Short Films

‘‘The Spoken Word’’ and ‘‘Autobiographies’’

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

The characters do not speak in two short films by Siddhartha Dutta. In ‘‘The Spoken Word’’ (2016, English, Colour, DVD, 20 mins), all the film technicians are from SRFTI Kolkata and FTII Pune. Based on an original story and script, Dutta builds on an intellectually curious screenplay. On a broad road in a residential area, cars rush by. A large advertisement beckons ‘‘All day long : Engage’’. By the roadside, a working glass girl (Nupura Bhaskar) is brushing her long hair, with back to the audience, and facing a large mirror, set against a wall. The plot revolves around three couples, in separate milieux, who do not speak to each other, but exchange looks and glances, conveying distinct meanings. Every sequence is inside a well furnished apartment. Off screen voice-overs transmit dialogue, without lip synchronisation. A husband compliments his wife, about wearing an expensive sari, and dressing up. There is a FM radio playing in the sitting room. Spouses are curious : ‘‘What do you want?, with references from fancy earnings to expensive dresses.

There is admiration, like ‘‘Oh you look great’’, soon followed by accusations, ‘‘fussy about things’’. Extra marital affairs and secret meetings crisis cross. Family happy homes and furniture show rooms glide. A man promises to make his girl a ‘‘queen’’. A maid cleans the table. A husband accuses ‘‘You have betrayed me’’. A wife pours drinks. Pride is hurt, and the husband fumes. Abuses are thrown. Coffee and soup in the kitchen, are interspersed in love making, with audible pleas of ‘‘Love me more’’. Each sequence concludes with the woman holding the man’s hands, fully clothed. Outside the working class girl stares at the high rise buildings. Dutta’s folklore of present times, emanating from off-screen conversations is witty, effortless and intensely, responsive to human emotional displays and vulnerability.

Subtle fade-outs and lighting changes impressively convey the central stories. Saharbien Mirbakr’s camera is mobile and inventive.

No major human characters come into focus in Dutta’s ‘Autobiographies’ (2010, English, Colour, 13 mins, Films Division of India). T V Sreedhar’s probing camera pursues the ecological pattern of woods and trees. The voice-overs are odes to the trees. While the trees are cut, a plant cries out : ‘‘They are cutting your lives’’. A newspaper report  flashes that all trees have been cut on Kolkata’s Park Street. Trees are cut in the forest areas, loaded on trucks, and carried away. The original story and script allows the director to pick the humanity of the trees. The trees in off screen voices, build heart rending scenarios of deforestation. Without any story line, the brooding portrayals of tree cutting offer a crisp analysis of the flutter on trees still standing. The dense foliage and the trees are glimpsed, rather than properly introduced. A furniture shop is selling plastic and molten tables and chairs. Realism is ever present in Dutta’s forceful piece of film making. Trees remain the protagonists, and humans are excluded from characterisations. ‘‘Autobiographies’’ has an abundance of tall trees, where the inanimate trees are given a life, with off-screen voices.

Vol. 50, No.25, Dec 24 - 30, 2017