Rating: 4 out of 5.

(Written by Allison Brown)

Two Sisters and A Husband is so much more powerful than I could have ever anticipated. I expected a passionate and forbidden romantic drama, but the narrative finds more in common with Shakespearean tragedies in the realm of Romeo and Juliet. The film is filled with constant despair, and it may be one of the darkest I have seen recently. I was left genuinely speechless in the final moments.

Two Sisters and A Husband tells the story of two sisters, Tara (Avani Rai) and Amrita (Manya Grover), living with their lover, Rajat (Dinker Sharma), who happens to be married to one of them. Amrita, the unattached sister, is pregnant with Rajat’s child from seemingly one sexual slip. They are constantly on the run as a result of the taboo nature of their relationship. Rajat finds a job as hotel manager at The Cocoon Palace in their new neighborhood, where he spends most of his life as an escape from reality. None of the three seem remotely happy in the arrangement, and Rajat is such a weak man that he refuses to make any of the difficult decisions. Tara and Amrita have nearly no relationship right now, but it was not always this way… 

The narrative is broken up between flashbacks and modern day 1990s; unfortunately, some transitions are not fully clear or well defined. Amrita and Rajat, her family landlord’s son, were happy once, as they fell in love at a very young age. Due to cultural restrictions, they do not act on their impulses. They seem very emotionally connected, until a dinner is set up between their families one day to meet. Halfway through, it becomes clear that a marriage has been arranged by their fathers to bind Rajat with Amrita’s sister whom he has never met, Tara. It is the most tragic of circumstances due to the girls’ father’s declining health, and the union happens very quickly. I feel like most of the tragedy could have been avoided if Amrita was honest with her sister, yet she chooses to keep the truth hidden. Rajat wants nothing to do with her, as he believes Amrita knew about the situation beforehand. He does not warn Tara about their earlier relationship either. It is just one bad choice after another, but I am sure it is harder for me to fully grasp their actions as I am lucky enough to live outside of this trying culture.

Tara urges Rajat to have Amrita move in with them after their fathers passing; Amrita “could help her, and there’s no one to take care of her.” She even suggests to pair Amrita romantically with Rajat’s brother. Clearly both Amrita and Rajat have no respect for Tara, as she decides to live with her sister without revealing her history with her sister’s now husband. At first Tara is content in the marriage, but one day she stumbles upon the two deviously exiting the bedroom. Amrita and Rajat’s romantic relationship becomes clear, and now everything is a complicated mess. Each person is looking for a way out, but they all treat one another like garbage. All three characters have their own faults, and don’t do much to resolve them. Things eventually come to a head.

One can tell Two Sisters and A Husband was made by a team including the female perspective, but also through a conservative Indian cultural lens. For a film centered on an affair that essentially leads to a throuple, there is nearly nothing sexual on screen. The audience is shown a passionate kiss and closed doors to preface a pregnancy. The primary marriage seems to be completely loveless, as Tara and Rajat show almost no affection towards one another. I assumed a large part of the narrative would show physical romance, but it is more about the emotional connection. This magnetism between Amrita and Rajat is so strong that it becomes painful to manage and leads to aggressive conversations where everyone is on edge. Half of the time, the two despise each other and the other half they long to be officially together.

Men are not portrayed in a positive light at all here. Our leading man, Rajat, is incredibly cruel to both women he claims to love, and even cheats on his two lovers with a hotel guest at work. His ex-royal boss, Bhed Singh (Himanshu Kohli), is equally incorrigible; he is egotistical, condescending, and downright abusive towards his staff. Hotel employees are emotionally abused with sham firings as well as physically abused with beatings if they fail to properly complete their duties. Bhed Singh is completely unprofessional and exposes his deepest fears and inadequacies to Rajat. He puts on an aggressive macho exterior, but deep inside has zero self-esteem. Finally, Rajat’s father, whom he prays he will never become, has set Rajat on a path where he can never make his own decisions. Rajat begs his father to get out of the arranged marriage to Tara because he loves someone else, and his father insolently shuts him down. How dare he speak back to his father? He has no right to have an opinion in anything nor any hopes or dreams in his life that stray from the path his father has set. This relationship essentially castrates Rajat emotionally. All three men behave abhorrently, and never do much of anything to redeem themselves.

Leads Manya Grover, Dinker Sharma, and Avani Rai give incredible performances that pull on one’s heartstrings. Director Shlok Sharma weaves a stunningly agonizing tale that is sure to deeply affect its audience. Be forewarned, however, that there are multiple incidents of self-harm depicted on screen that may be triggering for sensitive viewers.

Two Sisters and A Husband become entangled when the film premieres at Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, June 12.

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