Sthaniya Sambaad : Something Bijjare This Way Comes

May 16, 2010 at 9:30 am (Cinema, Kiran David) (, , )

While we live in a country that makes the largest number of films in the world, unfortunately most of them are of the lowest quality. In fact, even the so-called ‘good’ films endorsed by cretins in the media are abominable. Most practitioners of the medium do not know even the basics, and the critics who write about them know even less. One enters halls screening most contemporary Indian [actually also most current Hollywood] films, with a sense of great terror at the idea of wasting a couple of hours of your pre-determined short life. It really curdles your blood when you are subjected to the bovine expressions and simian observations that critics, both in the press and more so on TV, pass off as ‘expert opinion’ on this so-called cinema. There is also a funny bunch of directors who say that if given a good budget they would make world-class films. My response to them has always been, “Bullshit man, learn the language and find your fucking idiom.” Yet another kind of mutt leans towards you and whispers, “I am making a film for the festival circuit.” I am tempted to vomit on this type. One thing our mediocre bunch should learn is to shut the fuck up and try to make films with a modicum of honesty. In the process, they may pick up intelligence and wit which most great filmmakers possess.  

Despite my reservations mentioned above, I do not deny that on very very rare occasions, experiencing movies both within and outside the mainstream has been rewarding. Listing them here is not the intention of this piece, but to talk about one in particular.

I was privileged to see the Bengali film Sthaniya Sambaad [Springtime in the colony], the first feature co-directed by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas. The film, besides being a delightful work, is also one of remarkable clarity and musicality. Though the narrative is quite simple and easy to follow, the joy is in the way the filmmakers have structured it.

 Space and time, the two fundamental coordinates, are used with intelligence and grace. The film is set across three spaces. First, Deshbandhu Colony, where the protagonists live, many of them refugees who came from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) over a period of time, beginning with partition. The second is Park Street, referred to in the film as White Town (or Shaheb Para) and the third is New Town where, as the name suggests, new townships are being developed.

What makes the film special is the way the directors have used basic, almost seminal, tools of the medium to navigate between these spaces within the temporal context of the film. The first part of the story takes place in Deshbandhu Colony; it then splits the action between the colony and White Town. The third part fragments what happens between the first two spaces and New Town. After this we observe scenes unfolding between New Town and the colony, and finally, we come back to the colony in the concluding part of the film.

 The film also has a certain musicality – the makers structure the film as variations on a theme. Here every sequence actually works as a minor variation of the major theme, which is never explicitly stated but constantly implied. In point of fact, the almost shocking opening sequence with the braid (or did someone say ‘bride’) works as an evocation, a variation and also a metaphor of the film’s theme. Unlike the ham-fisted Let’s Talk, a film made a few years ago with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, where the filmmaker kept insisting it was structured like a Thumri (hence variations on a theme), Sthaniya Sambaad actually travels this path with incredible sophistication and grace. 

Besides the formal nature of the work, here is a film that states its geography, evokes its histories, exists on the cusp of a world that is changing. A young poet who is floundering, unrequited youthful love, misunderstandings regarding where the ‘nape’ is located, a chorus and life with all its joys, sorrows and endless other quotidian details emerge in this film.

The cast of Sthaniya Sambad seems handpicked for the job. Rarely has one seen such a bunch of talented actors in one film, all of them mercifully non-stars. To name a few – Anirban Dutta, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Anindya Banerjee, Suvankar Mitra, Sanat Sen, Sourya Deb, Thatagata Chowdhury, Shubam Roy Chowdhury, Aranya Chowdhury, Bratya Basu, Nayana Palit, Manali Dey, Kasturi Chatterji and the delightful duo Mrinal Ghosh and Dilip Sarkar. The list could go on but what is most important, more than the performances, is the way they understand and appropriate their roles. Recently, I watched on television an annoying TV-type with the expression of a computer-generated smiley interviewing Aishwariya Rai who actually referred to herself and some of her crones as artists. Talk about delusional. I suggest she watch this film, maybe she would realize that there is a craft in acting that is way beyond her.

One of the things that struck me after watching Sthaniya Sambad was whether this film (which was produced by the recently dissolved Black Magic Motion Pictures of which Goursaria was a partner) would have been given the thumbs-up by other corporatized production companies. I imagine those vacant employees hired by the companies to go through scripts wouldn’t know a good script if it became a projectile and fucked them in the ass. Most of them would not have the imagination or wit to know the poetics that exist beyond the script and within the process. For lovers of cinema who eternally hope that something worthwhile will happen in this part of the world, Sthaniya Sambaad is really a miracle.

While I always believe it’s the films that make the festival and not the other way round, I feel disappointed that Sthaniya Sambaad did not make it to the Cannes film festival. Not so much that it is the place to be, but that it would have given the film the international platform it deserves. I believe a film Udhaan from India has been selected in the Un Certain Regard category. I would not like to comment on it before seeing it. I honestly hope it is a good film and not something catering to the Slumdog Millionaire-type sensibility. I wish it success and if it is achieves 10 % of what Sthaniya Sambaad achieves, I shall consider myself a happy slob.

Finally, I have to say, as an aside to both Arjun and Moinak – “Man, or is it men, or just the usual friendly fuckers, the opening shot works.”

–  Kiran David

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7 Comments

  1. Samindra Das said,

    Hi Kiran,

    Great review. Really envious that you are getting a chance to see such gems. Its always these independent films/ regional films that are holding the flag high for our so called world’s largest film industry. Any ideas if the film will have a release in Mumbai?

    Regards,

    Samindra Das, 17.05.2010

  2. Santosh Pillai said,

    Wow .. that’s a powerful one .. there’ll be a few ‘whisperers’ gunning for your blood soon .. not that you care about it
    Incidentally this film is shot on the RED camera we had spoken to you about .. and a close friend was involved with the technical support .. he’ll love this piece ..
    Me looking forward to catching eet soon .. 🙂
    S

  3. Suren Rao said,

    Hi Kiran,

    Your review on Sthaniya Sambaad is great.
    It is well written and inimitable Kiran David, without mincing any words it is pithy, honest and almost brutal…peppered with choice invectives!!
    It made good reading and I would like to see the Film.
    All the Best.

    Suren

  4. Vistasp Hodiwala said,

    Kiran,
    One question: Where on earth do I get to see this gem?

  5. Parthajit Baruah , said,

    Sthaniya Sambaad stands out in its use of irony. And like you said, its cinematic language is incredibly assured for debutant filmmakers. Please keep discovering such gems for us. Why don’t you write more often in Woodsmoke?

    Parthajit Baruah
    Film Appreciation Course
    Film and Television Institute of India

  6. Arani Majumder said,

    I just loved the film! As if some magic has taken flight on the wings of a crisp script!

    What disappointed me was the crowd turnover at Nandan. I did not find anyone of my age group at all. Of course, we do not expect the common Kolkata-bashi to watch such films, but at least I had expected some more would be there, at least in the hub of Kolkata’s “Aantlami”

    Looking forward to more of such wonders from Gourisaria and Biswas.

    Arani Majumder
    1st Year,
    Scottish Church College

  7. Jugu Abraham said,

    Hi Kiran,
    We met at IFFK few days ago before watching the Portuguese film together. Subsequently, I read some of your writings on the internet. Very interesting write-ups.

    Do visit my blog http://moviessansfrontiers.blogspot.com/ when you have time.

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