‘Peace Haven’ And ‘Subramanyan’

Cinema Bengali

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

Life in Bengal suffers from the post-ideological exhaustion of modern politics. Films from Bengal are far from essaystic works, but better Bengali cinema is intellectually sophisticated, dedicated acting and oblique depictions of today’s world.

Suman Ghosh : Shifting moods from the light hearted to confrontations, Suman Ghosh’s ‘‘Peace Haven’’ (2015, Bengali, colour, 78 mins) observes the premise of ageing men, not far from leaving the existing world. From a blank screen and a ticking clock, Kolkata awakens at dawn. A man is moaning and groaning. There is a sound of an ambulance siren. The man struggles to breathe. Priest Achyut arrives. The old man dies on a sofa, and Dr Barman gives the death certificate. The deceased widower’s son, Ani is in USA and would be arriving three days later. Three old men gather to pay their condolences. All morgues are full, and three old friends seek police intervention with mortuary, ‘Peace Haven’. The dead body is shifted to the floor, and dressed in a new dhoti and new kurta. Achyut (Arun Mukherjee) applies ‘chandan’ and green leaves to eyes and forehead of the dead friend. The rituals give a structure to bereavement. The dead body leaves on a truck for the cremation ground, Keoratala. Friends and relatives wait for more than four hours, for the deadman’s turn on the electronic oven. The son’s friend sets alight the cremation fires.

The three old friends scan the internet for information on mortuarises. They meet the police authorities with a proposal to build a mortuary. Avoiding any fatalistic and morally ambiguous, Nihilistic plot line, the narrative leads to the inauguration ceremony of a new mortuary, an new ‘Peace Haven’ in suburban Kolkata. Imaginative flights divert the narrative to dreams, illusions and fantasy. A man dressed as goddess Kali frightens Achyut. A vision of long deceased wife confronts Achyut. The wife had a secret affair with a teacher friend. Son Tuki, in Australia does not care for Achyut. Probhat’s (Poran Bandopadhay) father appears with grievances. At an old mansion, open yard courtyard, biology school lessons are being held. Sukumar (Soumitra Chatterjee) drifts in, where students are loudly tapping their writing papers with pencils. He is suffering from cancer, and in the reverse the doctor announces his turn for departure. Sea tides, a monument on a sea beach, sun set, sunrise, flowers and garlands are the backdrop to the inauguration of the dead people’s estate. Till the reverses commence, the narrative remains coherent, though not always vivid and enlightening. Tension is slack in the flat story. The plot line veers off, bringing distractions. ‘‘Peace Haven’’ structurally uses screen time and plot information. Sandip Ghoshal’s camera builds subtle emotional influences, beautifully throughout and arranged.

Gautam Ghose : K G Subramanyan’s murals, paintings and sculptures are integral to the images in Gautam Ghose’s ‘‘The Magic of Making a Documentary on K G Subramanyan’’ (105 mins, colour, Bengali / English). A Tamil Brahmin, the artist was born in Kerala of the 1920s. An overhead shot of Baroda in 2013, precedes conversations between the artist and the critic Samik Bandopadhaya. In February 2014, the artist does not seem to age, at age 91 years. Subramanyan is painting with colour pastels. There are mythical figures with bodies of fish. Art historian R Shivkumar also speaks to the viewer. Subramanyan was inspired by three generations of Indian artists. One notes the primary mood of celebration of life and nature in the artist’s recent works. There are occasional shadows of darkness and suffering, and deeper thoughts over the way society and human beings behave, particularly in violence.

Ishan Ghosh’s camera tracks sea waves, and a train passing along a coast line. The range of colour and the images in the drawings are varied. Different paintings follow, and dissolve. Subramanyan struggles with his environment, accepting certain things, and rejecting others. The Tamil Brahmins had good sculptures in temples, which were surrounded by a humanity of poverty. Culture of reflexion of the world people dream of, and the world they live in. The light breaking through the windows every morning is exhilarating, encouraging new media and techniques. Having participated in a picketing before the Madras secretariat in 1943, as part of the Quit India Movement of 1942, Subramanyan spent six months of prison. Discussions in prison, revolved around the reconstruction of India, after independence. Subramanyan faced a ban on entry to government institutions. On a telegram invitation from Nandalal Bose, in 1944, Subramanyan proceeded to Shantiniketan. The artist observed that humans, animals and trees had a smaller girth in Bengal than in Kerala. Three and half years as a student in Kala Bhavan, the artist was drawn to the simplicity, and the interaction between teachers and students. With a backdrop of Tagore songs, the camera hovers the prayer halls Tapovan monastic simplicity, and the women’s forms and animals of the sculptures in Kala Bhavan. The young artist was impressed with the ideas of Nandalal Bose. Studio art, villages, handicraft, terracota and sculptures in studios were everywhere. Traditions were buried with a multiplicity of various interests. Different languages of expression were opened. The exclusive language of clay was extracted.

Abani Thakur was a source of inspiration. Art was present in village melas, buildings and in murals and sculptures on buildings coming up. Shantiniketan, besides being a museum of the early development of art, was art going into environment. The black and white murals on ordinary buildings, the plaster, ceramic tiles, white paint on mud carried the reflexion of the landscape around. Sketches in black and white, of birds, animals and fowl are snippets of village life, Potters wheels and clay jugs glide by. Every work of an artist is response of the artist to his surroundings. Subramanyan spent twenty years in Baroda Art College. Murals of Nandalal Bose abound. Sankho Chowdhury and Bendre were part of the community of interests in developing the institution. The Kirti Mandir in Baroda and the Ramadayala, Lucknow (1961) are full of murals, engravings on walls, statues and small toys.

Gautam Ghose’s narrative views world through the eyes of the painter. The mobile camera swerves and dips, as different art forms are tracked, with dissolves and super impositions. There is nothing excitable in Banerjee’s questions, reflecting on the banal and superficial. The camera remains static in large parts of the fixed frame interviews and monologues. The off screen music of flute, drums and cymbals is too loud for any effort at contemplation. Subramanyan, alias Mani, searches for new levels of meaning and expression, and sees the world as a metaphor. He notes the artistic sensitivity of the tribal, as against the insensitivity of the urban college educated.

Vol. 49, No.10, Sep 11 - 17, 2016