Sweater movie review: Ishaa Saha's performance makes this needlessly preachy film watchable
Shiladitya Moulik’s new film Sweater is an honest and sincere effort at telling a good story. It has all the right ingredients of a simple feel-good film.
castIshaa Saha, June Malia, Sreelekha Mitra, Anuradha Mukherjee, Kharaj Mukhopadhyay
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5 stars)
Shiladitya Moulik’s new film Sweater is an honest and sincere effort at telling a good story. It has all the right ingredients of a simple feel-good film. A relatable protagonist, a pretty setting, decent performances and some nice music to go with it all. What it lacks is consistency – so much so that one can’t help but wonder how there can be so many brilliant moments and so many boring ones in the same movie.
The very basic premise of Sweater – although questionable in its logic – is a simple one, one has to give it that much. Tuku is a plain Jane living with her family in an unnamed small hill station. Her average looks and lack of skills deny her the tag of marriageable material. And as in any other typical Indian household, her younger sister can’t get married because Tuku can’t get married. Her father is a clerk and her mother is a perpetually anxious homemaker; both spend their days worrying about how to get the two girls married. When an alliance does come, the mother of the prospective groom lays before the bride’s family a singular non-negotiable condition – that Tuku has to knit a sweater for her son. With just one month in hand to complete the task before her, Tuku sets out to learn how to knit, going through a transformation that she herself hadn’t expected to happen to her.
Strange as the premise may sound, I was perfectly willing to invest myself in it – because at least the first half of the film was riding high solely on emotions. A young woman unsure of herself, constantly being told that she isn’t good enough, always succumbing to her dominating boyfriend’s whims, and being compared to her younger sister every now and then – all of these make for a great story. And when the entire sweater affair is injected into the scene, I found myself going with the flow, despite the jarring false notes that came with it. After all, emotion is always stronger than logic, and there is nothing to prove this better than cinema.
But once the entire process of the tutelage comes into the picture, it all goes downhill from there. Moulik introduces a motley group of knitting students, each with their own quirk and backstory – but never quite manages to make the best use of them. Introduction of a pretty boy with a tragic story of his own was still alright, but why on earth did he have to be so preachy all the time? The knitting instructor – Tuku’s own aunt – also comes across as a zen shifu master whose only job seems to be giving life lessons through the process of knitting. While there are some genuine moments of brilliance sprinkled here and there, for most part, the second half of the film turns out to be a big bore.
Credit must be given to the film’s message though. Moulik makes a strong social commentary on the objectification of women in the market of the Indian marriage system, where a boy and his family come to a girl’s home to ‘try her out’ – almost like one goes to an apparel store to try out a shirt. The ones that are pretty and good looking are ‘selected’, the others are left behind – sobbing and cursing their rotten luck. We are well into the 21st century, and even today, it is the same old story in middle class households who rear a daughter, hoping that someone would take her away, and considering themselves fortunate when such a thing actually happens. Moulik tears into the system and rips it apart, simultaneously maintaining that the other extreme of the spectrum has flaws too. He writes a character who is a freethinking singer, a dreamer, but a downright chauvinist by nature who simply cannot think beyond himself even if he tried to.
But the writing is astonishingly inconsistent. A side track involving Tuku’s sister and her boyfriend is poorly handled, and the overall preachy tone of the film is overdone beyond all limits of patience. The film could have been so much better, had the makers strived for some self-imposed restrain on the message they were trying to deliver.
One of my favourite actors, Kharaj Mukhopadhyay, essays the role of Tuku’s father, and excels at it, within the limitations of the writing. Sreelekha Mitra plays the role of Tuku’s aunt and knitting tutor, and she is quite good in the parts where she is teaching her niece to live life on her own terms. On other occasions, her performance is forgettable. Anuradha Mukherjee plays Tuku’s sister, and she portrays a charming and feisty young woman in stark contrast to her elder sibling. I wish the writers would have given her a better track, because her character had a lot of potential. And Ishaa Saha has been cast as Tuku. What I really liked about her performance is the remarkable difference in her personality before and after her transformation. It almost seemed like she was a different person altogether, her entire persona had changed, and kudos to her for pulling that off. What I did not like in her performance were the bits where her romance with a new young man in her life began to blossom. Those parts seemed too artificial and abnormal to me. Yet, it is because of Ishaa Saha that Sweater is a decent and watchable film. She brings to the story a whole new dimension with her extremely credible performance, and a sense of empathy that she manages to withdraw from her audience. Truth be told, it is only because of Saha that I did not regret watching Sweater.
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