Bini Sutoye - Life Without Strings
Would life be more adventurous, dynamic and intriguing if we were to live in alternate worlds – one, the one we are born into and shaped by and two, the one we would like to toy around with?
As if we were playing a game of make-believe as adults, distanced from the make-believe children play in their multi-colored worlds as they grow from hide-and-seek and doll’s weddings and football and fairy tales?
Children can naturally and organically live in two worlds – one, the world of reality and the other they create out of their rich imagination. But adults cannot play with toys. So, what do they do? How do they create an alternate world which has physical life and then move back into the real world they live in?
This is the basic premise of Atanu Ghosh’s latest film Bini Sutoye (Without Strings) in which he walks us through with his two characters and explores the two worlds they live in, meet by accident and then go their own way, back into their real lives.
But do they really go back into their real lives? Who knows? Even Atanu Ghosh, who has written and directed Bini Sutoye sets out to show with so much restraint that he too flows as if with the tide not knowing what is happening to them, why and how.
You must keep your antenna completely clued so that you dare not miss out on the details of the story/stories, or, the finer nuances of the slightest of movements in the narrative or in the lives of the two characters who create their own stories as we get along.
Ghosh is ever so subtle in his handling of every film he writes and directs, that sometimes, it goes above the heads of the mass audience which needs to pinch itself to see whether they are dreaming or are actually watching the two characters take the story forward.
Kajal Sarkar (Rittwik Chakraborty) and Sraboni Barua (Jaya Ahsan) meet at an audition for a reality show that shows a serpentine queue with eager aspirants to the Rs.50000 award waiting their turn. A van waits beside the long queue with men shouting out inviting people to line up for an audition. The crowd, the noise, the restiveness among the crowd and the organizers are spelt out in detail while the drama unfolds.
The audition is the establishing scene introducing Kajal and Sraboni to each other and to the audience. Sraboni suddenly falls a few steps outside the audition studio and Kajal who is busy munching over-salted peanuts and drinking tea, comes to save her and insists on taking her to the nearest clinic.
Sraboni says she is married with a 12-year-old daughter who is very stubborn and is refusing to go to school because her favourite flower vase got smashed by accident. Her husband works somewhere else. Kajal says he works in a firm where he is expecting a promotion the following year and is engaged to be married to a young maiden whose savings of Rs.50,000 he found missing from his trunk that very morning. “It’s been a bad day” they both say, along different points of the story.
They take shelter from the rains in a boarding house for some time. When Sraboni goes to the washroom to freshen up, the curious Kajal goes through her bag but does not take anything from it including the heavy wad of notes he had discovered when Sraboni took a fall.
The cinematography has orchestrated with the lighting like an artist handles his light and shade. The flickering of the cell torch on Kajal’s face as he tries to look closely into the caller, or, the old apartment where Sraboni comes to meet her former poet-but-presently-jobless older cousin (Koushik Sen) create magical hues pointing out how social and economic status of people can be reflected purely through the camera and through creative and aesthetic lighting.
The editing by Sujoy Dutta Roy is not only seamless but also evolves an intriguing rhythm as the narrative keeps flowing from one sequence to the next, from one character to the rest without losing out on a single beat as if it is a piece of music the editor has blended into the body of the film.
It is as if we are travelling across two different time and place zones with the same two characters, Kajal and Sraboni. Debajyoti Misra’s music both for the songs and the soundtrack is mesmerizing to say the least not to talk of the lyrics, also penned by Misra. Jaya Ahsan has lent her own voice to the last rarely heard Tagore number which melts into the situation she sings it in.
Every actor performs as if he/she was born to perform it. This includes the young girl who flies away to the US, or, the poor poet cousin who has been diabolically ousted out of the firm
because he was for labour though he was related to the management juxtaposed against his kind and generous wife.
We are offered a glimpse into the respective flats where Kajal and Sraboni live. Kajal lives in a very small cubby hole scattered with his clothes and other belongings thrown across the room and sleeps with his cigarette, matches and cell phone beside him. Sraboni lives in a slightly better flat shouting out at her daughter to hurry up and get ready for school. The art direction offers a model lesson in authenticity and lack of glamour when glamour would have scarred the film.
These details are spelt out because anything more would strip the film of the essential mystery that lies at its core and hits us in the solar plexus to point out what is possible and what we are missing out on. From one point of view, this points out how we often dream of escaping from our mundane lives just for sometime.
From another point of view, within that “exit” route, we meet strangers we interact with without either any selfish motive or a fraudulent one. Strangers who know they will never meet again.
The film weaves in a few sub-plots which are linked directly to the intrigue in the story and the two characters. The script points out how a successful business family can create a special team just to build up a case against a staffer who is a relative because he decided to back the union’s demands. Ghosh captures a moment in time but does not allow it to freeze. He allows it to flow freely and move into the next moment.
Another sub-plot explains the happy camaraderie that can be built up between two women, one a boss and the other, her academically inclined subordinate to create a bonding that can sweep across geographical barriers. Another question comes up about how an apparently happily married couple’s marriage can head towards a split when the two partners have completely polarised ideas about their son’s education. The eleven-year-old son’s closeness to the father and slight distancing from the mother sends out strong suggestions about how a child can be pulled to one parent at the cost of attachment for the other.
On the one hand, it suggests that the protagonists are weaving their own stories as a manner of escape from the humdrum story of their monotonous lives. On the other, it redefines the very structure of “identity” we are conditioned to understand it as.
Bini Sutoy is not a suspense thriller. It does not have romance, or, an item number or even villains used just to enhance the glamour. Yet, the undercurrent of intrigue and mystery the script creates around Kajal and Sraboni is so strong and so sustaining that it keeps you on the edge of your seat till you begin to realise what is happening, if not why. It is just confined to telling a story and is not making any socio-political statement or being judgmental about relationships. It is talking just about dreams and stories albeit, of different dreams and imagined stories felt and experienced in a different way.
The only problem this viewer found with this film is the stretching of the closure which, one feels, could have ended some time before the extended climax which goes against the spirit of the title Without Strings.