Sunday, 20 December 2009
Far East from Bollywood
In Kolkata, I had minimal time for shopping, so the purchase of films was random and intuitive. I just grapped whatever I could. Fortunately, the two music-film stores I visited were very well equipped.
I decided to forget Bollywood this time, and focus on Bengali cinema. I was far, far away from Mumbai. Nothing about the trip made me long for honeymoon musical scenes shot at the Himalayas. I had a feeling it was time to “get real”.
I did go to the movies once, to see the latest Bollywood blockbuster Rocket Singh, a comic tale of India’s most successful salesman. Without English subtitles, it was difficult to understand the comedy. The film was more verbal than what the ads suggested. But it did portray the everyday challenges of young Indian college graduates from a viewpoint of a Sikh family living in Mumbai. There was a level of political commentary against the commercialization of everyday life, which I of course missed.
No matter how little I understood, it was a great experience to be there. The movie theatre at Salt Lake City’s posh mall was perhaps better equipped than any of the cinemas in Tampere. There were even security checks at the cinema gates. The ticket was expensive in Indian standards, 210 rupees. I understood that in the ordinary movie theatres, the tickets cost less than 100 rupees. Now Kolkata had movie theatres differentiated by the income group. It made me wonder.
The film I watched on my laptop at the guesthouse on a sleepless night hit the jackpot. Aparna Sen’s 15, Park Avenue (2005) is a story of mental illness, Westernization, family ties and modern relationships in upper-middle class professional Kolkata. It is a film about parallel worlds, so multilayered in narration that one starts to question the main character’s illness. Meethi’s schizophrenia has been diagnosed and she spends half of her time in clinics, but the film sympathizes strongly with her other world, the imaginary world she has created on Park Avenue, to the extent that the viewer cannot know for sure which one of her worlds is the dreamworld, after all.
I will need to watch this film many times to understand the underlying symbolism. A Bengali friend told me that the filmmaker uses traditional Bengali storytelling about dream worlds to complicate the narrative. This is interesting, because the film has otherwise been almost purged from everyday Indian life. The characters live in a Westernized bubble. One does not see the normal everyday mess and noise of Kolkata’s streets at all.
The other films I have not seen yet, but luckily in my pile there also seems to be another Aparnya Sen film, Sati (1989).
I got 5 Satyajit Ray films, some black-and-white, some coloured: The Middle Man, The Big City, The Stranger, The Enemy of the People and The Home and the World.
Then there is Anjan Das’ Strokes and Silhouettes, a truly artsy film about a family of painters. And a film in Bengali only by director Sab Chotitra Kalponik (without English subtitles), the name of which I cannot read yet.
Apart from Bengali films, I got Deepa Mehta’s “Elements” trilogy. Somehow, they don’t anymore seem like Indian films. I have enjoyed Earth, and followed with great interest the controversy over the film Fire. I will also watch these over time, but now I have a need to understand what Bengali movies are about.
This should provide enough entertainment over the Christmas holidays.