Monday, April 22, 2013

Shobdo: For Art’s Sake

It’s been ages since a meaningful Bengali film was made, where art and philosophy blended seamlessly. Shobdo (Sound) is indisputably one of the greatest Bengali films made in recent times. Such a claim might sound too lofty, but certainly not without foundation. Why is Shobdo unique?
·          1. The trend of films on the film industry has taken over Tollygunj for quite sometimes now. While most filmmakers have stuck to the major players (directors, actors or musicians), none has thought it necessary to bring to the fore the technicians. The foley-artistes’ indispensability has never been recognized. And am certain, even cine-lovers have barely ever spared a thought on them. Kaushik Ganguly’s Shobdo makes out of the ignored foley-artiste a hero, and hammers home the fact that without him films would have been but unreal. For, without sounds, verisimilitude cannot be achieved. A fact, which I am sure, has eluded many till date.
·         2. It’s been really long since any Bengali film has delved deep into the psyche of an artiste, and has represented creative madness with such compassion. Tarak’s obsession with his art segregates him from reality much to the disconcertment of his wife and psychiatrist, but Tarak is so overpoweringly fascinated with his art that he fails to separate his art and reality. For him, his art (the world of sounds) becomes reality. Without being preachy, the film floats a profound philosophical discourse on artistry, creative impulse, and how art might enslave life. It might be painful for those to whom the artiste is personally consequential; but, such coalescence of art and life is necessary for creation to approximate perfection.
·         3. Shobdo, therefore, becomes a very refined commentary on filmmaking and its penchant to approximate the reality it represents. The re-creation of sound effects demands of the foley-artiste a very alert ear for the various sounds, no matter how subsonic they are ---- the fine difference in the little ‘thud’ sound made by an empty cup and a cup filled to the brim; the difference of the sound of footsteps on a wooden staircase and the sound made by boots on a gravelled path, etc. Shobdo makes you feel that if a good screenplay is the backbone of a good film, the foley-artiste’s sound effects are like blood that runs through the arteries and veins of that screenplay. The behind-the-scene reality of a ‘show’ is unravelled by Shobdo remarkably.
·         4. The film, while celebrating creative madness, romantically evokes the superiority of the sounds of nature to human speech. The tearful psychiatrist wonders after a night of hard-partying the general inconsequentiality of human speech, which is more often than not, nonsensical and insensitive, and mostly meaningless. Sound waves are not sounds, but mere signifiers which the human brain interprets meaningfully, as it is trained to. While language often dominates in this world of sounds, the ‘mere’ sounds too are no less significant, no less meaningful than language. Kaushik Ganguly has commendably touched such depths without being preachy anywhere.
·        5.  The film also negotiates with ideas of ‘normality’ and that which is dubbed ‘abnormal’ by the mainstream. Tarak’s strangeness (his inability to interpret human speech and his obsession with other kinds of sounds) is eventually reclaimed as another way of looking at things, a perspective (largely auditory, if I may call it so) which is not available to the majority. Yet, Tarak has to come back to the mainstream of life; so, he is finally sent to a rehab. The ear-splitting sound of the ambulance struggling over a sandy beach, acquires a different meaning altogether in the closing scene. Is it a signifier of Tarak’s protest as he stares on silently with a blank look in his eyes? By the time the end-titles roll, the audience becomes much too aware of all the other sounds they hear, apart from the dialogue.

      Ritwick Chakraborty’s marvellous performance would definitely fetch him numerous awards and accolades in the coming year, although it’s surprising that he has missed the national award. Raima and Srijit are good, if not brilliant. Churni would have scored really high had she not given the same performance in numerous other films before. Victor Banerjee is quite redundant to the plot.
      Kaushik Ganguly is certainly emerging as one of the greatest filmmakers of contemporary Tollywood. The uniqueness of his subjects is commendable and is a great relief from the tear-jerking sentimental middle class dramas or nerve-racking action-packages that have almost destroyed the Bengali film industry. Shobdo is a film from which other promising filmmakers might draw inspiration and abandon tested ground, and tread on un-trodden path. By taking the ‘road not usually taken’ Kaushik Ganguly deserves two-thumbs-up! 

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Goynar Baksho: Pishima’s pranks and women’s liberation

It was Rituparno Ghosh who had made Rangapishima immensely endearing with all her radicalism and open-mindedness, almost a decade back, in Shubho Muharat. In Goynar Baksho, Aparna Sen’s Rashmoni (Moushumi Chatterjee) with her mischievousness and libertinism and all her rancorous and benign spookiness, uncannily reminds of Rangapishima! Although it is true that Rashmoni is comparatively more rustic and acid-tongued than Ghosh’s Rangapishima, removed from her by several decades. Yet, it is hard not to think of Rangapishima when Rashmoni urges Somlata (Konkona Sen Sharma) to break moral barriers or embarrasses her with personal questions. The most glaring reminder is the cat which often acts as the receptacle of Pishima’s departed soul. This comparison, however, is not to decry Sen’s or Chatterjee’s effort to bring Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Rashmoni to life. Both Rangapishima and Rashmoni would have their individual places in the history of Bengali cinema. 

            Goynar Baksho is an out-and-out woman’s film, if not feminist. Somlata’s independence which is earned through her intelligent business planning and Pishima’s unwavering support forms the core of the narrative. What remains glaringly ironical all through, and commendably so, is that complete liberation from patriarchal control seems possible only after the death of the woman. The film, which begins with Pishima’s death and creates a laugh riot when Pishima mischievously takes little revenges for the wrongs done to her in her lifetime, seems to suggest that it is in some imaginary afterlife that a woman can really become free. The patriarchal norms are mocked at and moral codes and taboos related to sex and body are made fun of, by a repenting Pishima who realizes only after death that what she has missed. There is no heaven or hell; there’s nothing called sin. Pishima returns with this superior knowledge to ‘save’ her nephew’s wife. When a younger Pishima hides behind the pillar and weeps helplessly while Ramkhilaon is beaten to death, the crime of sexual suppression which has destroyed millions of women’s lives screams out of the screen. As Ramkhilaon is thrashed mercilessly, the filmmaker whiplashes the audience. And immediately, the lights come up as the word ‘Intermission’ fades-in on the screen, giving the audience time to ponder over it, as it were.  

  While the film does border on the farcical at times, the raciness of the first half which keeps the audience in splits most of the time, does not allow much time to think of its shortcomings. A brilliant Moushumi Chatterjeee and an equally competent Konkona Sen Sharma adequately supported by a powerful ensemble cast of Saswata Chatterjee, Paran Bandopadhyay, Manasi Sinha, Pijush Ganguly, Aparajita Auddy, and Monu Mukherjee make some very weak scenes credible. But the debacle happens after the ‘Intermission’. The romantic track between Somlata and a mysterious man (Kaushik Sen) does not seem to have any bearing on the main plot. It is difficult to understand why Pishima all of a sudden urges Somlata to bed the man. While her dialogue, “Swami to ghar e porar saree’r moto…porey porey rong uthe gechhe…porpurush holo benarasi, baluchari, jotoi gaaye jorabi totoi garam…”, is delightful, the love story which is literally nipped in the budding stage, does not seem to have any strong foundation. I guess the filmmaker could have given a little more screen-time to Somlata’s agony or sexual frustration of being separated from her husband who was on a business tour for months. Only then, Pishima’s insistence on sleeping with another man could have appeared more believable.

            The second half gets increasingly boring and forced with the appearance of Chaitali (Shrabonti) and the Mukti-Juddho track. The introduction of the Mukti-Juddho seems rather forced, and the way it is represented is extremely amateurish and flimsy. Chaitali’s involvement with the warriors does not seem convincing enough, for she lacks the depth and seriousness such a woman should have. Sen’s delineation of this character is most flawed and a tad too negligent I suppose. It is further marred by Shrabonti’s perfunctory performance. Although I would not say she is miscast, she is certainly a major disappointment. 

                        Although technically brilliant and quite perfectly edited at least in the first half, Goynar Baksho has not been able to do complete justice to Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s original story. There are, however, some other positives: Debojyoti Mishra’s music scores really high; all the songs are extremely melodious and easy on the ear. Soumik Haldar’s camera creates the right kind of mood and ambience in every frame. 

            Pishima’s heroic spookiness, as was expected, is the unique selling point, and the film deserves a watch only for her, if not anything else.