Even Valmiki would agree that Ahalya was nothing but a short story, incorporated in his epic Ramayan, just to highlight the magical power of Ram. With the touch of his toe, a cursed wife Ahalya regains her body and soul, just to thank Ram for his generosity. While believers would consider this as spiritual nirvana of a cursed wife, feminists would tag it as Valmiki’s chauvinism. Needless to say, the story of Ahalya doesn’t have any connect with the core theme of Ramayan. And it’s not even considered as an important chapter in the ‘basic story line’ of Ramayan.
Unlike Ram, Sita and Ravan, Ahalya is not a historical character. She was probably created by Valmiki to set an example for women who dared. But Sujoy Ghosh’s take on the subject can definitely entitle her to be a part of history – the history of short cinema.
The 14-minute Bengali film Ahalya, is a modern interpretation of a cursed wife, who mistook the King of Heaven, Lord Indra as her husband and had sex. So she was considered as a cheater in a relationship and was cursed by her husband that she would turn into a stone, unless Lord Vishnu lands for her rescue. After setting an improbable timeline to her punishment, the husband went back to the jungles, while Indra lived happily everafter with the apsaras. It was Ahalya, who lived like a redundant fossil in the courtyard of her own house, waiting for her ‘mukti’.
Set in Kolkata, Ghosh gets straight into the point. Inspector Indra, enters the premise of a doddering old man Gautam Sadhu (played brilliantly by Soumitra Chatterjee) to investigate about a missing model Arjun. Soon he realizes that the Mr Sadhu is married to a much younger women Ahalya (teasingly hot Radhika Apte). Ghosh’s Ahalya is a desirable object. She is no saint. Very much in control of her sexuality and flaunts it to her advantage. Almost like a predictable Bollywood vamp or a cat woman who lives off a sugar daddy. The plot thickens when Indra (seasoned performance by Tota Roy Choudhury) encounters with a magic stone, which claimed could change the identity of an individual. What happens next, is Ghosh’s interpretations of the mythological faux paus.
Though Ghosh could have avoided the clichés like Ramayan, Mahabharat, Arjun, Gautam, Indra and Ahalya, his narrative is gripping from the word go. Seasoned actors and well choreographed frames added a contextual tonality in the film. The fact that Ahalya is not a prop, and she finally takes her revenge. It took almost a light year for us to forgive Ahalya, for no fault of hers. It took a director Ghosh to rewrite her fate. It took almost a stone age, to end another. While Hindu mythology speaks volume about forgiveness, this episode clearly demarks a clear differentiation between male and female in society. While Indra was ‘barely’ punished for his sly, Ahalya was converted into a stone!
But Ghosh is no Valmiki. He chose a different route and a better climax. After Shyam Benegal’s take on Mahabharat (Kalyug), this ‘micro’ film leaves enough fodder for cine-feudals to munch on mytho-logical mishmash.
For those who haven’t yet seen the short-film that’s breaking the internet, here it is again. Enjoy!