And quietly slips the night into a tortured morning-time light. While watching the muffled muted voices looking for a way to express themselves in the well-ordered sparkling-clean environment of an upper middleclass household in Delhi in For Real, we often feel a sense of smothered compulsion waiting to be liberated.
And how liberating is the freedom that Priya Singh Shukla (played with brutal honesty by Sarita Choudhury) seeks out? She has given up what she thinks was a promising career in singing for her husband and children. (Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha meets Manisha Koirala in Mansoor Khan’s Akele Hum Akle Tum).
And now confused beyond self-realization by contemporary definitions of a successful life Priya may yet again abandon her family to pursue her dreams.
We are not allowed to be judgemental about the u-turns that Priya takes in the journey of life. Debutant director Sona Jain has composed a slight but sharp symphony on domestic harmony. We see the splintered marriage almost entirely through the eyes of the traumatized little girl Shruti (Zoya Hassan, heartbreaking in her solemnity and sensitivity) who thinks her mother has been replaced by an alien.
In flashes of the past projected into the tranquil narrative with tender care, we see Shruti witnessing with fright her parents’ fight and then the mother flight and eventual return.
The mother Priya’s journey is never romanticized. Her daughter’s perceptions on the mother’s seeming betrayal never become a yardstick by which we measure maternal morality. This, I think, is this little gem’s biggest triumph. The narrative brings us nowhere close to judging the ambitious family-deserting wife-mom.
Close-ups, there are plenty. But they don’t evaluate the protagonist’s conscience, only her emotions. Sarita Choudhury breathes lingering life and an ember-lit fire into Priya’s character. Intuitively she grasps her character’s dreams and aspirations and watches them clash with her more traditional roles within the household.
This is not a very likeable woman to portray. Choudhuri brings a gut-wrenching transparency to the mother’s characters. We see her with all her defences down and yet miraculously not as vulnerable. The sequences where tries to strike a rapport with her sullen suspicious daughter are so incandescent, you wish there was more of it.
In contrast Adil Hussain as the empathetic husband seems sterile in his spousal space. It isn’t clear whether his role is written to freeze the character in his tracks, or the actor got stuck in finding his way out of the character.
The incidental characters come across as self-conscious, largely because a bhaji wala or a maidservant is not expected to speak in English. When they do we smirk, just like Priya’s son’s smirking response to his mother’s chee-chee Hindi at a restaurant.
The high points of tension in this domestic drama are kept at low ebb and restricted to the Mother’s interaction with her daughter and husband. There’s a psychiatrist-friend (Sameer Dharmadhikari) who seems to be hovering in the plot merely to give it a dramatic flip.
What we see are people who appear normal on the surface, and are normal beneath too. It’s only the pressures of contemporary living that thwarts their routine existence.
For Real is an elegantly crafted piece of cinema with its heart in the right place, though thankfully no song and dance is made of the emotions that flow out of hearts which bleed in bridled anxiety.
The domestic scenes are sensibly edited (Amitabh Shukla, Julie Kerr). Deborah Molison’s music and Zakir Husain’s songs are blessedly unobtrusive.
Nothing in For Real breaks the rhythm of normalcy except the sound of a breaking marriage.
Tragically that too has become normal in our times. No dramatic dips and curves here. What we take away from this film is a sensible minimal take on a marriage that has seen better days, and a searing performance by Sarita Choudhuri that hopefully will see favourable days ahead at a time when buffoonery is mistaken for engaging acting in Indian cinema.