Life is a journey that teaches us a lot as we weave ourselves through various ups and downs. This film will force us to stay strong when shit hits the fan by encouraging us to cherish the little moments that make us happy. Tora’s Husband is about one man’s hardships, his kind nature to help others, and his tenacity to push himself against all odds set in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic in Assam.
There are a few things you begin to notice as soon as the movie starts. One is the lingering static shots in a few scenes and the next is the lack of urgency to unravel the story. The movie is shot in a documentary style to ensure the audience feels a sense of realism as they observe the protagonist go about his daily routines. It was intentionally done so that the audience can observe and understand the characters first. The audience can choose if they want to like or hate these characters. There is a fine line between a film being made to forcefully look realistic versus a film that naturally gives a realistic vibe. The latter is more powerful as it doesn’t try to shy away from reality thereby challenging the audience to put themselves in the character’s shoes and go through the same emotions the character experienced.
Director Rima Das has used her natural filmmaking style to make a film that is not only personal but also important to her. For people outside of her community to understand what everyone in her community went through during the pandemic, she had to shoot very realistically since that is the only way to depict the harsh realities of life. She has not only directed but also wrote the script, edited, shot, and produced this film, which is very admirable. Thinking about it you wonder if she probably should have asked someone else to help with some of these tasks. In doing so, she would have likely lost not only creative control but the freedom to express her personal story the way she wanted to. In every filmmaker’s life, there comes a time when they have a story to tell and sometimes it is deeply personal. The movie starts with a dedication to the director’s dad who passed away during the pandemic. It is hard to fathom such a loss but just like the movie’s protagonist, the director pushed herself to make this film and the result is a very artistic-looking arthouse film.
We first meet Jaan (Abhijit Das) in the opening scene as he is practicing and getting ready to play football. Assam is one of the most football-crazy states in India, so it is no surprise that the sport is part of the culture there. We see Jaan reminiscing about his good old football days with his kids. He regularly meets up with his friends to play football even though his body doesn’t allow him anymore. Sometimes, the good memories are ones we hold to and don’t want to let go. Football to Jaan is something he feels very happy talking about as it reminds him of a time when football was his life. It makes him forget the brutal reality he is currently living in.
Jaan runs a restaurant and bakery establishment which is in debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike most other restaurants that closed during the same time, he has managed to keep his open by making sure his employees were paid even when the business was running at a loss. This is the central problem that Jaan is getting stressed about throughout the film. To make up for the losses, he is having to borrow money and take on a lot of debt. He keeps getting phone calls from lenders asking him when he will return their money. Despite all this, he is a man of virtue. He is always looking out for his employees and keeps his customers happy by giving them freebies from time to time. He has a sense of duty and responsibility to his family and all his friends. We meet his wife Tora (Tarali Kalita Das) who lives in her own world oblivious to the struggles of her husband. She understands that even though she lives in a patriarchal society where husbands have the final say, she challenges herself to believe that he is a good-natured man who is different. She has ideas and thoughts of her own which Jaan never agrees or attempts to understand. He is also shown to make decisions for her which she begins to dislike. Jaan meets up with his friends every evening to drink alcohol and wakes up late every morning. This is when she begins to feel distanced from him as she hates that he drinks but more importantly, he is always busy in his own world that he does not have any time for her.
In contrast to Jaan and Tora’s world, we follow the children as they live their happy-go-lucky lives with no worries. No matter how bad a day Jaan is going through, he always makes himself available to play with his kids and help with their daily routines. All of this happiness is only temporary as his business begins to do worse and we see him reach a tipping point. The rest of the film is about life pushing Jaan to the limit followed by a self-reflection of his marriage and friendships as the pandemic ravages on with no end in sight.
Technically, Tora’s Husband is well shot and the color grade is on point. Most of the lighting in the film is from a natural light source with minimal external lighting which is just like how it would be in real life. The acting is authentic especially Abhijit Das who plays Jaan perfectly. His eye movements and expressions are very realistic and at no point does he overact in any scene knowing that a camera is in front of him. Only ambient sound is used in the film except for a few scenes where a background score is heard.
The pacing is slow, but as I mentioned earlier, it is intentional. When a story about family, friends, and community is told very realistically, it takes time to follow each character. The editing could have been tighter and maybe the ending flushed out a little bit more. Nevertheless, the film has its share of lighthearted moments as well which makes it an easy watch.