Ms. Representation: The other man
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week we take a look at the 'bored wife' trope
The ‘bored wife’ trope lends itself to different genres within cinema. It is, after all, a unique damsel-in-distress that is married. The difference here is, of course that often, to be saved from her predicament she must act. She can no longer be passive. Though the mantle of the classic in this genre has been cornered by Bridges of Madison County, I have other favourites that deal with the subject in distinctive ways that make watching them a rewarding experience.
Satyajit Ray’s Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964) based on Tagore’s novella Nastanirh is indeed on top of this list with few home-grown competitors. The film’s style, technical finesse and Ray’s cinematic as well as the cinematographic quirks, all add to its greatness. Charulata’s (Madhabi Mukherjee) attraction for her husband’s brother, Amal, played by Soumitra Chatterjee is at the heart of this film.
The 1984 film Falling in Love featuring the romance between Frank (Robert De Niro) and Molly (Meryl Streep), both married to others, is among the classics in the genre. What makes this film so special is that the ‘ick factor’ is entirely missing. The film’s premise makes it easy for you to empathise with the two leads and the music is just riveting and beautiful. Its glitzy Indian cousin Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna isn’t half bad, but I would any day recommend the original.
Waitress is another favourite. The 2007 film uses ‘the unhappy woman who whips up delightful food’ combo to perfect results. Jenna (Keri Russell) loves making pies and is in an unhappy marriage, and pregnant. She ends up having an affair with the new doctor in town. What happens next? An unusual, empowering happy ending.
The Lunchbox, the 2013 film which was introduced on the Cannes stage as a modern-day Charulata, must, of course, feature. The endearing old-worldly affection that blossoms between Saajan Fernandes (the superb Irrfan Khan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur in the role of a lifetime), in the backdrop of Mumbai’s famous dabbawallahs and a wrongly delivered dabba, shows Ila’s many moods, yearnings and oddities (like smelling clothes before washing them). The unseen neighbour who gives Ila advice on cooking is a delightful addition, that comes close to the cinematic and ‘sound’ brilliance of Charulata (The set for Charulata was constructed in the ground floor, while Ray used sound entirely to create the effect of a first floor in the film). Like Waitress this film executes ‘the unhappy woman who cooks to vent’ ideas to perfection.
Imtiaz Ali, at this point, can be considered somewhat of an expert in crafting the woman bored in a relationship. From Geet (Kareena Kapoor in sublime form) in Jab We Met who grows weary of Anshuman (a hilarious Tarun Arora) to Aditya’s (Shahid Kapoor) mother who falls in love with another man, from Heer Kaul (a disastrous Nargis Fakri) in Rockstar to the girl in the throes of Stockholm syndrome, Veera (Alia Bhatt) in Highway, and Tara (Deepika Padukone) in Tamasha who falls for Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) while in Corsica, and most recently, Sejal in Jab Harry Met Sejal, are all women looking for excitement or the promise of something better.
Some other films in this genre that are particular favourites include The Good Girl, starring Jennifer Aniston. A slow, poignant film that deals with desire, deception and disappointment, as is the 2004 film, Closer starring Juila Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.
The Descendants is a film at the heart of which is the ghost of an affair between Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife Elizabeth and another man. The film shows Matt dealing with the aftermath of the affair and his relationship with his two daughters, and deserves to make it to this list for its sensitivity, candour and humour.