On the surface, Rakhee Sandilya’s debut film Ribbon comes across as a throwback to the ‘middle of the road’ cinema that became popular in the 1970s and 80s dealing with urban issues and marked for their realism, which set them apart from the multi-starrer blockbuster potboilers. However, if one digs beneath the glossy surface of Ribbon, going beyond the apparently mundane everyday realities of a young married couple, one’d find murkier truths lurking there which set this film apart from its so-called predecessors, not just in term of an updated aesthetics but also ideologically.

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The plot revolves around the young married couple, Sahana (Kalki Koechlin) and Karan (Sumeet Vyas), the former working as a corporate strategist while the latter is an engineer. The story takes off when Sahana finds out that she is pregnant and after much deliberations, and not all of them amicable, the couple decide to keep the baby and soon they have a daughter called Ashi and the couple becomes a family. Through all sorts of challenges faced by working parents while bringing up a child, the family keeps going riding the predictable curve of success. However, their mundane daily lives come to an abrupt halt when they come to realize that their little daughter has been a victim of molestation, perpetrated by the attendant in charge of her school bus.

Even keeping in mind that this is the director’s first film, the craft is rather inconsistent if not sloppy which fails to turn this narrative into a gripping experience. The major plot twist and the plot reveal is deferred for way too long to have its desired impact which is itself suggestive about the overall direction of the film. Not quite sure of what it wants to focus on, the film attempts to address too many issues within a moderate runtime, including challenges of a modern urban life and its effects on a relationship or the idea of motherhood in today’s context or gender-bias within a corporate set up, right up to sexual violence. Even the continuously shaking and moving camera does little to help with the ‘reality effect’, as with the functional editing and sound. In fact, the whole film looks like a continuous process of trial and error method when it comes to the technicalities. So, there are sporadic instances of a spark here or a brilliance there, but mostly things just refuse to fall in place. One can think of certain interesting and effective compositions where either Sahana or Karan is framed separately thus cutting them off from each other’s space, during the scenes of the couple quarrelling. Or the ominous foreshadowing with the rumbling sound of the elevator engulfing the everyday noises in the apartment just before the devastating revelation. But such moments are too few and far between.

But the more serious problem with the film is its overall ideological stance. The film posits a neo-liberal couple as the focal position within the narrative, who by definition, is also the consumer unit, especially once they have a child and become a family. It is not a coincidence that the first image of mother and child, that moment of fulfilment and bliss, takes place in a departmental store where they are surrounded by products and brands. In fact, this also interferes with the narrative experience of the film as very often their so-called crises seem too make-believe. Considering their attire, their lifestyle and the fact that they are driving a different car in every other scene, the idea of a financial crunch rings extremely hollow. The couple often seems worried about paying EMIs which the film attempts to recognize as a crisis which clearly suggests that clearing them off would be the resolution. The film is not only far removed from ground realities, it is solely made by the neo-liberals, for the neo-liberals and of the neo-liberals, for whom success and crisis are defined by their current ability or inability to be the ideal consumer, their purchasing power, their last ATM statement. And things become dark for them only when people from lower socio-economic strata and darker skin colours come invading their homes or violating their daughters.

Arup Ratan Samajdar
A student of cinema, completed his master's degree in film studies from Jadavpur University. A keen admirer of Classical Hollywood, the many New Waves and Japanese cinema, he has been writing film reviews, criticisms and essays and articles on various cultural topics.

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