Exploring The Myth Of 'An Ideal Indian Housewife' - On Aparna Sen's 'Parama'

By Dipankar Sarkar. Posted on April 13, 2016

Parama (1984) is Aparna Sen's second film. It also marks her second collaboration with the National Award Winning cinematographer Ashok Mehta (post 36 Chowringhee Lane). Rakhee Gulzar plays the titular role in the film which depicts the journey of a married woman whose circumstances push her to discover her own voice and rebel against the patriarchal domination of her strict Bengali household.

It conveys the intricate tale of an illicit affair through a simple narrative. Sen considers the film to be her most feminist film. The director deals with the mental tenacity of a married women dealing with the restructured phase of her life when confronted with her act of sexual liberation.

An Ideal Housewife

The film begins with an elaborate sequence of the Durga Puja Celebration and we get introduced to the protagonist Parama. The introduction of the imagery of the Goddess can be regarded as a symbolic representation of women, one that submits to the traditionally accepted views of the role and value of women in India society. Parama is a very docile and submissive housewife who always seeks permission of her mother-in-law before performing her household activities. She looks after her mother-in-law and takes care of her regular intake of medicines.

She is a dedicated wife to her husband offering him garlic pearls at the breakfast table, besides ensuring the smooth functioning of the household activities. She is quite contended with her marital life and appears to be fulfilled with the multiple roles of a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law. This sanctions her as a 'respectable' woman in the eyes of the society.

Unshackling Of Internal Needs

Rahul (Mukul Sharma) who is a photographer of international repute, happens to be the childhood friend of the son of Parama's brother-in-law. He wants to make a series of pictures of “an authentic Bengali house wife”. And finally he gets permission to shoot pictures of Parama. He acts as a catalyst in the life of Parama, beginning an illicit affair with her that takes her on a journey of exploring her sexuality. In this relationship too, she is submissive and is under the control of Rahul’s masculinity & she consciously prepares herself to become a model for him.

Parama is mostly captured in the rooms of the house. Only some excursions with her lover Rahul and meetings with her artist friend interrupt her isolation. Even Rahul uses this to exploit every opportunity to dominate her & considers it right to capture any & every moment of her life with impunity.

During their visit to Parama's parental home, he captures her movements through the house. But only now, she is fully aware of him & his gaze. She is no longer bothered or hesitant & even informs Rahul about her deepest fears. Thus her companionship with Rahul helps viewers understand the deep-seated fears of the protagonist hidden behind the veil of a perfect Indian housewife.

In one of the scenes, after a romantic rendezvous, Parama tells Rahul that she dreams of going away with Rahul in a caravan, where he will be engaged with his work while she would play the sitar. But when Rahul asks her to come with him, she remains silent. So even though she is engaged in an extra marital affair, her morality still holds her back.

The Final Resolution

A photo magazine with pictures from Parama and a handwritten personal dedication of Rahul exposes Parama’s illicit affair. The bitter revelation creates a havoc in her family. She is ostracized by her family & society and suffers an emotional breakdown. She even attempts suicide but fails & eventually loses her mental balance. The family forgives her out of pity.

The last segment of the film takes place in the hospital. Parama's hair has been cropped down for the purpose of a brain surgery. She looks like a replica of her young widowed aunt who led a mentally unstable life. The doctor imagines that she's in need of psychiatric treatment to help her get rid of her guilt but is surprised to learn from Parama that she harbours no such feelings of guilt.

The suicide attempt thus provides her with a release and helps relieve her of her repressed emotions. She breaks free from the captivating role of an idle housewife who is confined to her household responsibilities.

The film was deemed controversial at the time of its release, due to its depiction of the sexual relationship between a married woman and a younger man. At the 33rd National Film Awards held in 1986, the film won the National award for the Best Bengali Feature Film and Deepankar De, who played the role of Parama’s husband won the Silver Lotus Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Dipankar Sarkar is a graduate in film editing from the Film & Television Institute of India. He was selected in 2007 for the Talent Campus organised by the Osian Film Festival. He's currently working as an independent film and video editor.


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