Director Shiladitya Moulik’s fine writing, neat dialogues, the imperfect characters and the performance by the protagonists makes Sweater a fine film
By Mayur Lookhar
Film: Sweater (Bengali)
Director Shiladitya Moulik
Cast: Ishaa M Saha, Anuradha Mukherjee, Kharaj Mukherjee, Sreelekha Mitra, June Malia
Rating: 3.5/5 [Good]
A sweater in peak summer would be akin to self-immolation. However, just like Shoojit Sircar’s summer release October (2018) warmed your hearts, filmmaker Shiladitya Moulik’s summer treat Sweater soaks you into the warmth of life.
Mahadev [Kharaj Mukherjee] and Kalyani Debnath [Maitrayee Chakraborty] are small town folks who are bogged by the common Indian family woe – how to find a suitable boy for their elder daughter Tuku [Ishaa M Saha]. The Bengali family receive a bizarre proposal from a wealthy family. The matriarch [played by June Malia] seeks no dowry, but all that she wants is Tuku knit a sweater and she would then earn the right to marry her Chartered Accountant son.
Mahadev visits his sister Gouri Sen [Sreelekha Mitra] in Darjeeling, West Bengal. Sen is a professional who coaches aspiring weavers. It turns out to be a life changing trip for Tuku as she buries the demons in her minds and comes out as an confident, independent person. Back home, her pretty, fair and confident sister Sree [Anuradha Mukherjee] gets reality check that leaves her heart broken.
Though a bizarre tale, Moulik’s Sweater is built on the fine threads that bind human relationships. It’s the imperfections that makes Moulik’s character so relatable and likable.
Tuku a girl who suffers from low self-esteem. The dusky lady was bullied as a child and nothing has changed as Tuku is mocked by her father for being rejected countless times. The naive Tuku is being exploited by her unemployed chauvinist perverted boyfriend Pablo [Saurav Das]. Tuku embodies the frail Indian woman who is compelled into believing that she is worth nothing, how fairness cream can help her out. Her low self-esteem makes her ripe for bullying.
This writer has witnessed Ishaa M Saha for the first time and the actress overwhelms with her underwhelming character. People with low self esteem are introverts. Not that introverts don’t succeed in life, but there’s an idiosyncrasy attached to such people. It’s not a question about talent or the lack of it, but often frail minds are too petrified to express their hurt. They soak all emotions, what’s left on the exterior is a lifeless human form. Saha could has that standard grim expression on her face, but emotes the state of mind of Tuku.
Saha regales in emoting this lifeless human form emphatically. She has the skin but back it with her natural talent. Popular cinema has fetish for the fair female protagonists but even Bollywood, too, has recognised some unconventional talents in the recent past. Sweater is a Bengali film but Saha joins the likes of Banita Sandhu, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Shraddha Srinath women shown that beauty shines through talent alone. Credit to filmmakers like Shoojit Sircar, Soumik Sen and Tigmanshu Dhulia who’ve picked horses for courses and resisted the temptation to cast glam dolls. Saha’s confident show in playing a low-esteem character is highly commendable.
Anuradha Mukherjee has a baby face and there’s a child-like charm to her character. Sree is practical girl, one who dares to question tradition. Emotional attachment is not her cup of tea, Sree likes men who shower her with gifts. Note, materialism is no crime. Patriarchal minds only expose themselves when they mock a woman for being materialistic.
Sree’s not quite the pillar of support for Tuku, but she does care for her well-being. She doesn’t want Tuku to step out of the room when the suitors [June Malia] arrive in the Debnath household at 3.00 am. The siblings’ bed time conversation discussing Sree’s personal life is entertaining. Sree’s innocence, her natural wit flows in these conversations. Like Saha, Mukherjee, too, exudes great confidence and is another budding talent that the film industry needs to keep an eye out for.
Mahadev Debnath is an interesting character, one that you’d love and hate in equal breath. He’s not conservative but like many Indian fathers, they often pin the blame on their wives for their daughter’s misfortune. As the patriarch of the house, he does most of the talking, believing he knows what’s best for his daughters. Kharaj Mukherjee draws guffaws in his arguments with wife and daughters. Woken up from his slumber at 3.00 am by June Malia, Kharaj is a little lost and mistakenly refers to him as Kalyani while his wife as Mahadev.
In one moment, he’s slamming his daughter Sree for her materialistic desire but later he gently asks her to get the boy friend and his family home
Seasoned actors Malia and Mitra also chip in with their competent acts. Farhan Imroze plays the violinist Shamyo, a man who helps Tuku overcome her self misery. Though Afroze is charming, but Shamyo comes across as a self help book author, or a character that can be likened to Shah Rukh Khan in Kal Ho Naa Ho .
Tuku’s colleagues have their own issues, but not all stories are convincing. A woman is left lonely on her wedding night as her army officer husband is called for duty in troubled cold Kashmir. And so she wants to gift him a sweater upon his arrival.
There’s also a man also among the aspiring women weavers. For a fashion designer, you do wonder does Ryan really need any coaching from Gouri? Director Ryan only brings Ryan to highlight the stereotyping of male fashion designers as gays. These characters help Tuku realise she’s not alone in her misery but they don’t have much appeal.
The film has few draggy moments, largely confined to scenes from the knitting class. It’s the protagonists though who stitch this Sweater. Moulik’s fine writing, neat dialogues, the imperfect characters and the performance by the protagonists that makes a Sweater a fine family drama.