Rima Das’ intimate drama shows a family man’s life unravelling in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic

Tora's Husband

Source: Courtesy of TIFF

‘Tora’s Husband’

Dir/scr Rima Das: India. 2022. 142mins

The fourth fiction film from Assam-based indie filmmaker Rima Das (Village Rockstars, Bulbul Can Sing) is a sprawling, restive departure from the lively, concise style of her previous films. A patchwork of acutely observed snapshots of a life in quiet crisis, this story of a hardworking family man struggling to keep his business afloat feels persuasive and authentic, although the languid pacing means that the film does start to lag a little by the second hour.

It’s slow-burning but, in its unassuming way, compelling

Something of a one-woman filmmaking phenomenon, Das takes on most of the key behind-the-camera roles herself. Tora’s Husband premiered at the Toronto Film Festival – the third of her films to do so following Village Rockstars, which become India’s Official Entry to the Academy Awards in 2019, and Bulbul Can Sing, which won prizes at numerous festivals including Berlin, Dublin, Mumbai and Singapore. Shot over the course of 15 months during the pandemic, Tora’s Husband is a more ambitious project, and lacks some of the punchy impact and accessibility of the previous two pictures. Still, the film should enjoy further festival interest following its screening in Busan’s A Window on Asian Cinema strand.

Jaan (Abhijit Das, the director’s brother) is a decent man. Generous to those in need, dutiful to his family, he takes on debt during the Covid-19 lockdown to ensure that the employees of his small business, a bakery and restaurant in a town in Assam, don’t have to manage without wages. But the struggle to keep the business afloat, the marshaling of debts, the phone which only ever rings with bad news: it all places stress on Jaan’s marriage to his wife Tora (Tarali Kalita Das).

The quotidian details of Jaan’s life – debates about cake quality, driving between work sites, wrangling his two spirited children, offering money and refreshments to those in need – seem banal at first, but the film gradually builds in power. The driving force of the story is the sense of a sickening, something which is tainting a life which, at first, seems prosperous and glossy with health.

It’s not just the pandemic, although the reminders are everywhere; the masks, the ambulances,  the edge of desperation in the voices of those whose livelihoods have been impacted. Das seeds the film with other illnesses: the man whose infected leg prevents him from working, the persistent headache which plagues Jaan. Society, perhaps, is already ailing, but the lockdown has magnified the symptoms. And for Jaan, the main symptom is his need for alcohol. More and more, after the stresses of the day, he ducks out of his family responsibilities in favour of sharing drinks with his male buddies. Tora hates this weakness in him. “He’s a good man,” she confides to a friend, “but a bad husband.”

Das’s approach is observational, with a documentary-style sense of life unfolding rather than engineered drama. It’s slow-burning but, in its unassuming way, compelling. Abhijit Das, although non-professional, seems wholly at ease in front of the camera. He’s convincing as an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, doing his best to hold his life together as the domino chain of debts around him starts to topple.

Production company: Flying River Films

Contact: Flying River Films rima.films@gmail.com

Producer: Rima Das

Cinematography: Rima Das

Production design: Rima Das

Editing: Rima Das

Music: Sagar Desai

Main cast: Abhijit Das, Tarali Kalita Das, Bhuman Bhargav Das, Purbanchali Das, Simanta Malakar, Nilima Das