The Couple Next Door

In mainstream commercial movies, careers are never an issue; you see films set in colleges, but nobody ever talks about studies and what they hope to do in the future.  But ask any middle class youngster and their lives revolve around careers, perhaps more than romance.

Men are sometimes seen at work, but women hardly ever. If at all they are shown to be working women, their careers are not of much importance. And the reality of middle-class existence is hardly ever seen in our films. Which is why Rakhee Sandilya’s Ribbon feels like peering into the neighbour’s home. It may not be a commercial film, but it did get a multiplex release and appreciation by its limited audience.

 Ribbon begins where most films end — boy meets girl, they fall in love and get married. After that, what? It is assumed Sahana (Kalki Koechlin) and Karan (Sumeet Vyas) had a love marriage and came to Mumbai from elsewhere in the country. Like so many young working couples, they live by themselves in a nicely, but not extravagantly, done up apartment; no family in sight, but plenty of friends.

 He is an engineer, she is in IT, a happy DINK life, till Sahana finds herself pregnant. It is an unplanned pregnancy and she is not ready to sacrifice her career for motherhood. But Karan convinces her to keep the baby and assures her that they will manage.

Sahana’s boss reluctantly gives her the mandatory three months maternity leave.

 Karan is shown to be a ‘New Man’ kind of husband; he cooks meals, cares for Sahana as she goes through her pregnancy and is her sole support system. When the girl child is born after a tough delivery, they form a typical urban, self-contained nuclear family. They hire a nanny from an agency, without asking the right questions; Sahana expresses her breast milk and goes back to work. It is seen as a perfectly normal thing to do; so many films and serials portray the western outfit clad, career-oriented woman as a home-wrecking vamp. Sahana is also seen drinking and taking an occasional puff from Karan’s cigarette, but there is no disapproval conveyed by the director.

 The shock comes when she returns to office, and is informed that she has been demoted. A junior whom she had trained, now sits at her desk as her boss. (This is the only part of the film that does not ring true; many IT and marketing firms offer telecommuting, and surely Sahana’s colleagues would have given her some warning. She was the company’s star performer, the management would keep her record in mind.) He insults and humiliates her in front of the whole office, but she has to take it, because with a kid and home EMIs, quitting is not an option. 

Even at a time when career women are no longer an exception, many women face this workplace roadblock after their maternity break. They lose valuable time and their seniority in the hierarchy. 

The nanny turns out to be a con and Sahana has to fire her. But taking a few days off till they find a crèche results in her losing her job. Again, the loss of senority makes it difficult for her to find a new job. Financial difficulties force Karan to work on a project out of town. More money comes in — they live in a fancier apartment — but there are other problems.  When life throws a crisis at them, both blame each other for not being there to prevent it. Even the gentlest of husbands has a patriarchal side that comes out with just a small dent, and the woman’s guilt just never goes way.

 There are so many stories hidden in Mumbai’s rabbit-warren like apartments where middle-class couples like Sahana and Karan live.

Ribbon, with all its flaws is relatable because it is so real and reflective of urban life. The question here is when ‘no logic, only magic’ kind of movies make crores at the box-office, does the audience even want to face a screen that turns into a mirror?

Gahlot is a critic, columnist, editor, author and curator