Woman and her Riches: A Review of Aparna Sen's "Goynar Baksho" (2013)- --Arundhati Sanyal

Arundhati Sanyal is a Senior Faculty Associate at the English Department, and the Director of the Writing Center at Seton Hall University, New Jersey. She has a doctorate on nineteenth century literature from CUNY and has taught at Rutgers, The State University of NJ, The City University of New York and Middlesex County College. Her other interests include writing autobiographical pieces for community magazines as well as participating in local Bengali cultural productions as script-writer, narrator, and occasionally chorus singer.

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The film "Goynar Baksho" (The Box of Jewels) represents new cinema as it contests the trope of victimizing the "other" by suggesting through a generational progression how the definition and scope of the vulnerable "other" is definable in relative terms. To that end, Gayatri Spivak's ideas on the relational reading of the marginalized is germane to any discussion and reading of the film: " There is no true or pure other; instead the other always already exists in relation to the discourse that would name it as other" (Spivak 2112). In the third chapter of this work, Spivak recounts the personal historical account of Bhubaneswari Bhaduri who committed suicide in 1926 not because of the stereotypical reason that she had been betrayed in illicit love and left unmarried and pregnant, but because she failed to carry out an armed political assassination she had been entrusted withas part of the struggle for national independence. Spivak emphasizes how Bhubaneshwari was conscious of the interpretation game she would be subject to post-mortem, and waits for the onset of her menstrual cycle to act out her suicide. Her need to control the post-event narrative in the terms she chooses, is an example for Spivak of the discourse playing out in ever-dynamic synergy with the identifiable "other" in relativist terms. Aparna Sen, the director, taps into this kind of dark humor behind similar discourses surrounding the named "other" in her film "Goynar Baksho" (The Box of Jewels) and creates opportunities for iconic meanings to be contested at each succeeding generational sequence where the female protagonist makes a choice to conceal, hoard, invest in personal wealth, and invest in nation-building her heirloom filled with family jewels that is "Streedhan" (a woman's wealth).

In the tightly constructed film, Sen works with a story by the Bengali writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhay that spans multi-generational representation of women in a single family from the pre-partition era of Bengal, up until the 1971 war of liberation that created the country of Bangladesh. Remaining true to the original narrative, the action of the film revolves around a box of ornate jewelry that belonged to the beautiful and tragic Rashmoni, the archetypal adolescent girl married to an aged Brahmin, who dies and leaves the hapless child-widow condemned to live the harsh existence of widowed penance devoid of her possessions, her beautiful hair, her desires to be loved and cherished. This dissonance between what woman is given as "female-wealth" (Streedhan) and her complete deprivation from all that allows her a sense of humanity is explored in satiric, comic fantasy as Rashmoni's box of jewelry becomes the center-piece of the action and a symbol of how women evolve through generations as revealed in their attitude towards this gold.

While for Rashmoni the jewels represented what she had lost, yet what gave her a certain value in a family fast losing its wealth, for the next generation of women there is a decided shift as each values the gold not for its value as a possession, but in terms of what it can bring her in terms of individual achievement. Characterized superbly by Konkona Sen Sharma, the next generation is represented by the entrepreneur who makes use of the jewelry to set up her saree shop in the market and bring the family out of its economic slide by transforming her husband into a business partner. This is the part of the film that is truly engaging as Rashmoni and the daughter-in-law establish a working relationship based on mutual respect that transcends the barrier of ghost/human, past/present, moral/immoral concepts and through refreshing comedy drives home the theme of women evolving into new dynamic relationships and self-empowered identities, even as the box of jewelry changes hands through the years.

The final inheritor of the gold box is the grand-daughter in the early 70s, who sets a new bench-mark for the appropriate use of this "wealth" when she bestows it to a band of freedom fighters engaged in armed struggle for the liberation of Bangladesh. One of the iconic scenes that celebrate the comic unity of plot and action is when the "ghost" grandma Rashmoni and her cigarette puffing grand-daughter ride a motor-bike as they discuss illicit love, nation-building, and the value of women's wealth in terms of their indelible ability to act on their desires.

Spivak's underscoring of the dynamic nature of the discourse defining the marginalized gendered "other" is explored in the central act of women re-defining such narratives vis a vis the box of jewels as raison d'etre for decision-making, entrepreneurial surviving, and finally nation-building. The film re-centers the marginalized by allowing this progression to take center stage, even as the break-down of the land-holding patriarchal gentry is depicted as a backdrop progression that ultimately connects the historic events of the Partition in 1947 to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 as inevitable socio-political eventualities.

Work Cited

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. Can the Subaltern Speak? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism ed. Vincent B. Leitsch, New York: Norton, 2001. Print.




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