Analysing Ahalya: Research centre invites film buffs to decode characters


The Psychoanalytic Therapy & Research Centre is inviting celluloid buffs to break down characters

A still from the short film Ahalya (2015)
A still from the short film Ahalya (2015)

We have all done it at some point in our lives. Watched a film or a documentary and played detective with it. Why does Anakin Skywalker get seduced by the dark side to become Darth Vader? Or, what is that makes Kareena Kapoor’s character so confident and self-assured in Jab We Met? Or, what’s the allure of the amoral Ma Anand Sheela in Wild Wild Country?

We love deducing human behaviour and motivations, especially those characters that seem to suggest one thing on the surface, and something else if you dig deeper. Which is why a recent screening of Ahalya, a short Bengali film made by Sujoy Ghosh, found nearly 120 takers at G5A Foundation in Mahalaxmi. A free screening by the Psychoanalytic Therapy and Research Centre (PTRC), the film was followed by a discussion through the lens of psychoanalysis.

Instead of looking at the film-making aspects, the psychological and emotional motives of the characters were the focus. Leading the discussion were psychoanalysts Nuzhat Khan and Micky Bhatia, faculty members at PTRC. “A great deal of our work and training, right from our students days, has got to do with mental illnesses, but there is a lot that we do which is not related to this. At seminars, we watched films, gaining a much deeper understanding of the characters,” says Khan, recounting sessions where they have broken down films such as Black Swan, known for their obvious psychological depth, and also those such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas.

PTRC's monthly screening followed by a psychoanalytic discussion. Pic/PTRC
PTRC’s monthly screening followed by a psychoanalytic discussion. Pic/PTRC

Ghosh’s film made headlines when it was streamed on YouTube in 2015, for its gripping plot that revisits the tale in The Ramayana. While you can look up the film online, Khan says that the discussion after the screening showed that there were several layers to the characters. One reading took on the young police inspector Indra’s ‘castration anxiety’, one of Sigmund Freud’s earliest psychoanalytic theories. Fearing punishment by Ahalya’s husband, old enough to be his father, Indra tries to restrain his evident interest in Ahalya.

However, after he gets intimate with Ahalya, he is turned into a figurine — that’s castration, symbolically, by the elderly husband showing the younger man who’s boss. And, for that matter, Ahalya pretends to be an ingĂ©nue, while in fact she is a seductress. Once you explore these layers, says Khan, you will realise that there are no true villains in the film. “Had the filmmaker been there, he would have been aghast hearing our analysis,” she laughs, adding, “Filmmakers, like other artists, express their subconscious or unconscious through their works. They are only semi-conscious of what they are doing. If they fully knew why, they may never make a film or any work of art.

“PTRC, a charitable trust, has been working in Mumbai for more than 40 years, almost quietly, to provide mental health services and also train professionals in the area. Given the rising interest in mental well-being, we use terms such as “repress” and “Oedipus complex” in our day-to-day lives. Banu Ismail, a child analyst and psychoanalyst with PTRC, says that at their film screenings, they open up discussions with the public to encourage different perspectives. “Psychoanalysis doesn’t happen only in the consultation room. That said, there are several misconceptions about the area, and these events help clarify those,” says Ismail, who will helm the next discussion of Gautam Vaze’s Marathi short film, Aai Shapat on June 6 at G5A, focusing on anxiety guilt. The free screenings are followed by a lecture on another day, for which there is a registration charge.

Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates

Related Post