Friendships between and among women have traditionally been ignored. Lillian B Rubin writes that “just as women have been invisible in public life throughout the ages, so their private relations with each other have been unseen as well” (Just Friends, Harper & Row, New York, 1985, p 59). In contrast, male relations, she says, have been valorised. For his part, Robert Bell (in Worlds of Friendship, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, California and London, 1981, p 58) finds an absence of any ancient myths of female friendship comparable to that of Achilles and Patrolocus or Roland and Oliver.
Female bonding is occasionally present in contemporary mainstream cinema such as Queen, Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani, Dor, Ladies versus Ricky Behl and so on. But in Bengali cinema, it has been extremely rare. So Arijit Haldar&’s directorial debut with Aro Ekbar marks a departure from the normal romance, or action, or suspense, or comedy to focus exclusively on female friendship between and among three friends who reunite after a long time. Virginia Curlee Koenig articulates some popular misconceptions about female friendship and writes “that women tend to mistrust each other… compete with
one another for men” and resist a “tendency to bond” (Intimacy in the Marital and Female Friendship Relationships of Women, PhD Thesis, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh, 1983, p 36). Bell states that such beliefs are misconceptions, irrespective of gender,
and argues that historical beliefs in the inferiority of female friendship are wrong.
In this desert sand bereft of female friendship, Aro Ekbar enters the august territory of three different women in three different phases of their personal lives who try to catch up on their past bonding under different circumstances after a gap of 25 years! Briefly, slices of sunshine filter into their lives, clouded by personal tragedies, loneliness and isolation manifested in different ways. How long does the magic spell last? The story will unfold the answer, leaving more questions to disturb, provoke and trigger change.
The most outstanding feature of this film produced under the banner of Rag Anurag Creations is that there are three National Award-winners in the cast. Indrani Haldar and Rituparna Sengupta have won the National Award for Best Actress for their work in Rituparno Ghosh&’s Dahan. Roopa Ganguly bagged the National Award for Best Playback Singer (Female) for her melodious rendering of the Tagore number Doorey kothaye, doorey doorey in Abasheshe. Haldar, who has honed his directorial skills on television for several years, has roped in noted music composer and singer Smriti Lala along with pupils of her school, Rag Anurag Creations. Lala has conceived the story of this film, composed the musical score and is creative director. The story, script and dialogue are by Sarbajit Chakraborty while Shubhankar Bhar is director of photography and Md Kalam done the editing.
“Indrani and I had worked together in Rituparno Ghosh&’s Dahan and Roopadi and I had played sisters in Raj Basu&’s Piyalir Password. Working together is a lot of fun. During breaks in the shooting, we take a trip down memory lane. We talk about family, husbands, kids, films and the old times when we were newcomers,” says Rituparna, who plays Jhumur in the film alongside Malobika portrayed by Indrani and Iraboti played by Roopa. The team, along with cast and crew, shot in Darjeeling at picturesque locations such as Tiger Hill, Rock Garden, the Mall, Sukhna, the Toy Train for their outdoor scenes. In Kolkata, some scenes were shot against the backdrop of the Victoria Memorial, placing the friends against the backdrop of a city they once lived in and had fun together.
Irabati, who is slightly older than the other two friends, was married very early and life changed her into a devoted wife and mother drowned in the responsibilities of running a family. Jhumur is a divorcee who finds love after the break-up and confesses this to her friends. Malobika is a widow with a growing daughter, portrayed by Shayoni Ghosh. She comes back to Kolkata from Delhi where she lived for several years when her husband passes away. The daughter, a self-professed introvert “cannot connect” with people and yet finds a young man (Shaheb Bhattacharya) showing an interest in her. Irabati has problems with a dominating husband while Malobika tries her best to come to terms with the confrontations with her daughter. Jhumur is bursting at the seams and ecstatic about the new love in her life.
“We enjoyed every bit of this surprise reunion after a long time as much as the friends do in the film,” they said in chorus. Aro Ekbar underscores the research finding that at every stage of life between 25 and 50, women have more friendships, as distinct from collegial relationships or work-mates, than men, and the differences in the content and quality of their friendships are marked and unmistakable. Friendship has no quid pro quo but sometimes demands compromises and sacrifices. Are the three friends meeting after a long time ready for these things? Evidence indicates that friendships among women are more frequent, more significant and more interpersonally involved than those commonly found among men.
Let us wait and watch what kind of female friendship Aro Ekbar unravels in October.