Cast: Abhijit Das, Tarali Kalita Das, Bhuman Bhargav Das, Purbanchali Das, Simanta Malakar, Nilima Das
Director: Rima Das
Rating: Four stars (out of 5)
The virus that stopped the world in its tracks in 2020-2021 killed millions across the globe. Those that the deadly microbe spared were left to mourn - and count - their immeasurable losses and look for a way out of a deep trough. In Tora's Husband, Rima Das turns the spotlight on one such survivor in a small town in Assam grappling with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and a prolonged nationwide lockdown that derailed lives and livelihoods.
Abhay Das alias Jaan (Abhijit Das), a restaurant-cum-bakery owner, struggles to resurrect his business while he drifts away from his friends and family owing to the choices he makes along the difficult path to recovery.
Tora's Husband, written, directed, produced, edited and shot by Rima Das, is the first-ever Indian title to make it to the Toronto International Film Festival's Platform competition. The Assamese film had its world premiere at the 47th edition of the festival on the evening September 11.
Das' third TIFF entry after Village Rockstars (2017) and Bulbul Can Sing (2018) focuses on a battle that a man wages on the personal and professional fronts. Importantly, Tora's Husband transcends the limits of an account of an individual survivor to narrate a universal tale of a world in distress.
Riding on a simple story that recounts the hurdles that Jaan encounters as the country emerges from a forced cessation of all commercial activity, Tora's Husband delivers a sharp-eyed look at people up against the devastating effects of a pandemic that sank businesses and put millions out of work.
Right at the outset, Tora's Husband provides the audience a peep into Jaan's passion for football, which, like much else in his life, is now a distant memory. In one scene, he shows his son photographs of his amateur footballing days. There is joy and pride in his eyes as he dwells on happier times
A little later, as he plays a game with his friends, he admits he has lost the reflexes that he once possessed and points to a hint of a paunch, perhaps a consequence of a pandemic-enforced break from football. The passage of time is obviously inevitable, as are the quirks of fate. Both serve to underscore the vulnerability of humans when larger forces are at play.
Employing a style that imparts documentary directness to a fictional tale rooted in reality, Tora's Husband is dedicated to Rima Das' father, who passed away during the pandemic but not due to Covid-19. The film is a fond tribute to the resilience of men and women who have soldiered on in circumstances that have been often beyond their instant comprehension.
The eponymous figure in Tora's Husband is a man of impeccable character. He is acutely conscious of his duties towards his family and employees. He is determined to retain his workers, pay them their salaries regularly and stand up for them when rude customers have a go at them.
However, as his troubles mount and his restaurant flounders, he seeks to drown his sorrows in alcohol, making matters worse for himself and his wife Tora (Tarali Kalita Das). Jaan finds it increasingly difficult to hold on to the people around him.
Tora, who maintains her calm even as her husband loses his way, feels that the man isn't doing enough as a husband and a father. His wife's growing disillusionment rankles. That apart, the fact that his estranged mother lives with his sister weighs on Jaan.
Jaan has two children, Bhargav (Bhuman Bhargav Das) and Manu (Purbanchali Das). The former is a pre-teen boy who cannot get over the fact that the family pet canine has gone missing. The latter is a little girl who is in need of constant attention. That Jaan hardly ever shares the parenting workload widens the rift between him and his wife.
Preoccupied with tackling the fallout of dwindling sales, demanding clients, delayed payments and errant employees grappling with their own slew of problems, Jaan resorts to desperate measures, which pushes him further and further away from all that he holds dear.
Love and friendship are all that he's got. But can he bank upon his family and pals when everything else seems to be out of whack? Will Jaan be able to offset the reverses he suffers as a man and an entrepreneur? That is essentially what Tora's Husband, a tale of humanity buffeted by death, fear and uncertainty, is interested in exploring.
With a deliberate pace that approximates the interruptions, setbacks and lingering restlessness of the protagonist's life, the film delves deep into the psyche who is determined to do what is right come what may but is steadily pushed into situations that aggravate his predicament.
Tora's Husband, filmed during the pandemic over a period of two years, has a more markedly scripted feel than Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing although, like Das' previous two TIFF titles, it frequently flows in a cinema verite manner. In the minutiae of the daily grind that Jaan must endure in order to keep his head above the water, the screenplay finds its conflict points, none of which is driven home with a heavy hand. Subtlety is the film's forte.
A pair of blind minstrels sing a devotional song. Jaan stands by and listens to them. When they finish, he praises the duo for the quality of their singing. One of the singers, more sensitive to sound than most of us, complains that the rendition was marred by an ambulance siren.
Patients being rushed to hospitals in blaring ambulances is a fact of life today, Jaan points out. Yes, replies the singer, life is both happiness and sorrow. The specific and the general coalesce in this philosophical moment that puts Jaan's story in a universal perspective.
Tora's Husband creates another strand that stems from the contrast between the world of adults and that of children. Jaan's crushing worries are a strain on his relationships but neither Bhargav nor Manu are affected by the unfortunate turn of events around them. The young siblings are lost in their realm of childish pranks, Avengers toys and hope-filled innocence.
Tora's Husband is an important record of a time of great turmoil that the world collectively experienced. Delivered with empathy and remarkable repose, the film is endowed with both artistic and archival value.