Friday, January 16, 2004

Chokher Bali

Chokher Bali is a Bengali movie that I saw last sunday. The phrase means ‘sand in the eye’ and is a nickname for one of the protagonists of the film. The movie is directed by Rituparno Ghosh and is making waves in discreet circles in India. After seeing this movie, I found that I could divide people into two groups: people who have heard of it, and people who have not (I would have been one of the latter but for a free ticket to the special screening). The first big thing about this film is that it’s based on a story by Rabindranath Tagore. The second big thing is that the ‘choker bali’ in the film is played by Aishwarya Rai, who is arguably one of the most recognized faces in India.

The story by itself is not new; in fact it’s as old as the hills. Or as old as mankind. And I don’t think I will be giving anything away if I summarize it in a rather brutal fashion: widow falls in love with an unmarried man, who doesn’t reciprocate in time; instead she has an affair with the husband of a friend who can’t bring himself to leave his wife. When the unmarried man finally succumbs, it’s too late. The whole movie takes place with the backdrop of the freedom struggle and the partition of Bengal (into Bangladesh and West Bengal). There- I’ve maintained some ambiguity, atleast.

What is interesting, nevertheless, is the humour in the film. It could have easily been a doleful movie, but it turned out to be a doleful comedy. Comedy may be too strong a word. The dialogues were quick and witty, sharp and entertaining. Despite the actual intent of the dialogue; quickness and lightness were the order of the day. What really sucked was the ending. I am by nature a plot centered person, and despite the mundane nature of the plot, I willed myself to follow it. But the ending was a cop-out, an ending without any meaning. Ok maybe there was some meaning, but well, it flew past me. I cannot shake the feeling that Tagore must have had many ideas running in his head at the same time, and in an unguarded moment, something else usurped the place of the story’s end.

The screening was at NAGA theatre, a place I’ve never been to, and I had some difficulty getting there. The entire audience seemed to me to be Bengali, and it was quite disconcerting to be surrounded by the chattering of many voices in a language I have never expected in Bangalore. The whole occasion seemed to be point of pride: everybody came dressed up to the hilt. It was more of a social occasion than a movie screening. People were giving us handouts; handouts that described the entire movie instead of a synopsis. Maybe the concept of ‘spoilers’ is irrelevant to movies that have been transferred from the written word, but one likes to see the movie take its own path, without the subconscious anticipating it.