Friday, August 10, 2012

Signs of the Times: 'Abar Byomkesh'

When Abar Byomkesh was released earlier this year amidst much fanfare and trailing sky-high expectation, I was eager to see how Abir Chatterjee performs this time. I’d liked his performance last time. This time, too, it wasn’t too bad, if not better. However, the scar on his face goes unexplained. It is a visible scar, and the director could easily formulate an alternative Byomkesh mythology tracing its history to some childhood fight, something serious enough to transform him into a satyanneshi (detective; literally, the seeker of truth). As it is, the scar makes Byomkesh more of Mr Chatterjee than Mr Bakshi.
 A viewer would like the background-score, especially when it unfurls in full length during the opening credits. A nice hotchpotch of the theme-music of Batman and Tintin franchises, it helps set up the viewer for some adrenaline-rush. That is something the viewer comes expecting to the cinema, only to be fed with domestic trifles. There’s no scope for any adventurousness, with the unimaginative director not sure whether to stick to the storyline of Chitrochor or stray. Stray he does a lot, and unnecessarily. The strayings could have been made stirring. They tickle you at the wrong spots.
 An ill-researched film, it fails to catch the ethos of pre-independence India. Bengalis, especially the intellectuals, were then not known for their alcoholophilia. Bengalis, like the British, were more used to having tea-parties. This unnecessary change, added to the unrealistic clothes Rajani, the doctor’s paramour, deprives the viewer from a journey to the past, a must for a Byomkesh film.
 Is realism a necessity? No, this film invites the viewer to imagine ‘visual asides’. There are scenes when two parties, not quite on the best of terms, are both hide from a third party, and pretend that they can’t see one another. The viewer has to pretend, for it’s hard and not worthwhile to imagine that there’s nothing wrong with it. If theatrical imagination is what the director had aimed at, he could’ve filmed his scenes inside his studio, or still better, made a play to aid the ailing Bengali theatre.

 Indeed, I’m not so much bothered about the film as about why this couldn’t be made better. I’d list the causes roughly as this:
Reason 1: Kolkata film directors are myopic creatures. They can’t think of featuring an actor not known to them outside their ‘parties’.
Reason 2: They’re first ‘intellectuals’, next filmmakers. So, their main effort is towards making an ‘intelligent’ film (or, at least taking up an ‘intelligent’ story for it), rather than making a ‘film’. As the end-result, we have unintelligent non-films.
Reason 3: Unfamiliarity with the language (Bengali, in this case) and its regional variations (or, richness, to be more exact). The director should not forget that the vast majority of Bengalis don’t talk like affected Kolkatans.
Reason 4: Refusal to take time. Ignorance of regional films produced in other parts of India. A cursory familiarity with Bergman and Ray is not enough.
Reason 5: Quite frankly, lack of expertise.
Reason 6: Pseudo-urbanism/urbanity.
I wouldn’t say I could go on. There are still promising directors working on interesting projects. India is a land of promises. D L Ray said (read, says), ‘That land is made of dreams and bordered by memories.’ Works best for Bengal and its recent filmic endeavours.   

 I have come across people who’ve liked Abar Byomkesh. How do you translate this? The Return of Byomkesh, perhaps? I should say, it’s more the return of mediocrity.

 Come on, don’t we have film-directors and actors in the villages?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Nearly two months after the release of The Secret of the Unicorn in India, much has been written on the possible pluses and minuses of the film. Spielberg has been lauded. Jackson has been applauded. Almost all the major Indian newspapers have righteously observed the similarities between the Indiana Jones franchise and the just-started Adventures of Tintin franchise. I say 'righteous' because I've since met many people who've mouthed similar lines from a veritable number of online and offline sources, making it almost a custom of the criticism of this film.
 One singular absence has struck me as uninformed, unimaginative, and unworthy of publication in all the reviews I've come across. Respected/popular reviewers have made Spielberg 'better', 're-create', 'rewrite', and even 'ruin' Herge. Yet, what everyone seems to have missed his wholehearted tribute to the master of Bande Dessinee. The film starts with the picture of a painter in a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century London market. The painter draws a Hergesque picture of the Spielberg-Jackson Tintin. How can one miss that this curious painter is none but Herge, not even after the whole gallery of other Tintin characters has been shown? Tintin wants to show it to Snowy, only to find the latter is missing from the scene. 'There you are, sir!', Tintin and we dismiss the painter at the same time.
 The most important aspect of this scene is that it seeks not to re-produce Herge on the celluloid. It tries to trace the image back into Herge and beyond. Tintin's own remark about his portrait is only 'not bad'. Herge says Tintin's face seems familiar to him, because he's seen him a number of times in the newspapers. Spielberg-Jackson Tintin refuses to be defined by Herge. Herge calls him a 'reporter'. Tintin is not particularly flattered by that description which makes him say, 'I'm a journalist.' 
 One of the most striking observations I found in the reviews is that it's often unacceptable to find Tintin behaving like Prince of Persia. I've already mentioned the reviewers' reservation against the similarities between this character and Indiana Jones. Perhaps, before reviewing the film, these respected columnists needed to have read some of the Tintin books, especially Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Flight 714, Tintin and the Picaros, Tintin in America, and Tintin in Tibet (as I list these names, I tend to think that one should read all the books). They'll find, if in addition to this, they can search a little, that Spielberg had derived the inspiration to direct the Indiana Jones films largely from his childhood reading of the Tintn books. Oh, I'm reminded so much of the cinema-scene in Annie Hall! Tinin, I'll further add, was one of the first characters to anticipate the Princes and Paynes in the modern computer/console games. 
 Tintin is a product not only of the surge of the comics industry in the US in the early part of the nineteenth century, but also of the indigenous traditions in Belgium, France, and even in England. Anyone with some familiarity with the eighteenth century cartoons, satires, and lampoons will recognise the commonalities instantly.
 As evinced in the portrait scene, the Tintin film revolves round the unexplored dimensions of the boyish Belgian character who now speaks with a crisp British accent, too. The master-stroke from the side of the director-producer duo has been the portrayal of their Tintin as having been the inspiration behind Herge's, rather than being the other way round. Surely, there are echoes, shadows, and imitations of other modes of popular entertainment (in the opinion of many, 'weaknesses'). But, that is how it should be. At last, Herge has found his successor(s) on screen.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bye Bye, Bengal?


I never love writing on political issues, especially if they are significant. In the course of world events, the change in the name of the state of West Bengal into Paschim Banga is no more important than India losing the numero uno test ranking to England. However, I feel constrained to write about it, because I really wish to know how the politicians get the right to rename a state without the consent of the people who stay there. They should have arranged for a referendum over an issue like that. Ideally, the new government should not have even talked about it; instead, they could have concentrated on washing politics out of the tainted educational campuses across Bengal. Alas, they’ll not do it, not in the next one hundred years at least.

After the state capital Calcutta had been renamed as Kolkata, The Statesman editorial page ran, ‘What’s in a name?’, quoting Shakespeare. Apparently, name matters a lot in India, and perhaps more so in Bengal. [For more information on this, please refer to the short story by Satyajit Ray titled ‘Shishu-Sahityik’ (‘The Children’s Writer’)].

People who still mange to have some time off their daily Facebook quota, and reality show hours, may be aware of the existence of a place called Filmpur at Leicester. This new name had been suggested to attract more filmmakers from Bollywood. Ideally, they should have called it Filmham, perhaps. But, they didn’t. The former name makes more business sense.

It certainly needn’t bother one if foreigners find it difficult to pronounce more ‘Indian’ names. But, it’s perhaps one added advantage, at least from a utilitarian point of view, if a place is better known by its English name. West Bengal has been known as Bengal for more than the last two hundred years. And, apart from a number of mother-fixed GFNs no one had a problem with that name. People feel proud to talk about the Bengal Renaissance, the Bay of Bengal, and the Royal Bengal Tiger. It could have been better to name the state back to ‘Bengal’, as a fitting remembrance of the reunion of the bifurcated Bengal in 1911, if any change had to be made at all. 

Any word bears the trace of its ancestral words. If ‘West’ and ‘Bengal’, these two words are analysed, the past of the state as part of a unified Bengal rushes back to one’s forgotten memory. The part the West [in the case of Indian history, invariably the Brits] played in the final partition of Bengal is also cruelly betrayed. Even today, the Bengali newspapers don’t refer to the people in Bangladesh as Bangladeshis, but as ‘Bangali’ [Bengali]. That shows the relevance of the name of the name of Bengal even today. The name should not be forgotten. Bengali speaking people still don’t think of their trans-Padma brethren as citizens of two different lands, but as merely two sons of the same mother, one called Ghoti and the other, Bati.

Very clearly, the empowered ones have no Will, nor do they care for the Will of the People [pun intended]. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Death-Bed


Your photo goes blurred

In the light of fading life.

Your words get merged

With groans of deathbed.

Your movement- it seems

To show the flight o'th' fire.

I lie.

I die.

I sigh.

I vie.

With myself.

With you.

With my memory.

With your memory.

My only hope--

When the fire will

Crack my skull--

And it will burst

Like cracker on a

Diwali night,

Memories will


Yours and mine.

I shall get burnt away,

Delivering a new memory.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Town

Clean streets, clean shoes
Clean vats
Clean drains
Dirty beds
Stained stairs
Open windows
Panes broken
Fans in labour
In empty rooms
Lights dim
In classrooms

Clean river
Dirty banks

Clean sleeves
Dirty hands

A child laughs
In joy having
Stoned a dog;
A dog cries
Losing its leg
To its father’s

The Spaniel
Laughs, at the

Despair not,
You’re clean,
I’m clean,
We’re fine.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Everyone and everything is gone,
I lie alone under my blanket--
Shying away from the world
Of suffering, of giggles,
Of disease.
Not a cycle is left
To take me to you.

Outside I hear people singing;
Some having fun:
Inside, my mind is drowned
In my panting and sneezes.
I suffer alone,
And calls me none;
Nor can I see you.
Oh, alas, not a cycle is left
To take me to you.

Life seems a burden
At times, when I
Can’t see your smiling face.
Oh, when shall the day
Come again,
That I shall peep
Through the gap beside my door
And see you smile
Miles away,
Asking me to come,
Meet you?
But no hope today!
Not a cycle is left
To take me to take to you.

I hear bells ringing just outside--
Rings that toll my death
Perhaps you shall come
You shall come and smile
You shall come and smile and call me
You shall come and smile and call me and find me dead.
You shall find me dead.
My body still can’t reach you,
For, not a cycle is left
To take me to you.

In my last dream
I cycle
I cycle hard
I see you at a turn
Smiling with your friends;
A lorry comes hurtling by
And smiles me to death.

Thank God,
Not a cycle is left
To take me to you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Life and Death on the Web

I was born in the Webworld through the creation of my first email account some nervous day in September, 2008. So, I’m only a two-year old kid in this world, still alien to Web norms and gestures. If some day I decide to go the Vanaprastha way, I wonder if my Facebook status will read, ‘Gone’; I think before I die, I should, more importantly than tell people where I should be cremated, tell my passwords to someone, so they can make it known that SRS Jnr is no more.
 Besides, I’ve heard of people dying in the middle of a fit of laughter, or suffocating while trying to gulp a sandesh. But I’ve never read something like this, ‘Just had a mild stroke; got to see a doctor.’