While most mainstream Bollywood films may still not give women the same amount of screen time and attention as they give male characters, Bengali films are a lot more progressive. In fact, regional cinema, be it Marathi cinema, Telugu cinema, or even Malayalam cinema, produce films that are a lot more progressive and radical than Bollywood. Yet, because these films are limited to the region in which they are made, they don’t receive as much attention and fanfare. However, like those in Bengali cinema, many movies are coming out with Hindi dubs or have English subtitles to increase their viewership and make them more accessible. Feminism, in particular, is a hot topic in Bengali cinema and has become the focal point of many of their films. Filmmakers understand that women are complex beings and have emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and lives of their own. So here is a list of five progressive Bengali films with immersive storylines and wonderfully written characters:
Noukadubi is a movie that’s based on a popular novel by Rabindranath Tagore. The film’s name roughly translates to boat wreck. Ramesh, who is a law student, is in love with his friend’s beautiful sister, Hemnalini. However, he doesn’t admit his feelings for her and then has to leave Kolkata on the day of Hemnalini’s birthday unexpectedly. Unbeknownst to him, he was called back home because his father wants him to marry another woman, Susheela. Despite refusing to get married because he is in love with Hemnalini, he eventually gives in to parental pressure. On his boat ride back to Kolkata, his boat capsizes, and he wakes up ashore and finds a woman dressed in bridal attire by his side. What follows is a complicated tale involving the feelings and emotions of all the characters. Although this film is set in the 1920s, it is highly progressive in that Hemnalini’s father is highly supportive of her choices and doesn’t push her to get married. The father-daughter pair share a special bond, and he understands that she doesn’t want to marry someone unless she is in love with them.
2. Paromitar Ek Din
Paromita and Sanaka are two people who are united in the most special of ways. Paromita is the daughter-in-law of Sankar, and they share a very unique bond despite being two completely different people. While Paromita is from a very liberal, middle-class background, Sanaka is more of a worldly person. The story plays in flashbacks as we get to see the deep emotional bond shared between the pair. When Paromita gives birth to a child with cerebral palsy, Sanaka supports her despite their family treating her poorly. After her child passes away, it is revealed that Paromita is in a bad marriage, and her husband doesn’t take care of any of her needs. Eventually, Paromita expresses her emotions to her mother-in-law, and despite her mother-in-law initially being hesitant, she supports Paromita’s decision to walk out of her marriage.
Parama is a middle-aged homemaker who is in a problematic marriage and has to deal with a husband who only cares about his work life. While Parama is happy fulfilling the role of the typical housewife and not demanding more, internally, she yearns for more. When Rahul, a photographer, approaches her to do a photo essay with her, she eventually falls for him and begins a torrid affair. However, her family discovers the photos in a magazine, and many of them are semi-nude. Rahul publishes these pictures without her consent. After the harassment and heartbreak she faces, Parama decides to end her life. Thankfully, she survives the suicide attempt and, in the process, realizes that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life as someone’s wife or mother. Although her family agrees to take her back, she eventually walks away from them.
Anuranan follows the story of two couples, Preeti and Amit and Nandita and Rahul. Although there is no adultery between the couples, they are very close to one another. Soon a bond develops between the artist Rahul and shy Preeti. Rahul’s wife Nandita is desperate for a child but is unable to conceive. Meanwhile, Amit is a businessman who is obsessed with work and driven by his ambition. One day, Pretti decides to visit Rahul at the site of a resort he is building. The next day, Rahul is found dead. Many accuse Preeti of committing the crime as it is believed that they were having an affair. Nandita too ends up falling prey to these rumors. However, when Preeti attempts suicide, Nandita is the one who comes to her side at the hospital.
5. Sonar Pahar
Sonar Pahar is the tale of a retired school teacher named Upama who shares a difficult relationship with her son and his wife. She had been a single mother for most of her life and is hence quite headstrong and resistant to change. After meeting a young boy through an NGO, her life changes drastically. The young boy, Bitlu, is extremely naughty and very sharp, and they soon form an unlikely friendship. He starts spending most of his days in her company and soon reveals that he has HIV. Upama feels for the little boy and begins to read him stories that she had written for her son. The story is extremely gut-wrenching and emotional and will have you in tears during certain moments. The unlikely bond she shares with Bitlu is what eventually helps reunite her with her own son, Soumya. Upama’s independence, kindness, and overall fierce nature are what draw us into this film and keeps us at our seat’s edge.
Regardless of which languages you speak, it’s always a good idea to explore and experiment with regional cinemas. There are plenty of dubbed versions of these films you can find online. You can also make use of English subtitles if you prefer watching these films in the original language. Do let us know all of your thoughts in the comment section below!