Ratnottama

       What makes our world go round…

    I am extremely happy – nay, I am proud to be back with the 3rd HBFF. For, it shows that we have not grown complacent with  the success of the first two experiences. In fact, we have grown further in the months since our last edition: This year we   are introducing the Viewers’ Choice Award in five categories.

Scaling up our efforts over the first two festivals, we bring you two films that have not yet opened to the paying public in Bengal. More importantly, as in the previous years, content is the Star for HBFF – not the dazzle of blockbusters, nor the glitter of stars. So you will find that four of the eight directors are making their debut – and with such remarkable elan! The subjects range from the reality of our art forms to the education system, from grappling with death to same sex love. If there is one unifying factor in the selection that will unfold over these three days it is this: Human relationships always reveal facts about society, whether the equation is between mother and daughter, husband and wife, next-door neighbours, or between police and vagabond, teacher and student, guru and chela… And one mega truth that these films drive home is that the final test of Love in any form – be it an attachment with another human being, a passion for an art form, or dedication to one’s livelihood - is the willingness to sacrifice your all.

Take Cinemawala for example. The latest technology of digital cinema threatens the survival of a small town movie theatre in West Bengal. A tussle ensues between the owner Pranabendu and his son who sells pirated DVDs. Eventually they have to face the inevitable truth: total allegiance to any art often calls for the final sacrifice too. The film is director Kaushik Ganguly’s “Farewell to Celluloid” at a time when projectors that breathed life into classics are gathering dust as people are busy celebrating digital technology. Change is inevitable, even necessary, but preservation of heritage?

“My heart beats for that medium with all its scratches, watermarks, film rolls, shaky projectors and human touches,” says the director who has been a constant at HBFF through Apur Panchali and Chhotoder Chhobi. Small wonder Cinemawala picked up the UNESCO Fellini Medal that recognises the film’s “human contribution to the preservation of the seventh art” by drawing attention to a universal problem through a small town family drama.

Natoker Mato arrives at the same truth by following the life of an actor, Kheya Chakravarty. In 1977, while shooting in Sankrail a 34-year-woman drowns in the river. Was it an accident, suicide or murder? Whatever it was, it snuffed out the life of a dedicated theatre actress. For Kheya could sell her jewellery, give up her job, even leave her husband if it was in the interest of theatre. The Calcutta Port Police’s investigation remains inconclusive but cinema, theatre and life come together to help director Debesh Chatterjee and actor Paoli Dam resolutely establish the bitter truth that “Every suicide is a murder too!”

Madrid, Hanoi and Queensland have all hailed Anubrato Bhalo Achho? It’s the story of a man jousting with death all by himself, at every corner of his everyday life. His wife is terminally ill. His neighbour’s favourite pastime is listening to his dog’s barking. The sole person who exchanged pleasantries with him succumbs to his heart. And the lady he strikes a friendship with while they wait outside the hospital for their respective spouse? Will she answer his need for solace? Or will he lose her to her children, family, society at large?

“Those resigned to death also have a right to love,” director Partha Sen establishes through the two lost souls. Indeed, the protagonists come to symbolise the truth that life and death are not independent of each other, and without love you are all but lifeless.

Through two strangers who meet under strange circumstances, Bridge reiterates that purposeless existence can turn meaningful when love enters. Both, the elderly man and the pretty young lady have the same thought on their mind: Suicide. For, he has lost his wife and daughter to illness; she is hunted by a trauma that has rendered her speechless. Will the meeting heal their hearts or hurt them further? How would it impact their lives at the physical, emotional and societal level? Belonging, trust, hope on one side; ostracism, calumny, usurpation on another: Can these be bridged? Yes, director Amit Ranjan Biswas asserts, “through love, compassion, selflessness.”

‘Labour of Love’ is the tagline of Aasha Jaoar Majhe - and not because the young couple live in the times of recession. She washes the clothes. He dries them. She gives him a missed call so that he’s in time for his night shift in a printing press. He wakes her in the morning for her job at an industrial unit. It’s a visual celebration of complementarity that makes for a marriage. But would you call a marriage ‘happy’ if, day after day, the man and wife have to be at their respective jobs at hours that make it impossible to be home together? Or is happiness a state of mind that fills in the lonely hours in bed and lends a glow to chores like chopping and cooking? Is happiness the outcome of love? Or is love a state of being that overcomes so many things people complain about?

If love in the times of recession thrives on a trust that makes precious the few minutes of togetherness, Onyo Opalaa underscores the camaraderie that sustains a marriage even when trust is belied. Director Satarupa Sanyal shines the torch on a wife’s bonding with a husband whose failings she is willing to forgive. In fact, when she overlooks the assault on her identity she comes to empathise with her husband who, she realises is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Where will this leave her own personal happiness? Her own identity as a wife and mother?

Babar Naam Gandhiji raises the basic question we as a society need to answer: What do we mean when we address MK Gandhi as the Father of the Nation? And this the 26-year-debutant director poses through Kencho, a street kid picked up from a dustbin and raised by beggars. Currency notes with his image, a major artery of the metropolis named after him: But who is Gandhi to street kids like Kencho? Can they claim to be children of the prophet of Non-Violence, the architect of our Independence, the man who experimented with ‘Truth’? If they did claim so, would they be speaking the truth or blatantly lying?

For us Gandhiji has ceased to exist beyond the currency notes. Unfortunate, for “he would have been the most relevant presence with his own brand of people’s movement amidst the current political disorder obtaining in our society,” Pavel proclaims.

In Kolkatar King, KK alias Krishna Kant is a force to reckon with in the underworld. Ruthless, ambitious, charismatic – he uses his gang to loot, murder, blackmail with gay abandon. His nexus with the police alerts him to any action against him. A policeman’s daughter, an educationist’s daughter, a bar singer – no one is spared his roving eyes. What is more, they imperil their families too in order to go to bed with KK who has no qualms in holding to ransom inmates of an oldage home. What can be the final end of such betrayals of love and trust? Will he get shelter when he’s on the run? Or will popular demand turn him into a newage hero, an icon, a king?

Questioning social ills through satire and using formula to turn stereotypes on their head, Judhajit Sircar even infuses his stylised narrative with a full-bodied item dance. The non-linear structure inspired by The Three Penny Opera is actually a fresh look at Brecht’s critique of the upper crust, because the medium is as different as the times we live in. “When corruption is legitimised by the very institutions set up to fight it, nothing remains sacred – not stealing, infidelity, not even the sanctity of life.” All the characters are, then, black though viewed as colourful lives.

Enjoy the black comedy. Enjoy the human drama. Enjoy the platter. For you, the viewer, will then crown the King of HBFF.

Ratnottama Sengupta

Curator, HBFF

June 25, 2016