By Michael Sicinski
Set in Das’s hometown of Assam, Tora’s Husband is centred on Jaan (Abhijit Das), a restaurateur who has struggled to make ends meet during the government-mandated COVID lockdown. But as the film continually emphasizes, Jaan did everything he was supposed to do. He paid his staff their regular wages while the restaurant was closed. He picked up outside work in construction. He tries to help his kids negotiate the fiasco of online schooling. He even kept his beloved youth football squad going. But everything is falling apart. The customers aren’t coming back, his mother has moved out on account of an obscure slight of some kind, and the family’s servant has contracted COVID and must enter quarantine.
This is Das’s third film to play at the festival, and it is an auteur effort in all respects. She wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited Tora’s Husband, so one suspects that it was a labour of love. But as the pandemic creates friction between Jaan and his wife Tora (Tarali Kalita Das), the film goes out of its way to marginalize her perspective. She confides in a friend that Jaan is drinking too much, only to be told, “We live in a patriarchal world,” and that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Although Tora grimaces at this cliché, Das’s film never really contradicts it. From start to finish, Tora’s Husband is a hagiographic portrait of a job creator beset on all sides by people lower down the economic ladder looking to take advantage of his generosity. Not sure whether TIFF thought to send a screener to Pierre Poilievre, but this is certainly the kind of film that could turn a Tory onto foreign-language cinema.