Glimpses into the insecurities of a highly sensitive math geek may well have been the tag line of the movie Baar Baar Dekho.
I must laud Sidharth ( our protagonist) for taking on a role where he couldn’t strut around his lady love or be the strong silent sullen young lad from the underworld. Instead he gets to play a math professor who two days before his wedding is caught in a dilemma between professional and personal priorities. A very real dilemma for academicians who dream of research opportunities in their field of interest because path breaking research usually gets done in the 20s and 30s – a time that is also fertile for childbirth and child rearing.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Sidharth brought to life the geek’s persona in a non-professional setting. Jai is person of a somewhat shy and quiet disposition who navigates through social interactions in an appeasing manner. Someone who shirks from direct conflict, gets overwhelmed in a crowd and seeks refuge in the comforting companionship of a few familiar friends. Despite coming across as kind and thoughtful, Jai can’t seem to avoid being considered absent-minded and inconsiderate when it comes to fulfilling his family obligations.
Debutant director Nitya Mehra focuses on the potential fault lines in a relationship, the tiny lapses of not being fully in the moment with a loved one, the gradual drifting apart of childhood sweethearts turned spouses who once knew exactly what the other wanted from life. A decision to move home base from Delhi to Cambridge while catapulting the career of one can end up stalling that of another. I shed a tear of sorrow at seeing Diya the artist trapped in the daily grind of life in a foreign land. And I shed another tear of happiness when Jai gets her a studio of her own, a space to take off on her own flights of fancy away from her obligations as a daughter, wife and mother.
While the wife of this reel life mathematician is shown to be quite self-sufficient with respect to her day to day life in the university town of Cambridge, I could not help but think of another wife of a real life mathematician The Man Who Knew Infinity. Srinivasa Ramanujan was forced to leave behind his young wife, Srimathi Janaki, when he set sail for Cambridge to make a mark on the world stage. The world of mathematics is truly richer for his contribution of over 3,000 theorems, identities and equations. However, I feel a twinge of sadness at the thought of fifteen year old Janaki who spent five long lonely years by herself as she blossomed into womanhood.
Well demarcated gender roles in the bygone era of a breadwinner and a homemaker led to mostly one-sided decisions. Wherever the man went, the woman followed. But with more and more dual career families, uprooting the home base is no longer an easy decision. What if the spouse does not find a suitable job opportunity? What if the spouse’s job does not pay well enough to cover the costs of domestic help and childcare? Does the spouse sacrifice his/her career and seek fulfilment as a stay-at-home parent?
Our parents made it possible for us to dare to dream big. But as the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for you will have it and be had! In my generation, it was not uncommon for two brilliant scholars married to each other to live continents apart in order to make new inroads into their respective fields of research. A professor of statistics traveled 1600+ km each week across two states of America to be with her partner working in a high-tech engineering firm.
In my own case, my partner worked out of Zurich for six years travelling back and forth to our home base in Amsterdam.
How do such relationships work out? Frankly, I do not know. Each relationship traces a unique path depending upon the choices made as a couple or as individuals. Anyone who has been in a living-apart-together relationship knows that the journey from co-dependence to self-reliance is inevitable
In a poignant scene at the protagonist’s mother’s funeral, his brother gently reminds him that it was his absence that made his wife learn to live on her own while taking care of two kids.
A short absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder but long absences may end up in lack of intimacy. Human beings are curiously adaptable creatures. We tend to fill an emotional vacuum with hobbies, music, spirituality or even Facebook for that matter!
For a relationship to withstand such problems of time and distance, there needs to be a continuous re-evaluation of personal priorities and mutual agreements on how to make it all work for both individuals.
Our deepest fear is a loss of control over our own life. What if life does not pan out the way we want it to. Each day we fight a battle of the will against random events thrown at our face. Unless we balance the desire for control over our destiny with an acceptance of things as they are, we are bound to end up burning out our energy in order to stick to a plan as opposed to responding to change.
Our protagonist radiates in his body language the nervous energy of a man on a mission who is caught in the conflict between his personal goal and his relationships. Self-centered enough in wanting to leave a unique footprint on this earth and yet not so full of himself that it gets in the way of meaningful relationships.
While I empathized with his plight as did many others I guess, I secretly wonder what the audience reaction would be like if the movie centered around a female protagonist who is shown to get cold feet two days before her wedding because of a career prospect. What if it is her profession that triggers relocation? How far would the husband go to support his wife’s ambitions?
I so do hope that Bollywood gets around to telling such a story from a woman’s perspective, depicting the struggles and dilemmas of a girl in her quest to strike a successful balance between her work and her life.
After all, this fine balance of holding on and letting go in order to achieve a dynamic equilibrium is a gender agnostic challenge.
Written byRumela Sengupta
Rumela was equally loyal to mathematics and literature in school, while dabbling in basketball and Bharatnatyam outside of the classroom. She graduated with a Masters in Statistics,and ended up in Information Technology. She tries to keep the connection with her mother tongue alive in a foreign land by translating Tagore’s Gitabitan in English in collaboration with a dear friend from Bangladesh. When the weather is not too chilly, she loves taking her bike out into Amsterdamse Bos or along the Amstel and losing herself in the stillness of nature. She is happiest when curled up with a book in bed.