By Nishi Pulugurtha
An old gentleman and a much younger lady talk as they walk down a road that is surrounded by green fields on both sides. The old man suddenly starts reciting a poem. What makes this recitation of significance is the fact that the gentleman has Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout much of the film he just recollects one line. The closing credits roll up and the end is one of hope in spite of the obvious knowledge that things are changing for the worse. The Bengali film, Sraboner Dhara (2020), ends on a positive note. In times such as the one we are in at the present, this seems to be all the more pertinent.
Directed by Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha and based on Subhendu Sen’s short story, “Between Raindrops”, Sraboner Dhara (2020), streaming online now, deals with a number of stories woven together. The protagonist is Dr. Nilabho Roy (played subtly by Parambrata Chatterjee), a neurologist, who takes his profession and role as a doctor very seriously. He does not like the hospital policy of making patients take expensive tests and makes sure that their bills are not inflated. He also takes a keen interest in his patients, noticing small details and using them when dealing with them. His marital life is in a mess as he is obsessed with moving ahead, doing well in life to the point that he ignores his wife and child. There are tensions in the marriage that lead to their separation. He also does not vibe well with his parents who still live in an old house in north Kolkata. Nilabho has moved away and as his past and growing up had been so much of a struggle, he wants to move up the ladder fast, make money and live well.
The film weaves Nilabho’s personal life, his relationship with his wife and daughter, with his parents and sister along with his professional world where relationships figure differently and where he is the objective spectator. Dr. Amitava Sarkar (played brilliantly by Soumitra Chatterjee) is his patient and comes to the hospital with his much younger wife Shubha Sarkar (a role wonderfully essayed by Gargi Roychowdhury). Professor Sarkar is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, though it is not clear why he needs to be admitted in a hospital to get the tests done. Dr. Roy explains to Shubha how Professor Sarkar’s condition will never be cured and how care is of vital importance. He seeks Shubha’s help to keep the professor active in remembering past incidents, dates, events and the like. The film deals well with the depiction of Alzheimer’s disease. Another patient in the hospital asks Shubha about the Professor’s disease and when she mentions it, he says that the old man is mad. Shubha takes pains to explain it, but the gentleman refuses to make sense of it – a scenario that is common to family members of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Sraboner Dhara beautifully reveals the caregiver caring for a loved one. In spite of the fact that he is losing it all, Shubha tries her best holding on to whatever remains of their relationship, a relationship that is changing. There are times when she is completely at a loss on how to handle, on what to do, she makes mistakes, tries to correct him when he fumbles, says things that are muddled and wrong, checks herself as she realises that he is not doing it on purpose. The degeneration that has set in makes him do things and say things that are unexpected and at times cause her embarrassment. There is that fear in her that he might forget her too.
The professor keeps telling the doctor that he met his wife in the turbulent ’70s in Calcutta. We think that he might have mistaken it as she says they met elsewhere. She tries to correct him a number of times, realising the futility of it but desperately trying to hold on to this bit of her life. We learn that she had met him much later when he had come to deliver a lecture. We learn that she is the second wife of the professor, a fact that is obvious by their age difference. Many think that the professor is her father. Unfortunately, the professor has completely forgotten about his second marriage. She tells the doctor how he started forgetting small little things, like the month of the year, whether he had eaten, whether he had taken a bath or not. When the doctor asks him who the lady with him is, he smiles and asks the doctor to guess, a scenario that so often happens with someone with the disease. The doctor tells her there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and that care is of great importance.
There is an episode in the film where doctor sees Shubha in a mall, follows her to find out that she was looking for a rather old fashioned spectacle frame. He also notices that the credit card that she used had a different name, Joyeeta. He meets her and finds out that her name is not Shubha at all. Shubha was the professor’s first wife who passed away years ago. She is Joyeeta Gupta, his second wife, whom he has completely forgotten. In a flash back scene we see the couple entertaining guests at their home and the professor initially unable to recognize her and then referring to her by his first wife’s name. That is when she decides to adopt the persona and name of his first wife. She even dresses in blue, a colour the professor likes.
Nilabho notices this relationship closely. There is an episode in which the professor walks out from the hospital and goes missing. Of course, he is found out soon and it is his wife who helps in finding him out, telling the doctor as to where he might be revealing the way in which a caregiver knows every little bit of a loved one. It is the doctor who tells her that she need not give up everything in caring for her loved one. Caregiving, he tells her is a very difficult thing and it takes its toll on the caregiver. He tells her that she need not give up her identity and become someone else so that she could remain close to him. For those who have dementia and Alzheimer’s might forgot their loved ones, their names, their identities. They may forget absolutely everything about their lives, but there is one thing that always has a great effect and that is love. In the professor’s life, as of now, there is no Joyeeta but she would always remain a loved one, someone who cares for him, someone who is always there for him and that would take him and them a long way. She follows that advice and the film beautifully ends with the professor reciting the poem in full. Such is the power of love and care.
Interwoven with this is the story of a friend from Nilabho’s youth who just makes ends meet but who decides to admit his paternal aunt in an expensive hospital and is willing to go to lengths to see that she gets well. He lives a simple life with his wife and children and is even willing to sell off his auto to arrange for the money for the treatment. Nilabho views the ways these human relationships play out. His own relationship with his parents is troubled. They do not gel at all with his father refusing to take any monetary help from him and preferring to live in their old rented home instead of living with his hi-flying, well-to-do, successful son. His wife has a much better relationship with his parents who find it difficult to understand why their marriage is troubled. They blame their son for being unable to strike a balance between professional life and commitments and personal life.
Working through a number of plots and subplots, the film speaks of human relationships as Nilabho finds out their importance as he closely sees the way others deal with difficulties and stress yet hold on to relationships that are threatened by medical problems. In spite of dealing with medical problems, there is no morbidity in the film. On the other hand, the film beautifully reveals people learning to deal with crises in their lives, making mistakes, unable to deal with them, yet making great efforts. Sraboner Dhara depicts the issues of the caregiver with great sensitivity. Soumitra Chatterjee brilliantly etches the character of someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, his second outing in playing someone who has dementia. Mayurakshi (2017), directed by Atanu Ghosh, saw him playing a character that has dementia with great élan. The lost, vacant gaze that seems to say much, the sudden flashes of brilliance, the way he fumbles with words, his mood swings work wonderfully in presenting someone who has Alzheimer’s, who is on his way to losing it all, but who still has so much more in him, something that his wife struggles to hold on to, to live in the moment, to take each day as it comes.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).
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