'Ek Ghar': How An Alternative 1991 Film Captured The Loneliness & Isolation Of Urban Life

'Ek Ghar': How An Alternative 1991 Film Captured The Loneliness & Isolation Of Urban Life
IMDb, Mubi

Girish Kasarvalli's Ek Ghar (1991)  cuts deep, exposing the disillusionment that lurks beneath the promise of urban life, as experienced by a young migrant couple. This film critiques metropolitan cities, which, under the guise of offering privacy and independence, delivers loneliness and detachment. Through Rajashekhar and Geeta's fracturing relationship, Kasarvalli astutely shows us the psychological toll of urban existence.

Rajashekhar, played by Naseerudin Shah, is a supervisor at a multinational who extols the city lifestyle over the clamour and hardship of his small town. But the film's opening act swiftly dismantles this illusion. Landlords, wary of those lacking economic clout, slam the door on Rajashekhar's search for a home.

This initial hurdle exposes the harsh realities of urban life: prejudice against the outsiders and the desperate need for connections to secure basic necessities. A telling dialogue in the film: "Jahan seedhi ungli se kaam na chalen, wahan tedhe ungli se kaam chalana padega" (Honesty won't get you anywhere here, you'll need to bend the rules). Then it quickly dawns on him that the city's embrace comes at a moral cost.

Rajashekhar and Geeta’s journey to the city is driven by a common aspiration: the pursuit of a better, more comfortable life. The couple romanticises the idea of city living, believing it to be an escape from the laborious and monotonous existence in their rural village. This migration is fueled by Rajashekhar’s  perception that life in the city is inherently superior to that of the rural fields. This belief is captured in the film’s early moments when Rajashekhar remarks that comfort can only be found in the city, which encapsulates the couple's initial idealism.

The new house, with its promise of stability and privacy, represents the culmination of their urban dreams. However, their joy is short-lived as they are soon confronted with the harsh realities of city life. The incessant noise from a nearby workshop disrupts their peace, almost like an intrusion of urban chaos into their sanctuary. This constant disturbance leads to sleepless nights, escalating stress, and growing friction between Rajashekhar and Geeta. 

The relief of securing a home is swiftly replaced by the harsh realities of city life. The film portrays how the very elements they sought to escape – noise, hardship, and lack of personal space – manifest in different but equally challenging forms in the city. The workshop's noise, initially seen as their main distress, becomes a symptom of a deeper malaise: their discontent with urban life and the loss of their rural roots.

A Still from 'Ek Ghar'.
A Still from 'Ek Ghar'.Mubi

The workshop's incessant racket, a central motif in Ek Ghar, embodies the inescapable burdens of city life. It symbolises the pervasive and inescapable disturbances that characterise urban living. The shed, with its dilapidated structure and incessant activity, becomes a powerful symbol of the industrial and impersonal nature of the city.

Kasarvalli’s attention to detail heightens the film’s realism and emotional impact. Every element, from the monstrous, mirror-covered cot to the plumes of cigarette smoke rising through the windows, is imbued with significance. The physicality of these details grounds film in a tangible reality, making the characters' experiences all the more relatable.

The concept of freedom is central to Rajashekhar and Geeta's narrative. The film captures the paradox of urban living: the pursuit of privacy and independence often leads to isolation and loneliness. Their alienation highlights the loss of community and identity. Moreover,  the city's anonymity and the lack of social support systems exacerbate their feelings of desolation.

Moreover, the film explores gender dynamics and feminist ideals when Geeta finds an unlikely ally in a fiercely independent female relative. This bond signifies Geeta's awakening and struggle against patriarchal constraints from her husband and society. Rajashekhar’s discomfort with her independence shows us the gendered aspects of urban alienation and resistance to changing social norms.

A Still from 'Ek Ghar'.
A Still from 'Ek Ghar'.Mubi

A character in the film, Rajashekhar’s boss, astutely captures his frustration: "The problem with you is, you want the happiness and privacy of the city and the peace of the village simultaneously." This reflects the film's central conflict, which highlightes the impossibility of reconciling the two vastly different lifestyles.

Ultimately, Ek Ghar shreds the urban dream, exposing the emotional wasteland beneath the glittering facade. Kasarvalli's film reveals the human cost of chasing progress in a city that isolates as much as it liberates. 

The movie is streaming on Mubi.