not a particularly new theme – ageing director falls for debutante actress, she becomes his mistress, wife doesn’t approve – and Ghosh probably knows this, which is why he boldly structures the movie as a series of cross-cuts across time.
To begin with, the strategy pays off. Ghosh introduces the central characters – director Aniket, his son Apratim, wife Deepti and muse Shikha – in a series of vignettes, all occurring at different points in their relationships with each other. Very little expository assistance is offered, and the result is engrossing, if disorienting. The scenes blend into each other seamlessly – Shikha at Aniket’s house auditioning, then at his funeral, then as a character in the movie he’s directing – and just when you’re wondering how long the director can keep this up, Ghosh loses his nerve. Abohoman retreats into a semi-linear narrative, the scenes become longer, and everyone onscreen starts to sigh a lot.
Abohoman sets up more interpersonal conflicts – director-muse, husband-wife, wife-mistress, father-son, wife-mother-in-law – than it knows how to deal with. Specifics get sacrificed; we never learn at what point Aniket becomes infatuated with Shikha, or how matters deteriorate to the point where he no longer cares to hide the affair from his family. Further confusion arises from the use of Nati Binodini as the film he directs. Ghosh starts off by suggesting a parallel between the legendary stage actress (also a kept woman) and Shikha, but drops the idea altogether in the second half. Even less convincing is Apratim’s wishful explanation that making a film on his father’s life would mean the end of the scandal his affair caused.
Ghosh is a genuinely gifted director of women, and it shows in Mamata Shankar’s controlled performance as Deepti and in Ananya Chatterjee’s seductive, steely Shikha. Deepankar De as the director and Jisshu Sengupta as his son do little wrong, but aren’t privy to Ghosh’s affection in the way the women are. Special mention must be made of Arghya Kamal Mitra’s editing; it’s the driving force behind the opening half hour, the only part of the movie with true greatness in it. Otherwise, Abohoman is two steps forward, two back, and pirouette.
A version of this review was published in Time Out Delhi.