Rakhee Sandilya’s directorial debut Ribbon feels like a web series in not-so-good and good ways. The flat lighting, modest sets and episodic narrative feel straight out of the mini-universes that have crowded YouTube in recent years. But the intimate concerns of a married couple, the domestic details that don’t usually find their way into films, and the lived-in feel that mark Ribbon are features inherent to web series from which the movies might benefit.
The Mumbai-set film tackles a universal experience: a working married couple is confronted with the prospect of parenthood. Karan (Sumeet Vyas) is elated, but then he isn’t the one whose body is going to hurt in unimaginable ways and whose career is going to be put on hold. The one who bears the brunt is his wife Sahana (Kalki Koechlin), whose initial reaction to her pregnancy is refreshingly honest: she wants an abortion.
Sahana has the child anyway, and the rest of the film deals with her efforts to cope with motherhood while balancing her career. From hiring a maid to care for little Aashi to wielding a breast pump while drawing up PowerPoint presentations, Sahana treads a well-worn path familiar to numerous working mothers in Indian metropolises. She finds, to her shock, that she is unwelcome at the very company that had awarded her as the employee of the year, and Ribbon does a good job of spotlighting the institutionalised discrimination against women at workplaces without being shrill or melodramatic.
Sandilya’s use of long takes also helps in offsetting the television drama feel of many of the scenes and conveying the sense of messiness that mark a house that recently welcomed an infant.
Ribbon comprises two halves, and almost two films. Karan’s role in the marriage initially doesn’t get as much play as deserved, but he swings into action after Aashi is older and is the victim of a scarring childhood experience. The film moves into a new direction and comes closer to the significance of the title – the glue that keeps couples soldered, for better or for worse.
The movie falls short as a study of modern marriage because of Karan’s absence, but it is far more effective as an examination of contemporary parenting. The lead actors turn in efficient performances, although Koechlin’s innate urbanity and confident body language are not always best-suited to playing the harried mother. Sumeet Vyas, the web series star, fits the part of the distant husband who is galvanised only by crisis.
One of the most remarkable performances is by the child actor Kierra Soni as Aashi. Soni turns in a completely unselfconscious depiction of a little girl who remains unaware of the crisis that has befallen her and her parents. In a movie about adults, the knee-high Soni proves herself as the ace in the pack.