‘Fatafati’ Proves That Size Does Not Matter
The delightful film teaches us to accept our bodies
The main function of cinema is to entertain, inform and educate and perhaps, often intrude into these three functions with a social agenda. If cinema succeeds in performing these functions to the pleasure of the audience, then it breaks all barriers of time, space, language and culture for everyone everywhere.
So, the Bengali film ‘Fatafati’ roughly translated as “mind blowing” is a thumping box office hit in Kolkata but is guaranteed to make audiences everywhere happy when they come out of the theatres.
The entertainment factor in Fatafati plays a major role because it narrates the rather routine story of a very middle-class family dreaming of better days in the near future. The family, comprised of husband Bachaspati Bhaduri (Abir Chatterjee), his wife Phullora Bhaduri (Ritabhari Chakraborty), Bachaspati’s school going brother Gogol (Raktim Samanta) and the mother-in-law Behula Bhaduri (Soma Chakraborty), live in a suburban town off Kolkata.
Bachaspati works in a garment and textile showroom while Phullora earns through her stitching and tailoring jobs where she tries to create new designs and new fashions. The mother-in-law has her own circle of “social work” and though she nags a lot, she is basically good.
So, in this “happy family” picture, what gives? Two things, Phullora weighs around 90 kgs and the doctor is blaming her inability to conceive to her being overweight. Otherwise, with the sole exception of Behula Madam, no one in the family is bothered about Phullora’s body including her too-good-to-be-true husband. He is crazily in love with his fatso wife and she loves him right back.
The second bone in this fleshy world comes in the name and style of Biki Sen (Swastika Dutta), the svelte, slim, elegant neighbourhood beauty with a bitchy mindset. She forever takes a dig at Phullora’s weight and has the keen eye for the handsome Bachaspati who staunchly remains madly in love with his chubby, pretty and very happy wife.
‘Fatafati’ is not about body-shaming, slimming schedules, or about having svelte and slim figures like Biki Sen. It is about being happy with the shape you have and to convince others to accept the shape you have instead of taking potshots and digs at someone who is overweight or even obese.
But Phullora herself is constantly worried about getting into a pair of jeans which she struggles with behind closed doors. She is worried about Biki Sen’s reminders about her “body beautiful”, while the mother-in-law takes one look at the backless blouses Phullora stitches for her clients and also for herself and calls them “an apology for a blouse” but stops at that!
The scenario changes when Bachaspati’s showroom downs its shutters because of the lockdown, and he takes up a job in Kolkata in another showroom. Phullora, on the advice of her delightfully cheerful brother-in-law Gogol, begins an online business in tailoring clothes for overweight women under her pseudonym Mrs. Fatafati which turns out to be an unexpected success.
The story ends happily ever after, making us think about how to remain happy with the bodies we have instead of falling sick like Phullora’s mother-in-law who clandestinely began a dangerous slimming programme herself.
There are several other delightful, fat women who live in Phullora’s neighbourhood, and they unconsciously form a group of their own mainly to exchange confidences about their married lives and their sad experiences with their obese bodies. But they are self-sufficient in their own way, especially with their friendly relationship with social media.
One sells cosmetics online while another sells costume jewellery she crafts herself. With this sub-plot, the script intelligently weaves in how digital and web-friendly these women are where their heavy bodies are no longer something to be ashamed of.
‘Fatafati’ looks at how this systemic cultural prejudice results in fat discrimination. Informed by a post-modern, post-Colonial, feminist perspective, which shows how Phullora herself, who was once embarrassed about her overweight, accepts it in the end.
The film dispels myths and opens our eyes to our wrong acceptance of our shapeless figures. It offers an eye-opening look at how popular media perpetuates fat hatred that results in a cultural bias and a civil rights issue for people living in fat bodies. And the same popular media helps the same men and women who are intelligent enough to take advantage of this. Phullora and her fat friends do exactly this and are as self-sufficient as they are fat.
‘Fatafati’ offers alternative ideas that embrace body acceptance at all sizes, explores examples of fat positive representations being produced today by activists and the media, and focuses on real life solutions for moving forward and changing the national conversation about body image.
The acting by the lead cast, namely Ritabhari Chakraborty as Phullora, Abir Chatterjee with his beautifully low-key acting as Bachaspati and Soma Chakraborty as Behla is fabulous and this is no exaggeration. So is the music with lovely songs picturised and positioned fittingly. The chubby teenager portraying Gogol, the brother-in-law, offers just the right relief to the entire film.
The editing that flits and floats between and among a place where the women meet from time to time, through Phullora’s unkempt tailoring room flowing freely with pieces of fabric, half-stitched garments and a sewing machine, to the posh showroom in Kolkata where Bachaspati takes on a new job and within the house they occupy.
This invests the film with a dynamism that saves it from becoming a soppy and sentimental melodrama. There are emotionally rich touches like Phullora surprising her mother-in-law with a designer blouse she has tailored for her, or, Bachaspati suddenly feeling “small” next to his wife’s spiralling success, his bumbling bus ride to the city, or, Behula visiting the local grocer’s to get some quinoa, or, Gogol’s screams of ecstasy as he finds Phullora’s responses on the social media climbing every minute and one of the fat ladies who her husband bashes up regularly walking out of the marriage with her teenage daughter. So all husbands are not like Bachaspati.
What might be putting off for viewers are the overarching ‘vampness’ and villainy of Biki Sen and Bachaspati’s jealous colleague, the slightly inordinate length of the film and the fashion show itself which is a bit too loud and melodramatic to fit into this otherwise feel-good film.
Windows Production and its duo producers Shiboprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy have made putting up a grand show for a public audience a trademark for the climax of every film they produce or direct or do both.
The beauty of ‘Fatafati’ is that it makes for an approachable and accessible introduction to our cultural relationship with weight for everyone, easing viewers into a place where they might just interrogate their own beliefs or prejudices and then proceed to overcome them in their own way where an independent way of looking at life can provide just the right tonic. Remember that the word Fatafati begins with “Fat.”