Action cinema passing through the luminous image of kirtan dance

February 25, 2010

Congratulations to the directors on the making of Sthaniya Sambad. From the breath-taking opening shot of the city (which I later learnt was taken from atop the South City building complex)to the last sequences where fleeting glimpses of a faux-James Bond movie, Antonioni/Tarkovsky, Ghatak and much else follow one upon the other one was riveted by the bag of tricks the directors had to employ to convey to us the complex flavours of life in a Calcutta resettlement colony. It’s a space constantly being destroyed and rebuilt and one had a feeling that a hundred years from now archaeologists would have to watch this movie to reconstruct the layers of the garbage dump they will stumble upon on one of their digs marking the place where once the colony stood. Thus the silent destruction of the colony might ’sum up’ the negativity of such an act against the cacophony of voices and desires that are always incomplete and colliding with one another in such a space but such a destruction is as the still photos with which the film ends merely one more layer of interactive chaos added to the cultural stratigraphy of the landscape. Likewise the film follows a searching, prowling discontinuous mode of presentation of presences where movements, bodies and most remarkably voices overlap/collide to show why it is so difficult to belong to such a place and to leave it – incomplete signals that tantalize the mind with the telos of emotional satiety, of completion of ‘meaning’ can add up to create chaos in the head but also keep you running back to the space in the hope that one series of signals will reach fruition. 

All is media – even the Rabindrasangeet as well as the doubled up caricatural presence of the thieves – mimicry in the electronic. Film then has to unravel almost in counter-intuitive dimension to show up as well as disavow its role as history’s most devastating mimicry eliciting machine, the machine that promised to out-trump all attractions and pose a solution, a place, a sthan, for the turbulent distracted mind like Atin’s. We could posit the recent double-bind between the glamour of cinema and the imagined Mafia cooped in the ghettos of Bombay but also extend this to the part of the movie where the action moves out of the colony into Park Street and then the derelict outskirts of the city edging the Eastern By-pass. This is the space for action cinema passing through the luminous liminal image of the kirtan-dance in a temple on the edge of the colony. Action promises to sublimate the repressed and popular cinema has in its variations of moods been mainly about letting the localized mind access the universe of perception in the full range of its historic technocratic possibilities.

In between all this action, movement and desiring cinema’s electronic vibrations that threaten to destroy all sense of place/sthan with the desires it unleashes can create a sense of ghostly presences, after-images of bodies vibrating in desire that we suddenly notice when the camera catches empty and silent spaces in the noon-day sun, sequences that remind of similar ghostly hauntings in the chaos of urban dereliction as in the cinema of Tsai Ming-liang. And here we see the ghosts of Bengali literature, the Bengali literary gent, figures and movements of classical Rabindric desire, kavya masquerading as modern commodities or even Feluda and Topse prowl the colony and then suddenly be exposed to the terror of sensory infinity as the protagonists move into the city proper, into the uncontrolled chaos of the city. A transformation is possible when this happens. And as the Russian Formalists had predicted maybe Atin’s classical longings to be literary will be canonized in the junior line of the absurd picaresque fates of the thieves.

In between just as in L’Avventura the chaos of the modern makes us forget the ‘classical object of desire’ but never the sea (that magnificent sequence of Vitti and Ferzetti on the train skirting the sea late into the movie that suddenly recalls the sea in the first sequences of the film that comes back with Marie-Saint and Grant in North by Northwest), the girl of desire is forgotten but never the colony. Maybe Atin will go cinema after his return to the colony, maybe the girl is Atin’s cinematic future who never existed but is to come. It might be a repetition of the history of Bengali film and society, between the era of classical heroines and the willful modern ones of today all at once. But this is one privilege the peripatetic dispossessed have – to react to trauma by jumping many phases of history in the mind that are but the many places that the body has inhabited to arrive at the present and indeed land on the edge of the future.

Sthaniya Sambad, or the local news, is indeed a controlled distillation of the chaos of history in the global outside the local. The global gets distorted when pulled into the vibrations of discontinuous attention spans that make up the local, a strange stopping point for the caravan of the history of displaced beings. The magical oracular quality of the boys on the ‘rock’ marks the limen of such a space – neither sense nor nonsense but vague configurations of flows of sensations coursing through chaos.

And in such chaos there always exists a dark knot/hole where random acts such as the slashing off of the braid of a girl’s hair are produced as events as well as in the social unconscious as possible passages into the world. There is always a place for the absurd in such spaces to provide the pretext for a dramatic run towards freedom. There is no other way out except through the random and the absurd just as the authors of the film say that there was no other way to tell the story than Sthaniya Sambad. Well I guess directors as thoroughly mired in the confusing history of cinema and the moving images and much else including the city of Calcutta had no other way of making a movie. And all of us in such a state of existence (especially with the Calcutta clause to chaos) will watch the movie and then retire to eat and drink and discuss the movie long-ly afterwards.

Kaushik Bhaumik,Osian’s Film House, Mumbai


One comment

  1. Rarely do we see a movie that is so fiercely and unapologetically urban. Urbanity is not a background here; it is the central character around whose inner tension, dilemma and metamorphosis the movie develops. Most of the characters are unreal, out of this world and fantastic (and the ones who are more grounded appear banal), yet deeply rooted in the reality. The protagonist is a ‘loser’ – his infatuation lives in a different world, his family is unattached and his perceptions are irrelevant for people around him. But one can still find ‘Atin’s wandering Kolkata streets aimlessly, groping for the last two lines of a sonnet. That’s Kolkata. That’s this movie.

    Yet treading between the fantastic and the real world is a tenuous travel and the film has its foibles on the way. And this is despite the exhilarating back and foreground music. It almost vacillates between sublimeness and drudgery at times. The climax sometimes resolves too early, insinuations become unnecessary, sequences become roundabout and the language barrier appears insurmountable by the subtitles. The extraordinarily careful swapping of dialects becomes blunt for the non-Bengali speakers. Expressions by non-actors do not always do justice to the agony and ecstasy (not to suggest that contemporary professional actors could do a whole lot better. This is a tragedy the marginal language films have to cope with) that the script demands.

    In a way, for the international audience, some of the film’s strengths – its subtleness, observation and recording of minute details and rawness of expression – become its weakness. Local News is agonizingly personal, itchingly intimate. So much so that some of its charm eludes the outsider.

    Prabal De, New York

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