At a time when women are accused of being bra-burning feminazis, it is important to realise that not everyone comes from this seeming place of privilege or equality. Nikhil Bhat’s Rasbhari definitely does not. With an underlying women seeking liberation through sexual freedom theme, this could be Prime’s rustic counterpart of the sophisticated Four More Shots.
Rasbhari is a story of an adolescent Nand’s infatuation with his English teacher who is new to the city. Nand, brilliantly portrayed by Ayushman Saxena, much like all the men in UP’s Meerut is fixated with the sari-clad Swara Bhasker and desires to be in her proximity by all means. He even ignores what could be a potential relationship with rakhi sister turned heartthrob Priyanka — an earnest portrayal by Rashmi Adgekar. The men desperately try to woo her much to the disappointment of their wives. What follows are umpteen instances of lovemaking depicted by chopping of fish and overflowing juice in a mixer, troubled women doing jadoo-tona and small-town teens and their sleazy world including a hosiery store.
Full points to the set and costume designers — the authenticity and detailing is interesting and often compliments the screenplay that includes several small-town references — a teacher insisting the students talk in English in the school premises, canteen snacks, the tank and quarry as spots for chilling, cyber cafes with curtains often used to make out, aunties meeting and making pickles and all the English lessons I had forgotten.
Having grown up in a small town, I find — Nand and Priyanka were declared a couple in school because the latter makes a sketch in the school washroom — funny, innocent, and relatable. Shantanu Srivastava’s writing comes from a personal and honest space.
Rasbhari has all the ingredients of being an entertainer, except that it isn’t.
The mystery of whether the demure Shanu and the sultry Rasbhari are one and the same or if it is just the men concocting stories is never enough to retain the audience’s attention. The throwbacks to Shanu’s childhood are inconsistent and lack conviction, never quite fulfilling their intention of adding the depth to her character or cause. Swara Bhasker’s inconsistent accent sometimes comes in the way of the plot, but she more than makes up for it with her acting.
Lessons of consent when Nand offers Shanu Ma’am son papdi without ever having bothered to ask her if she liked it or not, or her monologue on the significance of respect in a relationship are lessons for one and all. Meerut women’s fixation with abusing the woman (kulta) for having slept with the men rather than women punishing their own husbands brings to light society’s bias and hypocrisy, but then again there’s nothing new in that.
Having watched countless reruns of Sex and the City and more recently Veere Di Wedding and Lipstick Under My Burkha, unapologetic sex involving women no longer fills me with wonder. Having watched countless of the small-town film franchise I am also not in awe of the shudh Hindi being spoken — although I must say it is always a pleasure watching actors mouth it. I could not have enough of the title montage and the lyrics and have watched it repeatedly. But what I was looking for was a slightly more gripping and adrenaline rushing feel-good show.