The infrastructure of the world’s oldest profession is dramatized and critiqued to compelling effect in the expansive Indian drama “Our Time.” Though set mainly around a small Bengali outpost, story depicts the recruitment of rural women of different circumstances to the wider world of international prostitution. While helmer Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s viewpoint is clear, script avoids moralizing in favor of solid drama. Pic garnered moderate success when released in West Bengal in March but also encountered numerous censorship problems. Offshore, “Time” will make a quality addition to fest schedules.
Opening credits are accompanied by shots of glamorous Ruma (Rupsa Guha) in an urban landscape of discos, bars and hotels, positioning her as either a movie star or a model. Post-credits, setting switches to rural Bengal, where relaxed and casual Ratanda (Rudranil Ghosh) is phoning a Singaporean business associate.
Ratanda is en route to pay 3,000 rupees ($75) to a woman whose granddaughter he’s “employed.” Ratanda’s hire turns out to be Ruma, who’s neither a movie star nor a model, but rather a high-class hooker. Ruma’s sister, Soma (Dola Chakraborty), is aware of the score and implores Ratanda to employ her, too.
As Ratanda considers Soma’s offer, his latest scheme bears fruit: A supplier tricks a svelte bride, Itu (Sandhya Shettey), into marriage and then robs and dumps her in the forest. On cue, Ratanda arrives and offers the abandoned newlywed city employment as a maid to escape likely persecution by her village. Mission accomplished, Ratanda parks Itu with Soma.
Also crossing Ratanda’s path are Fatima (Chandrayee Ghosh), a young Muslim woman searching for her father along an unnamed border, and widowed Rai (Samapika Debnath), who sings devotional music to an Indian deity and looks set to become Ratanda’s redemption.
Ratanda transports all his recruits to an unnamed city, where the women are coerced into servicing businessmen and politicians. Interestingly, the undaunted Soma remains ready to participate — an apparent acknowledgment of the fact that not all women are forced into prostitution.
While it never resorts to nudity or titillation, pic challenges several Indian cinematic taboos. At screening caught, Bengali dialogue criticizing the military was bleeped, even though English subtitles went unobscured, and some awkward cuts indicate censor trims. Most confrontational for auds worldwide will be a grueling and extended abortion scene.
Sharp script by helmer/co-writer Bandopadhyay shows a compassion for the characters that’s tempered by an almost clinical detachment; unsurprisingly, the distaffers are more sympathetic than the men. However, pic steers clear of caricature, with all thesps overcoming the danger of becoming ciphers. As Itu and Soma, the Cher-like Shettey and earthy Chakraborty are aces.
Film includes three songs, smoothly woven into the narrative sans dancing; only the final song jars in contrast to the unjoyous screen images. Tech package is professional, per region’s standards.