Everything Is Fine movie review: Seema Pahwa beautifully details the tribulations of every mom-next-door
Seema Pahwa lives the whole life of an everywoman in less than 20 minutes. She is both swift and effective in putting both the message and the emotion across.
Earlier this year, Anubhav Sinha's social drama Thappad prompted viewers to keep a check on their patriarchal conditioning, and learn how that hampers the growth of women around them. Even in the short films area, Neeraj Ghaywan's 2017 directorial Juice, starring Shefali Shah in the lead, threw light on how men reinstate gender roles for their convenience.
On Mother's Day last week, Large Short Films releases Mansi Nirmal Jain's Everything Is Fine on YouTube, which is an ode to motherhood and the silent struggles that come with it. Starring Seema Pahwa, the short film neither has the big blow of Juice nor is a slow burn like Thappad.
But it boasts of novelty in the mother-daughter relationship. In Thappad, the daughter Amrita's (Taapsee Pannu) grouse with her husband was not received very warmly by her mother (Ratna Pathak Shah), which showed how women also perpetuate patriarchy in some cases. In Everything Is Fine, the mother Asha (Seema Pahwa) is in an unhappy marriage, and her otherwise supportive independent daughter Bittoo (Palomi Ghosh) rebukes her instead of consoling her.
The film starts with Bittoo's parents visiting her in Delhi, where she works away from her hometown. Later at night, when Bittoo asks her mother why she cannot sleep, Asha explains to her how she cannot live with her father given his unrelenting demands and nagging. She requests Bittoo to let her stay with her but Bittoo (probably fearing the loss of her independence) tells Asha she is overthinking, and should stop crying over "itni si baat" (a minor issue). Asha, realising that her daughter is also not supportive of her plight, tells her, "Main theek hu" (I am fine)."
The rest of the film documents her journey from "main theek hu" to "sab theek hai" (everything is fine). Without giving spoilers, she does not take drastic steps like the women did in the two films discussed above. But she takes her happiness into her own hands, without depending on either her husband or even her daughter. Eventually, she manages to seek happiness within the existing framework, but without compromising on her self-respect or strangling her desires.
An early insight into the daughter's attitude towards mother comes early in the film when Asha tells Bittoo that her father insisted on coming along by arguing, "Tum apna khayal kaise rakhogi?" (how will you take care of yourself?). Bittoo responds by saying, "Kyun, main aapka khayal nahi rakh sakti kya?" (Can I not take care of you). Asha is taken aback by Bittoo's response as she realises both the father and daughter assume she is dependent on them, whereas it is actually the other way round.
There are numerous remarks by Asha's husband that allow the audience to peek into his patriarchal mindset. There is also a passing mention where he says he quit cricket, a sport he was good at, because of "grahasti" (domestication). These work well as silent jabs at Asha's countless sacrifices.
The best part of the film, undoubtedly, is Seema Pahwa. She has obviously gotten accustomed to playing the middle-class mother figure through her turns in Ashwini Iyer Tiwary's 2017 film Bareilly Ki Barfi and RS Prasanna's Shubh Mangal Saavdhan more recently. Here, she plays a mother who seeks sisterhood in her daughter as some respite from an unequal marriage. She makes the mom-next-door completely relatable, and manages to make you feel the inexplicable yet deeply torturous pain of being a woman devoid of her agency. When she cries her eyes out, you cannot help but sob along. And when she smiles to her heart's content, you end up sharing the joy.
Seema Pahwa lives the whole life of an everywoman in less than 20 minutes. She is swift and effective in putting both the message and the emotion across.
Palomi's tuning works perfectly with Seema's, and they ensure they come across as a real mother-daughter pair. Palomi, unlike Seema, does not have scenes of her own to shine alone. But she walks the fine tightrope between a rude daughter and a young woman who knows no better. She ends up making the audience not like her, but also does not compel them to hate her.
The film is as sound technically. Director of Photography Jigme T Tenzing works in tandem with production designer Akshita Garg to set the film in cramped rooms, which leads up to a wide expanse in the climax that sums up the protagonist's journey from an asphyxiated soul to a liberated spirit. The opening shot of the lens looking down at a cage-like frame through the stairs establishes both the tone and central conflict of the character within seconds.
Editor Jabeen Merchant pulls off the adept job of keeping the film to less than 20 minutes, and allows other departments to pack in a lot during the short duration. Costume designers Riya Kapoor and Chitwan Mohan Bajaj choose rich, bright colours for Seema's saris and night gown, which reflect her true personality despite the situation she finds herself in. And the music by Sagar Desai is mostly confined to a meditative theme, as the rest of the film relies on ambient sounds.
Everything Is Fine might be a statement one hears quite often, particularly from those close to us. But the short film shows how a woman, when she decides to optimise her potential, can make 'everything is a fine' a genuine way of life, both for herself and everyone around her.
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