Reviewed By : Shoma A. Chatterji
CAST: ESHA DEOL TAKHTANI ,TARUN MALHOTRA ,ANINDITA BOSE & OTHERS
DIRECTOR: RAM KAMAL MUKHERJEE &; ABHRA CHAKRABORTY
PRODUCED BY: DINESH GUPTA SHAILENDRA KUMAR AND ARITRA DAS
Is divorce for a woman always a matter of compulsion when she is forced to cut off from her
husband for issues like domestic violence, dowry demands, alcoholism, gambling, drug addiction,
womanising and so on? Not really because there are other issues too, at stake that threatens to
disturb the harmony of married life for a newly married couple when the wife is denied to exercise
her choice. This is brought across subtly and yet powerfully in Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s debut film
Cakewalk that marks the return of Esha Deol Takhtani into cinema.
What are these “issues at stake”? The one shown in Cakewalk is the wife’s right to exercise
her choice of a career even within her marriage. But her husband, a young and very successful
executive in a corporate firm, puts his foot down and says “no.” This reinforces the patriarchal
world we live in. Can or should a very high-salaried corporate honcho say “no” to his wife’s
choice of career within the marriage? “No” says the husband of Shilpa Sen who is passionately
involved in learning and practising her bakery skills in addition to her regular work as wife and
mother. “I too want to have a family, I too want to have children. But I also want to pursue a
career,” she retorts when he accuses her of using him as a guinea pig to experiment her culinary skills in.
The title of the film Cakewalk has two meanings. The first one refers to the specialisation in
patisserie Shilpa specialises in. The second refers to the figurative meaning of the word ‘cakewalk’
which signifies the smooth sailing journey in life or work or relationships. This is implied in the
negative in Shilpa Sen’s experience as we discover that for her, life has not exactly been a
cakewalk. But the film does not offer any detailed description of Shilpa’s journey because it is a
short film and also because brevity offers the challenge of condensation. Subtle hints, suggestions
and so on juxtapose Shilpa’s success against her loneliness in her personal life. But that has been
her personal choice and Ram Kamal’s tight script does not permit us to be judgemental about her
“Success” as defined in Cakewalk, is a fragile and dicey concept and often comes with a
price tag attached. In Shilpa’s case, the tag is her marriage which she chooses to walk out of
because she wants a career and her partner does not. It is a no-exit situation for her and as we
discover, she does not regret her choice and stands by it. Cakewalk tells a seemingly simple story
of a beautiful young Bengali woman named Shilpa Sen, a top notch Chef in the bakery and pastries
department of a star hotel. She often signs in late for work and is pulled up by the boss. But once
in, she becomes the boss of her confectionary team and throws out orders as she keeps checking on
the orders. But there is a catch. What is it? That is the twist in this short film.
The camera catches the Kolkata night sky in top angle shots focussing on the flickering lights
of the streets and the glitter of the shopping malls, investing the city with the glamour the story
fits smoothly into. Alternately, it often skips into the kitchen where Shilpa, who arrived late and
whose juniors are talking about her behind her back, is shouting orders for different cup cakes and
pastries and sugar balls skirting the issue of her late coming.
She drives her own car to work, is smartly attired, and soon does the switch over to her professional persona with the Chef’s cap and apron and confident demeanour. Esha as Shilpa does a convincing job of her portrayal and looks
The narrative almost races through the film footage without slipping at any point. The special
anniversary cake called Baked Alaska has been ordered for a special guest who has come to
celebrate his first wedding anniversary. Shilpa’s boss informs them that the guest has announced a
prize of Rs.2 lakh to the one who conceives and bakes the said cake. Shilpa supervises the baking
and the designing and finishing. But when her boss requests her to present it to the special guest
and his bride in person, she declines with the excuse that she has another appointment. The film
closes on Shilpa driving through the crowded traffic of Kolkata.
The only jarring note in the entire film are the scenes of intimacy between the special guest
and his bride because these characters are somewhat superfluous to the text so they do not really
belong to Shilpa’s small world. The editing might seem a bit jerky but on hindsight, this may have
been intentional to capture the wide horizon of the cityscape and the interiors of the hotel that form
the backdrop for Shilpa’s lovely story. The music is subtle, low-key and seamlessly fits into the
subtle character of the film and the characters who inhabit it. The theme song Life is Never a
Cakewalk (melodious composition by Shailendra and Sayanti) plays on in the soundtrack exuding
the spirit of the film. There is a tiny flashback scene of an exchange between Shilpa and her
husband where we find her gracefully attired in a sari while a framed photograph on the wall
shows her in Bengali bridal attire.
Cakewalk steers clear from slogan-raising and candle-light processions and banner flying
marches in crowded streets. Yet, its message is loud and clear – a woman has the right to choose
whether she wishes to stay within the marriage or opt out of it. Her husband may not be a villain.
But he does throw his weight about when he finds that the wife is not happy remaining just a wife
and a mother and wants to extend her role to other functions as well – such as becoming a Chef or
a doctor or a teacher or whatever. That does not make her a feminist. It makes her a powerful
woman who knows her mind and has he guts to live life on her own terms.
Well done Ram Kamal for this memorable debut.