Mr. And Mrs. Iyer

A variation on BRIEF ENCOUNTER in which the larger social forces keeping two potential lovers apart include religious extremism and mob violence, filmmaker Aparna Sen's timely drama benefits greatly from lovely performances by Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensharma, the director's daughter. The movie begins as circumstances force sheltered, upper-caste Hindu wife...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A variation on BRIEF ENCOUNTER in which the larger social forces keeping two potential lovers apart include religious extremism and mob violence, filmmaker Aparna Sen's timely drama benefits greatly from lovely performances by Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensharma, the director's daughter. The movie begins as circumstances force sheltered, upper-caste Hindu wife and mother Meenakshi Iyer (Sehsharma) — Meena to her friends — to end a visit with her parents in the mountains by returning home to Calcutta alone. The trip begins with a long bus ride followed by a transfer to a train, and Meena is juggling her baby, Santhanam, and all his baby supplies. At the bus stop, her mother asks wildlife photographer Raja (Bose), a friend of a friend, to keep an eye out for Meena. He agrees, but makes a point of not sitting with Meena and the baby. The bus's passengers comprise a cross-section of Indian society, including an elderly Muslim couple, a pair of Sikh men fretting about marrying off their daughters and nieces, a frisky young couple, some boisterous vacationing college students, a woman travelling with her handicapped teenage son and a roguish group of card players. Then a closed road forces the bus to make a detour through the mountains, and the trip becomes a nightmare. A petty village squabble has blown up into a riot, roving mobs of Hindu extremists are slaughtering Muslims and the police can't guarantee anyone's safety. That's when Raja lets Meena in on a secret: He's Muslim. She's horrified, but when a bloodthirsty mob surrounds the bus her better impulses surface and she declares that Raja is her husband, Mani Iyer. With the entire area under martial law, the passengers arrange makeshift accommodations and "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer" end up in a most unsuitable situation, sharing a remote bungalow with one usable bedroom. Over the course of a few frightening days, during which their real lives seem somehow suspended, Raja and Meena are disabused of their prejudices and preconceptions. He's surprised that a spoiled Brahmin housewife has a degree in physics, she's enchanted by the stories of their fictitious shared life he spins to deflect unwanted questions. But what will become of their relationship when order is restored? The dialogue is sometimes too baldly issue-driven, and for a film so conspicuously committed to tolerance, it makes brief but conspicuous use of a disturbing stereotype — the cowardly Jew — when someone is needed to commit an act of terrible betrayal. But overall Sen's film is an entertaining ode to the power of familiarity to vanquish hatred, and striking exception to the lavish musical spectaculars that dominate India's film industry. (In English, Bengali and Tamil.)

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A variation on BRIEF ENCOUNTER in which the larger social forces keeping two potential lovers apart include religious extremism and mob violence, filmmaker Aparna Sen's timely drama benefits greatly from lovely performances by Rahul Bose and Konkona Sensha… (more)

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