Volume 1 : Critic's Column (2)

“Illusion” is what remains ?

Amitava Nag


Theatre, Circus and Magic were the three things to which Gautam Ghosh got attracted to, since his childhood days. Specially the latter two for their mesmeric power—their ability to create ‘illusion’. This hypnosis led him to still photography and later to the moving images—the celluloid. Twenty one years after his first feature film Ma Bhumi (in Telegu), it’s perhaps with ‘Dekha’, his latest film, Gautam pays a self tribute as he returns to his childhood love—illusion. Also interesting is that, a diehard Communist, all his earlier films like ‘Hungry Autumn’, ‘Ma Bhumi’, ‘Dakhal’, ‘Paar’ are made from his Marxist lineage. ‘Dekha’ in that sense, is a self analysis also, where he criticises and questions the relevance of Communism in India through his hero. In that way, ‘Dekha’ becomes a new opening for Gautam, and he comes out to a new bend (much like his hero) in his filmy career. The film has blind Shashi Bhusan, aged around sixty, as the fulcrum of action. He gave shelter to his teacher’s daughter Sarama and her son after she made a move of her husbands’. The film is basically the life and thoughts of Shashi with other characters adding in to make him a clearer person to us. A poet, Shashi, was a Communist who sees life according to him (he picks it from King Lear). The film starts with a long camera shot on the verandah and it takes us to Shashi. Shashi is shown in a ‘frame within frame’ as he stands puffing on a cigarette. Sarama enters from the outer frame to the frame of Shashi (the frame within) which expands to set the track for us—Sarama in a yellow sari (symbolising optimism) comes as a ray of hope to free Shashi from his mental entrapment. In a later shot, Shashi asks Sarama whether she is wearing a yellow sari and gets disturbed by the physical touch of Sarama’s hands. In the soundtrack, we can hear a speeding train which symbolises the first knowledge that we gather about Shashi. The train sound is used many times in the film to mark changes in Shashi and Gagan (a born-blind man who comes in the second part of the film). In the end for both Shashi and Gagan, the train sound becomes very loud which has culminated from the earlier small changes in them, as opposed to the aeroplane sound which marks a sort of stalemate situation for a promoter who is eyeing for Shashi’s house as well as for Nikhil (Sarama’s husband) who wants to reunite with her for his own personal benefits. The usage of colour is quite poignant in the film as it is used to mark the changing moods of individuals or as they reflect to Shashi. Shashi’s wife Reba wears a red sari in happier times (symbolising intense emotion of love and passion) in his abrupt plunge into nostalgia. She wears a purple night dress when she comes out as a sophisticated but jealous person lighting a cigarette, as well as sensing security and comfort as she has decided to take up a job and leave Shashi. She leaves Shashi the next day in a light blue sari which is just opposite of the reddish tinge—calm and composed, oblivious of the previous night’s passion and excitement. Shashi’s first hallucination of Reba was that of a woman as a source of inspiration. The reminiscence of her, later, was the actual character, not the emotion and feeling that gets intermixed in Shashi’s idea of ‘Reba’. This difference between the reality and the ‘observed’ reality leads to ‘illusion’. Shashi had illusions about Reba which he gets over and develops one for Sarama later when we can find Shashi submerged in the delusion of a dancing Sarama. Sarama now takes over from Reba in the recluse of Shashi’s internal sensitivities. This conflict between the two realities adds new dimensions to life in the speeding waters or in the long wide bends of the river—motifs that come a number of times in the film. In one of those flashbacks, Reba asks Shashi to see her and not the sky through her lenses. In this regard Reba and Sarama have a commonality. Reba to Shashi and Sarama to Nikhil—both want to see the world through their husband’s eyes—worlds that they themselves can’t see. Yet, they want Shashi or Nikhil to look only at them—a vicious circle which leads to narcissism since both Reba and Sarama, in rotation, want to see themselves through other’s eyes. This nature lures them to exploit and get exploited. Apart from them there is Garima/Rima who runs a little magazine. She comes as a motif here. She in the end comes in a yellow sari. Here there is again a ‘frame within frame’ like the very first shot, but now, the inner frame is bigger (symbolising the mental change that had gone within Shashi). She gives him a break and Shashi returns to poetry. Garima first comes to Shashi as a continuation of his emotional attachment with his mother. In a way, both of them have similar functionalities with Shashi. It’s after Garima comes, Shashi gets a new turn in his life after a long time. In one shot, Garima comes to Shashi while Sarama stays back implying that Sarama can’t help Shashi out, since both of them are in the same mental rung. In another shot we find Shashi trying to help Sarama financially and wants to stand by her. The frame leaves both of them and zooms only on Sarama indicating the helplessness in their relation— a blatant truth that they can’t help each other. Blind Gagan lives in Duars in North Bengal with Shashi’s teacher (Sarama’s father). He symbolises the child of nature, completely naive and ignorant. And he is so distant from us, the urban sophistication, that it seems he can understand the sounds of birds which he told them he can’t. In fact Gagan is never shown as a person who is handicapped (mentally)—his speed and his actions are all normal and he is quite agile as opposed to Shashi. His thoughts and his world are simple, devoid of any complications, in black and white, though he is a little confused like the trickling water drops on a glass pane. In that fateful night in a bungalow in Duars, the electric atmosphere where the mating elephants symbolise the intense passions of life, Shashi wants to get intimate with Sarama. Sarama doesn’t respond to him and she goes to Gagan. Gagan loses his innocence and becomes ‘blind’ for the first time. Sarama depraves Gagan of his innocence, draws him in the ‘Danger Zone’ (marked by a banner in a tree) and then leaves him—we find Gagan groping in rain for Sarama. Gagan, beguiled by the passion of Sarama, comes to Calcutta and stays with Sarama and Shashi, learns to sing Rabindra Sangeet. The film flows from Sashi’s world to Sarama’s, from one emotion to the other, and in the end the film shows Shashi returning to his poems. Sarama and Gagan have their own but different realisations but all three now stand near the bend of a river where the water gushes fast—unobtrusively. The film is an out and out thinking movie and it veers round Shashi, who is a byproduct of the Communist consciousness in Bengal after 1950s. This film and the character Shashi can be perceived only if you place yourself in the right track, else, the whole exercise seems pointless with Shashi emerging as a mindless pervert who wants to touch girls(much younger than him) out of sexual instinct or finding solace in a prostitute. The character is multi dimensional. He has social and ecological awareness (he wants to preserve the trees for birds and his pond for slum dwellers who bathe there) but also feels that in Duars, the bringing down of forest for growing tea gardens was just since people got jobs in the tea gardens—a person full of contradictions, and in the end, because of these contradictions, emerging as a very natural and vibrant individual. The disturbance in Shashi for the present Indian society comes most glaringly in Duars where he realised the anarchic condition of India which is nothing but a ‘market’, as well as with his discussions with friend Ashesh. With Ashesh, Shashi passively resorts to self analysis and at last, self defence. They discuss failure of Communism in India over a mug of beer in the luxurious bungalow in Raichak. Vilayat Khan’s lyrical notes fill the air. Classical music or rather all art’s isolated existence in the wake of social reformation is evident. Dichotomy is omnipresent here and it is a pervasive truth. Shashi realises, “None can do it” regarding Communism, and for him, love for country and for women (including mother) was nothing but an illusion—a mirage. Garima’s frivolous behaviour helps Shashi to change internally. In a sudden flow of emotional montage he moves from Sarama to Reba and back to his mother. His return to his mother, her songs, and her existence symbolised his first change. In his fit of hallucination, this reverse journey imbibes a flow and a speed in his mental discourse. There are lots of motifs, symbols being used like the sudden indisposition of Shashi a couple of times hearing reports from newspaper that disturb our inner credentials as a human being, as well as the Bison’s picture portraying Shashi’s instinct and sexuality. In the end after Shashi undergoes a mental change and transcends the physical barriers, the chair in front of the picture remains vacant for the first time. There is another flashback scene with the prostitute which is blurred. At that time, ‘tunnel vision’ has crippled Shashi, and it shows his degradation—his mental ‘vision’ also gets narrowed down, a powerful image. Another motif and a series of frames .which become important are when Reba leaves Shashi. Reba walks out and the frame cuts to the exterior view of Shashi’s house which suddenly looks very shaggy as if with the departure of Reba, the condition of the house deteriorates and Shashi becomes blind. Blindness of Shashi gets a new dimension in this regard. Shashi’s vision, both physical and mental gets blocked after that, he gets confined to nostalgic ruminations and he admits, he has nothing more to see. The sound usage is thoughtful. The sound tracks of speeding trains, aeroplanes or crickets in Duars are all very significant. There are nostalgic renditions of Rabindra Sangeet though Swagatalakshmi is very loud and unimaginative. The photography in Duars is marvellous—from the long top shot of Shashi and his teacher to the night in the bungalow—its overflowing with sensuousness. In general, the camera work is innovative with very fast pans on Shashi, and also in several other frames including the dancing Sarama and Reba. Soumitra Chatterjee plays Shashi from within and it stands out as one of the finest perfomances of the legendary thespian. Since Shashi was blind after a certain age, Soumitra’s characterization is devoid of the general mannerisms associated with a blind person. There are a number of close-ups where the subtle changes in his face reflect the inner confusions and dilemma. Soumitra Chatterjee with ‘Dekha’ established that he is unarguably the most versatile and powerful cinema actors of Post-Independent India. Other actors are natural except Debashree Ray in the passionate lovemaking scenes where she looked stiff. But the film is crippled by some redundancies and inconsistencies. Nikhil is an alter ego of Shashi in more that one respect. The character is blown out of proportions (with a very funny portrayal of Anjan Dutta) and is a wastage, he doesn’t stand alone on his own. He doesn’t help much in defining Sarama’s character either. If the character would have been confined just to Sarama’s minimal flashbacks (not that elaborate party scene), it would have been relevant. The motif used when Sarama’s life was initially full of motion like the random moving colours in a palette against the death of their relation when the motion got into a confused static state and culminates into a red wound in Sarama’s life, becomes unnecessary in this regard. The lovemaking scenes of Sarama and Gagan looked contrived and out of place—not a natural continuation of events. Those scenes were thrust upon the film and they definitely raise questions about the director’s integrity and lead us to believe that he has a target audience in mind for such mindless shots. In the final analysis, ‘Dekha’ remains an experimental film—an experiment with reality. It fails to transcend to the heights of Gautam’s earlier ‘Paar’ or ‘Dakhal’ since the director himself was a bit confused about its fate. The director’s obsession for ‘illusion’ was apparent and this is what remains till the end but it’s a question whether it leaves any everlasting impact or not.



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