Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Sumeet Vyas, Hitesh Malhan
Director: Rakhee Sandilya
Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5 Stars)
Debutante Rakhee Sandilya's slice-of-life marital drama Ribbon is, at first blush, an undeniably commendable effort. Its subdued tone and languid pace allow it to probe aspects of domesticity that rarely find space in Bollywood films, even in off-mainstream ones. However, in the end, it does not yield the results one would expect from a film that is otherwise neatly composed, sure-handed and clear-headed.
What works a touch against Ribbon stems from a screenplay that opens up too many flanks pertaining to marriage, motherhood, child-rearing and career goals. The film touches upon a veritable spreadsheet of complications associated with the task of bringing up a baby in an era and an environment in which overworked urban couples have little time to spare for the challenge of keeping hearth and home together.
The film, in which conversations are as much in English as Hindi, opens with corporate strategic analyst Sahana (Kalki Koechlin) at a gynaecologist's lab for a pregnancy test. The report is positive. She goes into a major flap. She is not ready for motherhood yet, she tells her civil engineer-husband Karan Mehra (Sumeet Vyas). But Karan is all for having the baby. Sahana suggests abortion. She hits the pub with her friends and returns home drunk. A flustered Karan manages to talk her out of reluctance. A girl is born.
Life inevitably changes drastically for the working couple - refreshingly, the narrative unfolds primarily from the point of view of Sahana, but Karan, too, occasionally gets his voice in edgewise - as personal and professional reverses mount and force the two to rethink their priorities. It isn't just changing nappies, preparing meals for the infant or calming a bawling baby that the new parents need to learn. Two careers have to be kept on course, loans have to be repaid, a nanny has to be engaged, and, as the daughter grows, she has to be put in a playschool and thereafter in kindergarten.
The film's pivotal twist - a serious violation of the family's well-being that is sprung upon us without any prior warning - completely alters the tenor of the drama rather late in the story, leaving little time for the audience to grasp and process the import of the plot-defining transgression. By the time it dawns upon us that Ribbon is much more than simply about a young working couple first weighing the pros and cons of having a baby and then struggling to do justice to their role as parents of a newborn child - the film ventures into a dark, desperately urgent thematic space - it is ready to wind down.
But that is not to say that Ribbon is bereft of its share of inspired moments. Co-writer and director Sandilya keeps the film firmly within the realms of reality. Especially felicitous is her handling of the minutiae of the story, be it capturing a teacher extravagantly acting out a nursery rhyme for his young students or staging a longish scene in which we watch a doctor adopt a playful approach in order to divert a schoolgirl's attention as she inspects her.
The director also slips in a sequence that brings up the perennial Delhi-Mumbai opposition. At the maternity clinic, the hero's father, upset that his daughter-in-law has been advised a Caesarian section, wonders "Mumbai mein kya rakha hai", a doctor in Daryaganj would have been better. "Delhi is our home," he asserts. His son has been in working for a construction company in Mumbai for years and he has little patience for the old man's remonstrations.
The film's more crucial scenes - a confrontation between the heroine and an understudy who dislodges her from her position in the company after her three-month maternity layoff; the father flying off the handle during a meeting with officials of his daughter's school; and the pre-climactic showdown that Sahana has with her husband in the wake of a serious crisis - could have done with a little more punch. But given the solid performances from the two lead actors, the film stays on an even keel even when it appears to be stagnating.
The film follows the couple's emotional ups and downs in a completely non-judgmental manner although Karan and Sahana do end up squabbling and pointing fingers at each other when matters threaten to run out of their hands. The one obviously positive aspect of Ribbon is its eschewal of any kind of moral grandstanding.
Yet, when the film has run its course, you are left wondering what the takeaway should be? Is it that working women should refrain from having children or is it that children left at the mercy of the school education/transport system are vulnerable to exploitation of the most despicable kind only because their parents are too preoccupied? The confused signals are likely to fox many.
But not so Kalki Koechlin's star turn. She creates an authentic, pitch-perfect portrait of a career woman who becomes a reluctant mother. Sumeet Vyas is a perfect foil to an actress who digs her teeth deep into one of the meatiest roles that she has ever played on the big screen. For Vyas, Ribbon could prove to be a stepping stone to more such Bollywood openings.
For all that is going for it, Ribbon falls a trifle short of hitting home, but it does provide enough evidence to suggest that Rakhee Sandilya has it in her to be a director to watch.