Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sthaniya Sambaad

The makers of Sthaniya Sambaad wanted, the blurb said, to make a film on Calcutta, for they felt that somehow contemporary cinema from the region has forgotten the city, and at a time when the cityscape is changing rapidly. I realized it has been a long time since I watched a film on Calcutta, that is, one that is explicitly concerned with the city. That, and the fact that I would be getting to watch a newly made Bengali film, and Moinakda’s film, sitting in New York. I have not been his student, but Jadavpur ties beckon. Growing up as a ghoti in North Calcutta though, I have experienced only second-hand the displacement across the Bengal border that ensued with Partition—through novels, autobiographies, memoirs, history, film, and narratives of family-friends, and later, my in-laws.

As I watched the film, and tried to understand the colony’s fascination with Park Street, I realized once again how much my North Calcutta middle-class ghoti femaleness marks my sense of the city. Park Street with its bars and restaurants was for the likes of me a forbidden adult world until I earned a little money, and the placeholder of the colony’s fascination with Park Street was instead New Market and Chowringhee, where one could make periodic, chaperoned forays. Prithviraj glossed Park Street for me anew—how his friends from the colony, where the film is mainly set, had this thing about visiting Park Street. Park Street, New Market, Chowringhee…the white town, sahebpara as we would often hear it referred to, the colonizer’s part of Frantz Fanon’s Manichean colonial city. Over the years other indices of Manichean division are becoming increasingly visible in the cityscape. My teenage having passed in the pre-mobile, pre-Barista, pre-shopping mall era, I too feel out of place nowadays in pockets of my own city. Planned housing in Calcutta in the years of my growing up meant Salt Lake; it has since come to mean these townships like New Town mushrooming around the peripheries of the city occasioning new narratives of displacement. The fact that this glitzy new Calcutta is part of our everyday lives through page three—even for readers like me at a distance—only serves to intensify the sense of disjuncture. Go towards City Centre entering Salt Lake by the inlet leading from EM Bypass into DA block: the stark contrast between the shanties and wayside shops and the Calcutta of the shopping malls strikes you immediately. I have sometimes wondered in recent years how much these changes register in cultural production from the city. In scripting the latest bit in the narrative of a particular local iteration of modernity, Sthaniya Sambaad takes up these questions head on.

Literally meaning 'local news,' the title of the film accrues a poignancy as the perspective of the displaced like Atin remains marginal to the city's narrative of development. The scene at Olypub is telling in this respect. As Atin's half-aware affection for Ananya makes him impatient to resume their search for her, city academics and intellectuals sit chatting over drinks at the table behind theirs, and who knows, probably over the very issues that are causing the likes of Atin to be displaced yet again. The film sensitively leaves a subtle gap between the subaltern and the intellectual. While Atin makes his first foray into that bit of the white town that has become a haunt for those who think alternatively, if his sensitivity resonates with the concerns of the intellectuals, his repressive Bengali middle-class sense of propriety marks his distance from them—the fact that Dipankarda is able to appreciate Atin's appraisal of Ananya's swanlike neck, and his preference for alcohol, outrage him. In nursing his secret attraction for Ananya amid the noisy inanities of urban development, somewhere Atin comes close to the questing boy-hero in James Joyce's 'Araby'.

It was a wee bit strange to see in a film faces I know—Saswatada as music teacher, Subham Ray Chowdhury on the perch, the actor cast as Ananya’s sister, Bodhisattva Kar, Manas Ray, Shibajida at Olypub, and Bratya Basu. I am not acquainted with all of them, but know some of them from my years at Jadavpur, or have heard about from friends, or have seen them on television, or on Orkut and Facebook, and know one of them as a celebrity neighbour. These familiar faces also lend some more reality to the film for me while the two absurd characters, and denizens of the colony make their journeys into Park Street. Having married into a bangal family that located on Jheel Road, I have some sense of the peripherality of the colony in the film. The lanes look familiar though I don’t know Deshbandhu colony that well. And the CPM folk—as Moinak Biswas put it, during the post-screening discussion—you can’t live with them or without them, because they have become so much a part of the props.

This post has been churning in my head for a while, and now as I am writing, spring is literally erupting all over India… days after a goon associated with the Vedic Village episode has been killed. My mother-in-law is preparing for her special puja for Dol in the Jheel Road house. At Shantiniketan, Dol has begun much earlier in the morning with the prabhatpheri… khol dwar khol, laglo je dol…

28 February 2010

© Text: DURBA BASU 2010

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